THE INSIDE TRACK • July 2021
If you’re a regular in the British Airways lounges at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, you’ll be acquainted with the airline’s exclusive roast blend by Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. To mark the British brand’s 20th anniversary celebrations, we sit down with Union’s co-founder, Jeremy Torz, to talk all things pre-flight coffee
Tell us about your standard pre-flight routine
If I’m travelling for business, which I usually am, my only ‘pre-departure dash’ around the terminal is to stuff as many packets of pens and crayons into whatever space I have left in my suitcase for the children that we get surrounded by in the villages when visiting coffee farmers. Once I’ve got those, it’s off to the lounge to enjoy a final UK-side quality coffee in a calm space – and if it’s a night flight then I’ll treat myself to a small dram or two to enjoy alongside an espresso.
Why do you use the lounges?
At Union Hand-Roasted, our travel is usually to off-the-beaten-path locations, with lots to achieve in a short space of time. Whilst being hugely rewarding, this kind of travel can also be pretty challenging, so a visit to the British Airways lounges offers the perfect pre-flight moment to reset and prepare. It’s a great space to clear the last to-do items from the inbox, take oneself away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal, and enjoy a high-quality coffee that’s made just the way I like it: served in a real cup, with two shots of espresso and a dash of hot water or properly steamed milk on the side.
How is Union celebrating its 20th birthday?
We’ll be sharing milestones from our journey so far (including some embarrassingly old, bad hair photos of Steve and I!) across our website and social media. My co-founder Steve Macatonia and I have also updated and added a new foreword to our book, Real Fresh Coffee, first published five years ago and shortlisted for the Fortnum & Mason Book awards. Then our recently released Anniversary blend called Evolution is a play on our famous Revelation Espresso blend. It proudly uses coffees from our longest-standing partners, some dating back more than 15 years.
How did you come up with the British Airways blend?
Our tastebuds react differently after a few hours in the low-pressure cabin environment, so creating the perfect coffee was a fun challenge! We worked with the food and beverage team at British Airways to understand the perception shift between the flavour profiles at altitude and on the ground, then worked backwards to create the finished tones in the cup. One of our team flew back and forth on long haul in order to run multiple tests. We hear that particular flight arrived early in both directions, but we’re not sure to this day if that was due to weather or a highly caffeinated crew!
And what coffee are we drinking on board?
Following all the research, we knew the characteristics of the raw coffee needed and knew we had to go to Peru. The choice to source here was partly connected to the flavour profiles and partly to enhance our ethos of better buying practices when it comes to farmers and smallholders. In the northern region of Cajamarca, the majority of coffee farmers are not organised and are vulnerable in the coffee supply chain. We, however, offer support programmes and purchase at sustainable prices.
Do you have any on-the-go coffee habits?
If I’m travelling to a coffee origin country, it might sound strange, but I always take my own coffee, a hand grinder, an AeroPress and a small single-cup brewer with me. In most cases, the country exports its best coffee, so finding a good cup to drink in-country can be challenging! It’s also a great way to share what we do with the producer. And for them, seeing their coffee as a finished product in a Union Hand-Roasted Coffee bag is something to be proud of.
Where is your favourite place in the world to drink coffee?
Nowadays the UK has some of the best cafés in the world and the standard of coffee and baristas here is also very high – very different to five-to-ten years ago. But if you are looking for a unique café experience, then Australia and New Zealand have something special in terms of their coffee/café culture. Rwanda is still highest on my list, though. It’s a stunningly beautiful country with friendly and warm people and a unique style of coffee for East Africa. Costa Rica and Colombia are also amazing places, with long, rich histories, nature and traditional architecture, such as the Unesco-listed city of Popayán in Colombia (pictured above).
British Airways customers can enjoy a cup of Union Hand-Roasted’s speciality coffee blend in the air, a BA lounge or at home from its website with 20 per cent off (code BAVIP). To discover more about the partnership, click here