In its specially created Grand Crü lounge, Ronan and UCC Coffee’s Head of Coffee Quality and Q grader Gayan Munaweera will take visitors on a journey through wine and coffee, including pairing red wine to its new premium coffee Grand Crü. We caught up with Ronan to get the inside track on what to expect.
Tell us a bit about you.
As a Master Sommelier, my role is all about understanding wine and curating an exceptional experience. When I started out in hospitality, nearly 20 years ago, I was fascinated that specific wine would go well with different types of food — I remember reading the label on a Chianti and was amazed that it recommended local dishes to go with it. I’m intrigued by detail, so that led me to specialise in wine and go on to qualify as a Master Sommelier — I’m one of around 200 in the world.
In my time in the hospitality business I’ve worked with lots of top chefs and establishments to create wine lists including the Gordon Ramsay Group, Claridges and Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons and just recently helped open 67 Pall Mall — a private members club where wine aficionados can enjoy rare, fine wines by the glass. My role is to curate the wine list and ensure our sommeliers have the right training in order to create a great customer experience.
From fine wine to The London Coffee Festival…how did that come about?
Wine and coffee are very similar. They’re both natural products and the flavour is taken from the terroir, varietal, altitude and climate, through to the way it’s processed. The way you taste and describe coffee and wine is also very similar — you talk about body, aroma and pick out different flavours such as citrus, nuts and earthy notes.
As a result, I’ve been working with UCC Coffee to develop a new blend of its premium coffee — Grand Crü. I’ve been working with Q-grader and Head of Coffee Quality Gayan Munaweera and the wider coffee specialist team to blend together three single origins to create the new composition. Developing the blend is all about considering the individual attributes of each coffee and how they would work together — just as you would with a blend of grapes. It’s about creating balance with the different elements to provide a harmonious, delicious product.
Gayan has an incredible passion and knowledge of coffee. We have very similar skills when it comes to tasting and identifying flavours, so we work well with each other.
What should visitors expect from the wine and coffee pairing experience?
Gayan is actually my co-host for the Grand Crü pairing experience — we’ve worked up a wine and coffee matching format which should be a lot of fun. Each experience is very intimate, with only five people, and is being hosted in our specially created Grand Crü Lounge. It’s going to be a nice relaxing space amongst the buzz of the festival!
Each experience is really immersive. By tasting coffee and wine, we’ll explore the similarities in detail. We’re covering everything from the terroir, climate and origin through to the art of blending and the tasting notes we use to describe the flavour in the cup or glass. We’ve bought in some beautiful Château de la Négly, Languedoc La Côte 2013 wine and it will also be the first time that the new seasonal Grand Crü we’ve developed will be tasted.
It’s also about rethinking coffee and its evolution as an important part of an eating out experience — in the same way wine is. There’s an educational element — we’re hoping that operators will leave with a deep understanding of how coffee can be appreciated and that there’s an opportunity to take it even more seriously.
What have you learnt about coffee since working with the UCC Coffee team?
To qualify as a Master Sommelier you have to have an understanding of all beverages on the menu — so that includes coffee, tea and soft drinks. But, you don’t go into nearly as much detail as you do with wine. And it was a little while ago now!
Like with wine there’s an awful lot to know. I’ve always drunk coffee but quickly discovered I’d been using far too much coffee in my cafetiére. It was harsh and bitter so I’d top it up with milk to mask it. The biggest discovery for me has to be the different brew recipes — understanding the parameters of the dose and grind of the coffee, volume of water and brew time. Since working with the team I just drink black coffee so that I can appreciate the delicate nuances and flavours.
I’ve been on lots of training including UCC Coffee’s ‘crop to cup’ course, where I discovered I prefer softer, nuttier coffees to bitter, fruity ones.
We’ve heard your favourite coffee, but what’s your wine of choice?
I always go back to a French wine. You can’t beat a classic Bordeaux which is comprised of a blend of grapes which creates a sophisticated and complex drink.
How can operators benefit from getting knowledgeable about coffee?
Coffee is in vogue at the moment and consumers expect a nice cup wherever they are — and it can have an impressive impact on the bottom line. Like with wine, having a good choice of coffee, presented well, by knowledgeable staff will enhance the customers’ experience. Coffee is the last impression before you go home — get this right and customers will leave happy.
So, when you leave the world of hospitality, what keeps you busy?
Through my work I get to travel and see a lot of fantastic places. I have a passion for scuba diving and wreck dives which takes me anywhere from the English Channel to Egypt. So, sometimes if I’ve been away for work I’ll try to fit a dive in. But generally you wouldn’t want to mix the two!
The new Grand Crü features three specialty grade coffees from Colombia, Brazil and Kenya, which were selected from the best of the season’s crop before being carefully roasted and blended to create an exceptional taste in the cup.
The 25 minute experiences will take place in a specially created Grand Crü Lounge on the trade days of the festival (7-8 April). Spaces are limited to five people per experience. Please contact Nicole Hartnell to check availability.
The Grand Crü Experience will take place on the Trade Days (7-8 April), with spaces limited to five people per experience. Please contact Nicole Hartnell to check availability.