Collingswood residents Jamie and Jessica Blanchard see their local coffee roastery as part of a larger small-batch movement.
By Matt Skoufalos
In Edinburgh, Scotland, the Royal Mile is a charming business district that crests at the Queen of England’s summer castle, and descends into a cluster of pubs, shops, and government buildings.
But in South Jersey, there’s another Royal Mile: a local coffee roastery founded by Collingswood anglophiles Jamie and Jessica Blanchard, who claimed the Scottish thoroughfare as the namesake of their home-based business.
“After going through the corporate world and the ridiculous ups and downs, we wanted to empower ourselves” to do something different, said Jamie Blanchard.
At the bottom of a cup of Cuvee coffee in Austin, TX, the Blanchards entered a rabbit hole into the world of small-batch roasting.
Their return trip to Philadelphia led them to Ultimo Coffee, where Counter Culture blends had netted the shop a best coffee shop in America award from The Daily Meal. Joe Coffee in Rittenhouse Square opened its doors to the couple next, and it all snowballed from there.
“Every state’s got them; every major metropolitan area has a craft specialty roaster now.”
Part of a movement
But the Blanchards aren’t worried about being lost in the crowd. Instead, they see their product as part of a growing movement that is open to aficionados and the curious.
With care and interest, they’re looking to find their own way among small-batch vendors of the second-biggest export commodity in the world.
Moreover, Jamie Blanchard said, rather than being cutthroat, the community of coffee start-ups has been collegial and supportive of their efforts.
That rising-tide mentality is ultimately helping consumers to take notice of the rich variety of local roasters in their own backyards.
“More people doing this is better,” he said. “The more people doing this, they’re telling people about what we’re doing. The difference between supermarket coffee and what you get, even the lowest-quality stuff that we have, is still going to be noticeably better.”
“We don’t want to compete with other local roasters,” Jessica Blanchard said; “we want to complement them. We think of third-wave coffee as a movement, and the more folks who are dedicated to the art of fine coffee, the better.”
The diversity of coffee is great, and so the Blanchards taste a lot to refine their product. The couple is concerned mostly with creating a lighter roast made from recently harvested crops.
“We source seasonally appropriate coffees from regions all around the world, so our offerings are constantly changing based on what is fresh and available to us,” Jessica Blanchard said. “For us it’s about finding the sweet spot that brings out each coffee’s flavor profile. We never know until we tinker around with it.”
“When you go to our site, you read the notes, and we’ll describe what we’re tasting,” Jamie Blanchard said. “It might not be what you taste, but we really try to not be pretentious about it. [We want] to give people a window into our purchasing process; a bit of education, a bit of coffee language.”
Coffee beans vary from country to country, region to region, and even from washing station to washing station within the farms that harvest them, he said—and that’s before “you go into how long it sits on the shelf.
“There’s a whole market for past-crop coffees, and that’s where Folgers and that stuff comes from, because it’s vastly discounted,” Jamie Blanchard said. “You can see it drop like a dollar a pound, and then you roast them really dark. Ours is generally going to be very fresh coffee.”
Ramping up to full-time
Until a few months ago, Royal Mile existed only online; recently, however, the Blanchards have opened a space in the SoHa Arts Building in Haddon Township, where they’re beginning to expand the scope of their roasting capabilities. Their toddler, Vivian, supervises the process with musical selections from her iPad.
The atmosphere of a collaborative space is appealing to the couple, but their ultimate goal is to craft larger batches suitable for local markets like Whole Foods, McFarlan’s, and area shops and cafes.
“We wanted to try to make this full-time,” Jamie Blanchard said. “We’re not trying to open a retail coffee shop. We’re happy with getting our roasting down, finding good beans, and helping with digital promotion.”
Customers and critics are starting to take notice, as well. Royal Mile recently was written up by the industry watchers at Sprudge in addition to being named one of the 15 best new roasters in the country by Thrillist.
“We have big plans and are hopeful that we’ll make a small dent locally,” Jessica Blanchard said.
“It’s not easy for the small guys like us to make a mark against the Starbucks and Dunkins of the world, but we think that once someone tries a really, really good cup of coffee roasted to bring out its natural flavors—no milk, sugar, or vanilla spiced caramel syrup needed—it could change their opinion of coffee forever,” she said.
“It certainly did for us.”