As most people who have visited Chimney Fire HQ will attest, we consider ourselves pretty lucky to hang out up here at our courtyard roastery.
It's an idyllic setting, really. Situated back from the road with friendly and unobtrusive neighbours, surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer. The tall, graceful cedar trees keep watch over us as we sit in the sun and eat our lunches, gently swaying in the breeze as they do. If we were forced to complain about anything, the sheep next door are sometimes a bit rowdy. It's a nice problem to have.
So why could we possibly need to spend an afternoon de-stressing and bonding as a team?
Beneath our serene exterior, there are many potential headaches to be had and hurdles to overcome. Our coffee's journey to your cup begins up to a year in advance, with contract and cost negotiations, transfers of funds, international shipping deadlines to meet, and other time pressures before the shipping containers carrying our coffee even arrive in the UK. Then there's the release of pallets of green coffee, demand forecasting, logistics, operational constraints (especially our lack of storage space), roasting, quality control, fulfillment... not to mention sales, marketing, business development, creative, and all the rest....
Phew. So we're all in agreement that we deserve an afternoon off, right?! Right. Before we get into this, let's get one thing sorted: this isn't an advertorial for Joy Farms - we just went there for a team outing and had a lovely time, so wanted to tell you all about it!
Joy Farm, owned and operated by Adrian and Sarah Joy, is located just down the hill from us in East Horsley. At the top of their farm lies their craft and campfire area, with its old barn nestled in the lee of Sheepleas SSSI - a Rothschild reserve once described as "the finest piece of botanical and entomological ground within 30 miles of London".
An open fire was already burning, and we were offered tea and coffee from one of their stove top pots that were perched above the flames. They have chosen to serve our coffee to all their guests, and we were very pleased to see that our biodegradable bags fit right in with the arboreal surroundings. At one end of the copse there were a collection of garden chairs arranged in a circle, and after a welcome chat and safety briefing - we were going to be using very sharp knives, after all - we were invited to take a seat to get started.
Spoon Carving Tuition
Adrian's teaching style was the perfect blend of passion and encouragement, with a hint of self-deprecation thrown in (just to remind us not to expect a perfect result first time). Given we were only visiting for the afternoon, he had taken the time to pre-cut lengths of willow and silver birch into 'axed' outlines of spoons for us to carve into. This, we were told, is what you would achieve in the morning session before stopping for a slap-up lunch by the campfire.
Safety around sharp knives is understandably a priority, and Adrian was very clear about how and why each cutting technique should be used. Some were quite intuitive and similar to how vegetables are peeled and chopped, whereas others required more detailed explanation and a little one-on-one guidance to get going.
The mutual admiration and occasional banter continued to flow as the afternoon progressed, as we gradually worked our way towards our end goal of a useable spoon. But Adrian was keen to remind us that such a pastime is a matter of process, not outcome - it's the time spent crafting the object that should be savoured, staying in the moment and letting time flow at its own rate.
If this all sounds a bit 'zen' to you, you certainly wouldn't be wrong. Adrian is correct in that there is much perspective to be gained from putting modern technology aside for a while, in favour of doing something manual and creative. Mindfulness is a modern buzzword for a skill that has without doubt been practiced by humans for millennia - the pursuit of singularity of mind, clearing away unnecessary diversions in favour of connecting with the natural world.
The Final Product
So how did we all get on?
By the end of the session we all agreed we felt refreshed from an afternoon with a singular focus, and had gained an appreciation of an ancient craft. Once we had downed tools we sat with a drink by the campfire, enjoying the evening sun and each other's company in a way than an exhausted end-of-the-week drink simply cannot. It certainly brought us closer together as a team, and for that we have to thank Adrian and Sarah for their expertise and good company. CFC founder Dan summed it up well:
"This was a perfect outing for our team. Everyone really enjoyed it, and the relaxed ambience and setting provided some much needed downtime. I personally found I was able to completely clear my mind which is not always easy these days!"
And yes, we each took home a useful kitchen utensil that we can wheel out at dinner parties to the amazement of our peers - apart from Nathan, who whittled his bowl down so much that it's probably better used as a soup strainer...