Starting out as a coffee-equipment retailer in 2013, since 2017 Machina has become known from Scotland to coffee-houses across Europe as a roaster.
They also showcase their single-origin and blended espresso roasts at their coffee bar in Edinburgh, where they also supply barista and brew kits, as well as Inker POR cups and other porcelain.
Recently, we got to talk to Steve Glencross, one of Machina’s cofounders, to get an insight into the people behind the coffee.
How did you get started in the coffee business?
Machina was started as a premium equipment business back in 2013, distributing Rocket Espresso Machines, Eureka Grinders and Inker porcelain, with the long-term goal of becoming a speciality coffee roastery. Instead of accepting investment offers, Steve and Michael insisted the business grow organically. From 2017 the business moved into roasting in 2017, where it found recognition both in their native Scotland and across Europe.
What sparked your interest in coffee roasting?
After a 20 career in music as DJ and record label audio and recording engineer, Steve decided to move on from the music industry and pursue something new:
Coffee fitted the bill perfectly; less travel, but still bringing people together and still focusing on a creative passion that I could share with everyone.
As part of this Steve spent the best part of two years researching coffee scenes around the world, from Wellington & Auckland, LA, Portland & New York City through to Tokyo, London and more (“to the ongoing annoyance of my wife!”). He found that coffee culture wasn’t all rustic and hip, in fact it was developing a new style driven by aesthetics. This experience went on to be a heavy influence on their style, with minimalist influences from businesses like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia.
What coffee left the most lasting impression on you?
Steve recalled two of his best coffee drinking experiences.
The first was drinking espresso in super high humidity (espresso stops being served at 11am due to the humidity being too high) at Bear Pond in Shimokitizawa, Tokyo. He describes them as pioneers of the Japanese speciality coffee scene (Katsuyuki Tanaka is a master) and serve coffee in a stripped back style that is both uber nerdy and friendly.
The second was visiting Intelligentsia in Venice, Los Angeles.
I drank a bunch of Panama coffees as pour over that were earth-shatteringly good and learnt much coffee knowledge from the folks who worked there. This was a huge influence on how Machina became what it is today.
What does your roasting set up look like and how has it changed over the years?
Machina originally set out with a small industrial unit in South Edinburgh, from which they distributed equipment. However, with the development of the roastery, they needed to find somewhere that could cater for both aspects of the business.
That led them to their current home in Peffermill Parc just in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh.
However, they tell us that they’re at the point of outgrowing this space, and are planning an exciting move shortly!
What is your favourite brewing method and do you drink a lot of coffee at home?
Steve uses a Chemex with a Knock Feldgrind at home: “It’s a faff, but it makes killer coffee.”
I’m also the proud dad to a 5 year old boy and 3 chickens (Chicko, Yoko & Bernie), so, yes, coffee is a fairly essential part of keeping me sane at home.
Which coffee origin is your favourite and why?
Colombia – it offers so much diversity in terms of output. The varying altitudes & dual crops throughout the year creates such complexity in the coffees from this origin.
Steve is also a massive fan of Kenyan coffee, preferring to drink it cold if he can.
What roaster do you use, where do you roast, how often?
Machina use a Probatone LP12, with Cropster Software. They are also due to have a Probat P25 due to be installed at the roastery in the coming weeks (as of time of writing).
At the moment we tend to roast every four days out of five, with one day set aside for quality control.
However, with the return of wholesale after lockdown and a surge in growth recently, this new roaster will be a welcome addition for the company.
What is your favourite aspect of roasting coffee?
The constant influx of new and interesting origins, coffees, and processes that all contribute to the ongoing process of refinement.
Steve says he also likes the idea that coffee is a perishable product in limited supply, so you have a finite period to perfect that coffee before that supply ends and you’re onto the next one.
What distinguishes your approach to sourcing and roasting coffee from other roasters?
Steve cites their expertise in speciality coffee equipment as giving Machina an edge in understanding how to really get the best out of the coffee they roast, and deliver the best possible product for the end user.
Their technical background in equipment and the mechanics of coffee preparation is not available to many of their contemporaries, and spanning both their domestic and commercial offerings.
What gear or gadget is at the top of your coffee wish list?
Right now, I desperately need some new tea towels which is probably not the answer you were looking for.
As an aside, he mentions that a Rocket Cronometro Mozzafiato R HX espresso machine would be nice too…
Do you have a favourite coffee cup? If so, tell us about it.
Steve tends to only drink coffee out of the Inker Wave and Lunar cups that are available on the Machina website. “They’ve got thick walls for great temperature control, are super easy to hold and have a wide circumference for pouring latte art”. He says they are also literally the only cups in his house and at the roastery.
Have you read any great books about coffee roasting?
Rob Hoos – Modulating the Flavour Profile of Coffee: One Roaster’s Manifesto is an absolute essential.
Tell us about your café.
Machina Tollcross Café is our coffee bar, which brought a little bit of joy to an otherwise run-down area & is a coffee stop en-route to the famously beautiful Edinburgh Meadows (“where most of the city residents can be found on one of Scotland’s 4 sunny days per year”). Check it out @machinatollcross on Instagram.
What does the future look like for you? Where do you see your company in the future?
The future for Machina is looking good. They’ve weathered the storm of lockdown and have emerged stronger and, as they openly admit, a little bit wiser.
Their long-term ambition is to create a thriving coffee business with the scale, capacity and prestige of some of the larger roasteries in London – that just happens to be situated in Scotland.
They are looking to bring down barriers in the coffee industry and the public at large to deliver high-quality coffee products & services, accessible and enjoyed by everyone.
They also want to build a business that is rooted in the local economy and community, creating jobs for local people and creating a thriving industry that people can be proud of.
What advice would you give new roasters who are just starting out their careers in coffee?
Spend lots of time learning and try not to be too blinkered by coffee opinions. Enjoy and try and learn as much as you can from other people in the industry. Don’t try and release coffee too early, as it’s too easy to put out sub-standard coffee without realising it. Taste LOTS of coffee from people that you respect and learn from it. Most importantly, stay humble and open-minded.
One of their lead roasters, Dan, started his career pulling shots in the café, talked his way into packing bags in the roastery, and then essentially hung around long enough to learn a bit about roasting. “He also came from a Physics background at University level… so admittedly that did help too.”
What is your favourite thing to do when you are not roasting coffee?
Looking after my chickens, drinking decent wine, listening to the more abstract end of techno & hip hop and plotting the next move.
When traveling, do you visit other coffee shops and hassle them about their methods or do you relax and take it all in?
Steve says he always visits other coffee shops on his travels. He likes going to a mix of places that are either “big-hype cafes” to see if they are worth their fame, as well as low-key operators (which are usually the best ones).
I just tend to soak it up. It’s not my place to be all preachy about coffee, it’s just nice to explore what other are doing and see it from customers eyes for a
If you’re interested in taking your own coffee experience a bit further then check out the training courses and head to Scotland to start learning.