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The roaster and the potter

Words by Mandy Beall | Images by John Hersey

Where a coming together of coffee and clay creates the perfect antidote to a fast-paced consumable world.

The foot rarely settles as I make my way across Bodmin Moor; the familiar sounds as I crunch, splash, and squelch across the uneven ground comfort me.

I’ve recently returned to a revised ritual of morning walks with Alfred, our wirehaired dachshund, following a brief period of work unrelated to the family business. It’s wonderful to be able to return to such a beautiful landscape full of memories over time; the undulating, soft, hard and grey land around us is beautifully chromatic. Prone to weather changes and temperament, the environment is almost human in nature. Cattle, sheep and ponies roam, I’m home.

Not far from my walk lives Tash Aldrich-Blake. Tash is an artist. A visit to her studio expresses this clearly. Paintings line her walls, handmade smocks fall from hangers in a corner, her potter’s wheel sits perfectly below a window with an inspirational view; ready and waiting.

In 2020 when most of the UK entered the first pandemic lockdown, we set up Lars & Margo. For many years we had hankered to be able to work together. Yes, we were a husband and wife team of almost three decades but taking that leap of faith to set up a business together and be in some control of our own destiny was something else!

Rewind six months, we had decided to celebrate my 50th birthday by going to Kenya, the place of my birth. Whilst drinking coffee at the foot of Mt Kenya during our stay on a school friend’s farm, having recently heard that Peter had been made redundant from his full time job, we gazed across the Kenyan landscape and contemplated the question we greatly needed to address…what happens now? This is where I chuckled. Peter’s cooking abilities rarely surpass beans on toast, so when his response was “coffee roasting?” my surprised reaction was justified! Fearing he’d really tipped over the edge, and being the good supportive wife that I am, I encouraged him to continue.

So two years on from that trip, I’m now sitting in our Roastery writing this article with Peter nearby, comfortably sharing this same space. He’s warming up ‘Genevieve’, our 5kg coffee roaster, shipped over from Turkey when all seemed quiet but worrying in the world. Sacks of speciality green beans, 22 in total, are propped up on wooden pallets. Empty sacks are folded, awaiting the opportunity to be hung on our walls as a token of reflection of how far we’ve come in such a short time. Within 16 months we are prospering and strengthened, but more than that, we are contented.

From the initial agreement of ‘ok let’s do this’ there was a need for me to find the same fulfilment from the business that was undoubtedly going to happen for Peter. He is very much the true coffee lover and from the start his role as roaster was clearly defined. I’d come from a creative background and to bring an element of this into our practice was a much needed requirement. We weren’t just about roasting beans and distributing them. We both wanted more than that. We wanted to be connected with others.

Come and see us at the Roastery today and it’s not often you’ll simply arrive, purchase and leave without sharing stories; an element of Peter’s recently discovered Danish heritage and the love for Hygge may be the underlying influence here! We also live in this often overlooked former Cornish market town where farmers used to gather and exchange salutations, share experiences and offer support. We, as coffee roasters, envisaged meeting face to face with some of our coffee bean farmers but the pandemic forced us to consider other options. We decided to provide a platform for creatives whilst also inviting them to assist us along the way, so we put out a call on social media.

Nobody came forward. By pure chance I’d discovered a potter based in London, inspired by her visits to the Cornish coast, which excited us both. We contacted her and she agreed to make us a small batch of coffee cups (a strong ethos throughout our pledge with limited numbers for the benefits for sustainability). Some months later, following a successful sell out, we discovered another potter. The same happened again. So now we have arrived with our third maker for Lars & Margo.

Based up the road from us here in Liskeard, Tash uses a method of pounding, separating and rehydrating the clay from within the bounds of her most idyllic, self-built, wooden studio set beneath the shadows of the 19th century crumbling tin engine houses, in a secluded and remote spot on Bodmin Moor. Her process is lengthy, the praxis of collecting being essential to Tash’s practice.

She forages clays, an aspect she finds most interesting, but also uses commercial clays from St Agnes and Barnstaple on the north coast of Cornwall and Devon. The clay used for our collaboration was gathered from the hidden shores of Talland Bay on the county’s south east coast, where once mariners sailed cautiously and smugglers made use of secluded coves, concealing contraband. There is a particular area of the bay, only accessible during the spring tides or during a full moon when the outgoing tide is at its lowest…a specific material can be found there, her eye now disciplined to place, purple in hue.

The source of the River Seaton can be found on Caradon Hill. The mouth of this river is some 6miles along the coast from Talland Bay. The Looe River only some four miles from Talland sources near Redgate. Both of these rivers have trickled through the granite arena of south east Cornwall’s moorland,

eroding igneous granite rock over millions of years, finally depositing feldspar, quartz, amphiboles, hematite and other minerals within this area along the shores. This is where Tash forages this historic, now present, matter with the additions of weathering and salt spray. Tash painstakingly designed a run of cups with handles for us, but nature being nature and the clay having its own dominance over maker, it wasn’t meant to be. The final firing had adverse returns on the glaze. The tumblers however were not spoilt and we now have these as a small collection available to buy from our Lars & Margo Roastery.

To close ones eyes whilst cupping hands around a Talland Bay tumbler, one should expect a weight and a coarseness bearing a similarity to climbs on rocky tors as the hand momentarily rests on granite for stability or when clambering over barnacled shore rocks to the pools with hidden ‘critters’.

The south east area of Cornwall is still, in our opinion, somewhat overlooked. As locals we don’t necessarily have an issue with this; where other areas are becoming heavily overwhelmed with tourism this doesn’t appear to be the case here so much. However, this can also be detrimental to the area, especially as we try to grow our businesses. Despite the recent upheaval caused by the pandemic, we’ve witnessed small businesses come and sadly go. Our Roastery is currently based on a site intended for helping business start-ups. This has been a great opportunity for us. There is a sense of community found here, each one supporting the other.

On weekends we leave our home town, taking our coffee beans and pottery with us, heading to the likes of Whitecross at Lanteglos near Fowey, Tavistock and Plymouth, to trade at the delicious food markets to be had, meeting with regular customers and new. Our coffee packaged in its distinctive black paper packaging is now widespread throughout Cornwall and Devon, from farm shops and other retailers to hospitality settings. You may have tasted our coffee in one of Cornwall’s holiday lets.

The history of this area is vast and is worth exploring but if nothing else, Bodmin Moor, wonderfully visible from the Cheesewring, is ever-changing, wild yet welcoming. As the seasons alter so does the flora and fauna, but the granite quarries with their deep indigo pools remain. The trickling of the waters as they emerge into deeper and faster channels will hopefully continue to run for many years and provide us with inspiration and material. Inside, the drum rotates, hums, clunks, whooshes on repeat until the beans ‘first crack’. The Coffee Roastery.


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