A fantastic article by Juliet Coombe, a journalist from Sri Lanka who recently visited the Edge Café… grab a cup of Rusper and enjoy this thoroughly refreshing read about the heritage of Edgcumbes!
Tumeric Latte & Artisan Chai, The Edgcumbe-Rendle Story
Artisan café is the talk of West SussexGrowing up in India, Chris Edgcumbe-Rendle, now a master roaster and blending aficionado, ran with the horses, quite literally. His jungle book life was the envy of all his friends at school, back in Blighty. From the age of 5, he learnt how to ride in a military camp with mounted Calvary near his home in Calcutta ( Now Kolkata), and then went on to race ride at the renowned Tollygunge club. Over fifty years ago, this was still a very British style club and sadly today horse racing has been replaced with golf.
By the age of 11, Chris had his jockey’s licence for flat racing and a life that was an endless series of adventures with cups of freshly brewed tea and Bollywood style ‘tales of the unexpected’ between races, as India was a mystical frontier at the time where placing even a long-distance phone call was a challenge. Sitting in the Edgcumbe Roastery Cafe in West Sussex, enjoying a restaurant farmhouse-style meal on chairs made from coffee sacks from around the world, he laughs about this vintage era of no TV, and when a real treat for a teenager was to go and see a Hindi movie with one’s ‘ayah’. Chris explains as he gets us to try a healthy turmeric bright yellow latte created by his team of friendly Baristas, “I was sent away to school in England at 7 years of age and it was a shock to come to Britain having flown out of Calcutta’s Dum Dum airport. I had a slight Indian accent and way of delivering things and was always glad to return to India for all my holidays, horse-riding and food safaris.”
Becoming a coffee and tea master chef of blending and roasting is the result of decades of training with the best, tasting endless styles from around the world and having a love of mixing and blending to create exciting new drinks. In the case of coffee, much of the taste is due to the variety of bean, as well as down to the roasting process, which is quite an artform – no two roast are the same, given that ambient elements also play their part. On our tour of the Roastery which lies directly opposite the cafe, we were given some Colombia El Calapo green beans (in effect, coffee seeds) to grow and were let into how Chris and his wife, Alice, quietly, after over three decades of passion, have grown a huge fan base of ardent coffee and tea lovers. Followers love it so much, they will detour on their way to and from London to try the latest blend and to pick up some bags of their signature blend, that comes with tasting notes. Their multi-award-winning house coffee, Sussex Barn blend, has a great taste profile of berries, spice and chocolate.
Of course, behind every talented artisan is a kick-arse James Bond style business partner, Alice Rendle, who designed the stunning branding at the EDGE cafe, complete with family dog as part of the logo. Like her husband, she is also on her own personal crusade to get back to the good old days when we cooked slowly, and everyone stopped to talk about things while drinking loose leaf tea. She firmly believes that this will help save the planet by encouraging people to stop using tea bags with plastic in, which adds to our rubbish mountains and affects health. “Making tea, she explains, is always best the ‘old school’ way as it brings out the best flavours and colours, which she proves pouring different mixtures of camomile, fennel & rose petals into a tasting glass, and then says, with a sparkle in her eyes, ‘Happy sipping’. The true golden colour is a magical Aladdin and the Lamp type experience and all the more fun as she explains all the tea making paraphernalia on the shelves of the shop, which are also on sale online at www.edgcumbes.co.uk and in the EDGE Café, The Old Barn, Ford Lane near Arundel castle, West Sussex.
Chris, as he takes us round the Roastery, explains how his first big break was working for James Finlays of London, one of the biggest tea producers in the world, with responsibility for buying Ceylon teas to go into Sainsbury’s Green Label, which resulted in him spending an exciting year in Sri Lanka, at the Colombo auction houses at the age of 20, where he would do the tasting for up to 400 hundred different teas in a day. Going back to live in Asia in 1970 was his idea of heaven as he could indulge in street hoppers and spicy sambal while learning from the island’s finest tea makers. So he could identify the different tea tastes, he sipped milk between each batch to neutralise the taste of the last one and then put a broker’s price on it. Like his father who founded Edgcumbes Coffee Roasters & Tea Blenders in 1981, he grew to love tea mixology and has never looked back from his four exciting years with Finlays, whose bush-to-cup success goes back to 1750 when tea became all the rage as a result of the golden age of trade. He also fell in love with the coffee bean process after several exciting years in Kenya, applying the knowledge that the mix is key to any award-winning drink.
As we watched the coffee roasting machine turn through the sea of beans, taking out small stones and discussed the incredible range of blends, Chris explained proudly, ‘Our company now spans two generations, and when Frank Edgcumbe-Rendle my dad retired from his job as a jute and tea trader in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and moved back to the UK, he was distraught to discover he couldn’t find any decent loose-leaf tea and so he sat at the kitchen table with a set of scales and blended some high-quality Assam and Kenyan tea leaves together. He called the blend Rusper, after the West Sussex village where he grew up, and decided to sell a few packets, calling the newly formed company Edgcumbes – his traditional family name with lots of Cornish/Devon Celtic connections. The couple believes, along with their dynamic young team, that locally, fresh-roasted coffees and hand-blended loose-leaf teas ALWAYS taste better than commercially packaged products. Combine this with the voodoo of the setting, entertaining staff, quirky sustainable furnishings and a philosophy of bring your own take-away cup for a discount. If you have more time, of course stay and learn for a while about this fascinating business in the sun drench courtyard – here regulars talk about the seasonal range of 5 or 6 coffee styles, many of them have taken the time to enjoy one of their many amazing courses that are done in a superb teaching area next to the EDGE café.
Asked about the future, both Chris and Alice are excited by the prospect of travelling the world together while sourcing and learning about ever more blends, roasting techniques and whatever else might go with coffee and tea. A little tipple of something stronger, now and again, also, wouldn’t go amiss. So far their travels have taken them to Colombia, Costa Rica, Vietnam and Kenya.
Get in touch with Edgcumbes, and you might have an opportunity to try Christopher’s other business, Rendle’s Original Pink Gin, created by his father while fighting in the 16th Light Cavalry in India during World War 2. Captain Frank Edgcumbe-Rendle, to deal with the horrors of war, created his own secret recipe by adding spices and herbs from the Orient and made sure he knew it was his bottle of gin by adding Hibiscus for its pink colouring. Rendle’s Original Gin now the talk of the American and Canadian people, Christopher believes it’s time to take it back to where it all started -Asia as its infusion and story is all about the magic and mystique of the Orient. As Serendipity has it, Alice and Christopher are going next on their travels to research Sri Lankan tea and watch the English team play cricket this October in Galle Fort International stadium, which ironically is where the British use to race horses!
Photos © Juliet Coombe, Photojournalist
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