It might be surprising to some that Bailies Coffee Roasters has been around since 1993. The Belfast-based company was not responsible for the trend of specialty coffee in Northern Ireland but was established in response to the growing local demand. There was a growing community that was both knowledgable of expanding coffee trends and they were hungry to know more. Founder Russell Bailie chose to start Bailies, eventually fostering that passion into a bigger local industry.
After 27 years, the local desire for great-tasting coffee and education has remained insatiable. Bailies now offer a focused range of services, including a view into how they source and direct trade specialty coffee. They now roast, train, and provide equipment to their customers.
Using a dedicated coffee lab and seasoned Probat roasting machine, Bailies has continued to provide high quality and distinctive coffees which are also transparently sourced. According to the roasting team, they strive to “foster ethical, sustainable, long-term relationships with some of the world’s finest coffee farmers and their communities.” Bailies’ whole bean retail bags, with their distinctive brightly colored tie-dye exteriors, are increasingly appearing on cafe shelves, home setups, and competition stages across the world. We are also delighted to have the Northern Irish- based roastery as one of our valued retailers within the UK and Ireland.
We spoke with head roaster Stephen Houston about his role in the company and how Bailies continue to hold a strong position in the growing international specialty coffee industry.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted before the pandemic social distancing guidelines were brought in. Guidelines that are still operating at the time of publishing. Some event dates have since been moved or canceled. Bailies are operating their own online store, you can order and support the team here.
From an outside perspective, the Northern Irish specialty coffee scene has evolved substantially in the last few years. What do you think of the local and national coffee scene and how it has changed?
Specialty coffee has taken off in the last few years in the UK and in Northern Ireland especially, and it’s great to see. I think it’s largely in part to coffee drinkers becoming more aware of the product itself; they want to buy and drink coffee that is sourced and produced ethically and roasted by the best roasters. The growth of cafes and roasteries across the UK and Ireland has also created an incredible coffee community which is what I love the most. It’s not a competitive scene but one of support and encouragement; filled with many talented baristas and roasters and coffee growers communicating and learning from each other as well as supporting each other at competition.
Specialty coffee has also become a trend thing as well. In some ways, Instagram has been a key player in this instance with the platform being able to help many coffee companies and cafes promote themselves to the masses. Good café design, food, and coffee- it all goes together so well and so many places in Northern Ireland have been able to curate amazing spaces that offer great local food and amazing coffee.
What is your favorite coffee that you have recently served and how was it prepared?
My favorite coffee recently is our new Kenya Gichathaini AA and had the most delicious espresso of it brewed by our head trainer Julia.
How do you use Acaia?
I have always used the Pearls for my daily coffee, I have also used them in every brewing competition that I have entered into. Around the roastery, I use them for weighing out green coffee samples for sample roasting, as well as Quality Control checks of density. I love them because they are accurate, repeatable, and the battery lasts forever!
We see Bailies is heavily involved with both local and national championships, such as Aeropress and Barista. Is this important for Bailies?
We see it as something very important, we are representing our coffee against the best roasters and coffees in the world, At Bailies, we are incredibly lucky to have not one, but two such talents amongst our team at present. The time and dedication Sarah and I have put into these competitions emulate their passion for coffee which is the key factor behind their successes over the last year. It's fantastic to see locally roasted coffee on the world stage in Melbourne, where Sarah has the opportunity to be crowned World Barista Champion.
We at Bailies Coffee Roasters share the dedication to pursuing the perfect coffee and competitions are a great opportunity to do that, learn a lot, represent our coffee and share it with the rest of the world.
What’s coming up next for the company and the staff working for it?
The next really big event is helping Sarah (a Barista trainer) get ready to compete in the World Barista Completion in Melbourne in May, so roasting plenty of great coffees, engineers sorting out her equipment, helping her presentation and just getting her ready for the big show! It's something everyone here is so proud of her achievements and it is going to be a team effort to put it all together!
What roasted coffee have you been most excited about recently? Both your own coffee and others.
The most exciting has been some of the pre-shipment samples of the Colombia coffees we picked when I was over there last year, we have some really stand out coffees, of them being a naturally processed Eugeniodes. And very excited about Sarah and Jan, who are out souring competition coffees in Ethiopia.
Thank you for the interview, Stephen, and we wish you and your team the best of luck in the future!