Each year, a truly special beer is brewed using hops grown in the heart of Borough Market. No ordinary vintage, this year’s brew—an imperial porter—features high-grade coffee and chocolate sourced from two of the Market’s most talented traders. Daniel Tapper discovers what sets them apart from the crowd
What exactly is Change Please?
We are a social enterprise that trains homeless people how to be baristas. Once trained, our baristas earn the London living wage and we also provide housing, therapy, banking advice and support for onwards employment. Essentially, we stage a full-scale intervention to help people escape homelessness.
Why train vulnerable people to be baristas?
The obvious benefit is it helps people to understand customer service, which is an enormously important skill to have in any job. But the role also has a deeper, more profound impact on the people we work with. One of the key challenges homeless people face is having to ask other people for support, which destroys their self-worth. By training people with a skill like this, we are flipping that dynamic on its head because it is the customers who need them and not the other way round.
Where did the idea come from?
I used to work in the city but had a quarter life crisis after a trip to Vietnam where I visited the ‘silent tearoom’ in Hoi An, which is run by deaf and mute ladies. It was the first time in my life that I realised you could do business and support people simultaneously. I came back with the ambition of opening my own silent teahouse in Clapham, before realising I didn’t like tea, Clapham or silence.
I eventually settled on tackling homelessness with coffee because while the number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, sales of coffee have tripled in the same period.
You now have 14 outlets across London, including a mobile coffee van at Borough Market. What’s the key to your success?
One of the issues all social enterprises face is that consumers think there is going to be a compromise on quality, but that simply isn’t the case with us. We only source the very best beans we can get our hands on and we do all the roasting ourselves at our very own roastery, Old Spike, in Peckham. This is why our coffee recently won a Great Taste award.
What coffee have you chosen for the Borough Market beer?
We’ve opted for beans grown by a Peruvian producer called San Ignacio, featuring typica, bourbon and caturra varieties. The coffee has really vibrant flavours of raspberry and blackcurrant that will pair beautifully with the dark roasted flavours of an imperial porter. The beans are also lightly roasted to ensure we capture their full spectrum of flavours.
I think a lot of people will be quite jealous of your job title. What exactly does it involve?
I’m a food scientist by profession, which involves using a combination of micro biology, bio chemistry, chemical engineering and food legislation to ensure that what we eat is safe, legal and of the best quality. However, my role at Hotel Chocolat is a lot more creative and I spend a lot of my time sourcing cocoa beans from different parts of the world, as well as maintaining ethical partnerships with our suppliers.
Rabot 1745 is an usual name—can you explain what it refers to?
Rabot is the name of Hotel Chocolat’s very own cocoa estate on the island of St Lucia. It’s a spectacularly beautiful place where fertile volcanic soil, high altitude and rainforest water create a unique environment perfectly suited to cocoa production. And 1745 is the year the plantation was founded. These beans are then processed at our Borough Market restaurant and bar, Rabot 1745, where the chocolate is used to create a huge array of drinks and dishes.
Chocolate and beer isn’t new territory for you…
No, it isn’t. We currently produce two beers, a pale ale and a porter, which are made using cocoa shells and pulp. However, for this beer we will be using actual chocolate, as well as cocoa nibs, which is new territory for us.
Can you reveal the type of chocolate you’ll be using on the brew day?
We’ve opted for St Lucian chocolate because it tends to be robust, oaky and leathery—so it’ll be a great pairing with the fuggles hops, which is a famously earthy variety. We don’t sell any chocolate below the 70 per cent mark but for this, we’re going all the way up to 90 per cent for maximum character and minimum sugar and fat content. The plan is to end up with a beer that is both drinkable and refreshing, while showcasing the complex flavours of coffee, chocolate and English hops.