Volcano Pop-up Cafe: Back To Where It All Began

It's full steam ahead at our Brixton Pop-Up Cafe and that takes us back to where it all began.

7 weeks ago things were running like a well-oiled machine at Volcano Coffee Works when it all suddenly came to a screeching halt. To preserve public safety Boris Johnson had officially forbade regular trading for the UK’s cafes and restaurants thus suspending the demand for wholesale coffee with immediate effect.

At this point, like so many other small businesses, what we ‘were’ doing became redundant as priorities realigned to what we ‘could’ do in the 'here and now.' That is, what we could do to guarantee a future for our business and its staff, what we could do to support our customers, and what we could do to maintain delivering on our mission to create an equitable coffee supply chain. Departmental responsibilities became guide only as ‘all shoulders to the wheel’ took precedence and limited resource brought ‘why?’ into stinging focus for making decisions.

It’s back to basics at times like this and the survival of the fittest mentality that pervades, shares more in common with a new business than one that’s almost coming into it’s tenth year. In fact, this week, as we opened a pop-up cafe from our Brixton roastery, reminiscences of the days when Volcano was a ‘new’ business came flooding back.

As the photos of our founder, Kurt serving coffee to the good people of Brixton started coming through a moment of clarity settled in. This was a ‘full circle’ moment and maybe we were a bit like a new business again. Not newly established but newly connected to our roots and all the more clear on why it all began.

(Scroll down for Kurt's story and how it all began)

How Volcano Began

Sometime around 2001 while recovering from a near-fatal bike crash, a broken neck and with plenty of time to think, Kurt Stewart’s passion for the world of coffee lit up and hasn’t flickered since. If you’ve met Kurt you’ll already know what I’m talking about; he’s an independent, an inspirer, a campaigner; he’s a creator, a crafter, and a grafter. His energy infects others and he always seems to have a boundless pool of enthusiasm for anything that involves coffee, creating, or people.

After learning the art of roasting, while growing up in New Zealand, Kurt came to London as a fine-dining chef before he found his purpose at the helm of a coffee roaster again. It was here that he found fulfillment by combining a palate trained through years in kitchens with an insatiable curiosity for how machines work. The holy olfactory grail was the taste of provenance and the chance and challenge of roasting was being able to translate this clearly to the cup.

After working for a coffee roastery on Portobello rd. Kurt had begun to develop his own ideas about roast profiles and blending. He soon found a dormant coffee roaster in Ealing and began working on his own signature blends. Coffee’s taste is complex but the variables that can affect taste are infinite. Kurt spent long hours tweaking roasts and obsessively exploring the results it would have on the cup. It was during this time that Fullsteam Espresso (as it was known before later becoming Volcano Coffee Works) began to be conceived. 

All true passions soon demand they be set free and it wasn’t long before Kurt took his roasted treats direct to the public. In 2006 Fullsteam Espresso started serving coffee from the footpath of Rosendale Rd. West Norwood. Kurt had converted a vintage Italian Piaggio Ape cart to house an espresso machine and began serving them to a growing number of local supporters.

The next few years were especially formative in shaping the DNA of who we are at Volcano Coffee Works today. Kurt spent every spare minute at the roastery while his days were consumed serving; either at Rosendale road or increasingly at events all across South London. It wasn’t just the fun of making new friends that spurred Kurt on, but the thrill of seeing a passion shared. Regular customers turned friends and friends turned appreciators for the world of taste and ethics that can lay behind a cup of coffee. Every cup of coffee served can promote 'better' and that's still at the beating heartbeat of why we exist today.

The next chapter in Volcano Coffee Works’ history involves Kurt sharing his passion with two close friends. The business had grown and a permanent roasting space had been secured in the Parkhall Business Centre in West Norwood but Kurt was run off his feet. The Piaggio was still going strong serving locals but now it was in the corridor of the trading estate to be closer to the roaster as Kurt tried to manage supply for an emerging wholesale client base. 

Kurt knew he was onto something but needed to grow the team to take it a level up. The business was joined then by our Chairwoman, Emma Loisel and her husband, and Kurt's best childhood mate, Olaf Wiig. Olaf and Kurt were the Vespa collecting, vintage Italian futurist design admiring, machine-building creatives that would take care of brand and product while Emma brought a world of business wisdom, rigor, and team-building expertise. She joined from a decorated career leading large scale Digital Media companies through exponentially successful ‘exits,’ and knew how to turn good business into 'a good' business. 

The friends (agreed on a no bullshit, no fluff, and, most importantly, no-judgment approach to the world of coffee. The UK public was just beginning to catch on to the virtues of specialty coffee and if they were willing to support the cause there’d be no snobbery or scoffing at this roastery.

The year was 2010 and to mark this new chapter on our journey the friends began trading as Volcano Coffee Works. Volcano Coffee Works was built on the belief that openness and community were crucial for welcoming people into the world of coffee and then as scale increased so did the opportunity to enact positive change. We now believe whether farmer, barista, colleague or customer, everyone deserves a fair shot in life, and coffee can be a powerful tool for expediting equitable outcomes all along its supply chain.

So here we are 10 years later with a tinge of nostalgia and a heavy dose of contentment as we watch Kurt replicating how it was when it all began.

While so many things about the future are uncertain it’s reassuring to know that when you strip everything away you will discover that what Volcano Coffee Works was, what it is and what it will be has never changed. Whether it’s a footpath, cafe, roastery, or a restaurant Volcano Coffee Works is about the thrill in knowing that every cup of coffee is an opportunity to enact positive change in a world where everyone deserves a fair shot.

Volcano Pop-Up Cafe

*social distancing rules apply


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