Ronan Keating and his wife Storm are part of a coffee revolution. Sophie Farrah hears the latest Boyzone tale
You all know Ronan Keating: the global pop superstar who has sold over 20 million solo records worldwide, plus a further 25 million with heartthrob Irish boyband, Boyzone. He’s an accomplished actor and TV presenter too, while last year saw him in the role of expert coach on the Aussie version of hit series The Voice.
But something else is brewing for Ronan. During a stint as a judge on the Australian X Factor – another string to his Antipodean bow – the singer-songwriter met his future wife Storm, then a producer on the show. They married in 2015. Now, when not busy jetting around the world, the couple are often to be found in Putney, working on something very different. It’s a project centred on a shared passion of theirs (and mine): coffee.
“Being an Aussie I’d been spoilt because great coffee is pretty much everywhere in Sydney, so when we first moved to London we were constantly trying new places, hoping to find the real deal,” explains Storm.
“One day we were driving past a little hole-in-the-wall place in Putney and, on impulse, we gave it a shot. It was the best coffee we’d ever had in London.”
The answer to the couple’s prayers was, in fact, the Ground Coffee Society, a stylish, unassuming independent café and specialty coffee roaster on the Lower Richmond Road. It became Ronan and Storm’s regular hangout and the pair took to social media to spread the word about their discovery, which in turn generated an increase in trade. Before long, owner Dave Dickinson invited them to come on board as partners in the business. The caffeine-loving couple were thrilled.
“We’d already talked about getting involved with a café or restaurant, as we’re both foodies,” explains Ronan. “So we thought it was a great idea.
“Ground Coffee Society is a small business that we really believe in. We genuinely love the product and there’s a strong market for great coffee in the UK, so it was a perfect fit for us; something that we could get behind with passion.”
Never were business and pleasure so conjoined.
“For me it’s like having a good glass of wine. Every day I look forward to my morning cappuccino and I savour every sip,” laughs Storm.
“I have one every morning too now,” adds Ronan. “I hate to admit it, but before Storm I had no idea that there was this whole other world of amazing coffee out there. I was guilty of going to the big chains, like most people, and now I can’t touch that stuff. Having a bad coffee is such a disappointment.”
Not something to worry about at Ground, where care is the watchword from bean to cup. The cafe sources its gourmet beans from small farmers around the world, transferring them to its very own roasting facility at Bicester, in Oxfordshire, around 60 miles from Putney. They are roasted in small batches to ensure maximum freshness, and then each bag is packed by hand so that the quality is top-notch every time. Before you know it, you’ve got yourself a seriously tasty flat white.
“We’ve visited the roastery a few times – it’s important to understand your product and how it’s made. It’s such a science. People don’t realise just how many elements make up a great cappuccino,” enthuses Storm.
“Many of the big chains pay a lot less for their beans,” adds Ronan. “It’s called ‘cheap greens’ in the industry. So you’re already starting off with a lesser quality product. Basically, it all comes down to having great beans, a talented roaster, good roasting machines and good baristas.”
With consumer demand for better coffee soaring, the UK has seen a corresponding surge in the number of independent outlets serving coffee that not only tastes good, but actually does good too. For Ground, that means using only ethically sourced and fairly traded coffee beans. Such a policy assists producers in developing countries to achieve better trading conditions and helps to promote sustainable farming. It also ensures that workers involved are safe and treated fairly and that any environmental and social impacts are taken into consideration too.
“Consumers are more aware than ever of what’s going on around the world, what’s in their food, and how people and animals can be treated by big corporations whose primary motivation is profit,” says Storm, who is an ambassador for Positive Luxury, the organisation that bestows the coveted Butterfly Mark upon ‘companies that care’.
“With technology and globalization the world has become small – no more smoke and mirrors. People want to invest in brands and products that they trust.”
Another factor in the caffeination of Britain has been the arrival of Antipodean-style cafés, characterized by their gourmet coffee, laid-back atmosphere and breezy brunch menus, usually featuring plenty of avocado on toast. MUD in Tooting and the SW London chain of Brew Cafés are prime examples.
“I’d say that Ground is at the forefront of all that and Putney is a great location,” says Ronan. “It’s a brilliant community and the place is heaving, especially at weekends. The only downside for us is shortage of room – we hate people having to queue.”
Until recently Ronan and Storm lived nearby, in Barnes, before moving out into the country for more privacy and much needed space. Aside from Ronan’s three children from a previous marriage, the couple are expecting their first baby together in May.
“Being in the country gives us more balance,” explains Storm. “Our lifestyle is so go-go-go, but now we can come home and really ‘stop’ before jumping on the next plane.”
“We do miss the charms of Barnes though,” laughs Ronan.
Baby apart, 2017 also sees Ronan’s 40th birthday, while new British war drama Another Mother’s Son – in which he appears alongside Jenny Seagrove and John Hannah – was due for release on March 24. Oh, and it’s also Boyzone’s 25th anniversary. Cue the screams.
“I know – 25 years!” laughs Ronan. “It’s such a long time and so much has happened. I’m sure we’ll mark it in some way, but whether by tour, record, book, musical…we haven’t decided yet.”
And the growth of Ground Coffee Society continues. This year the main focus is on expanding the wholesale business, while still delivering a great caffeine fix in the café. In between, this busy couple might even find time for a few cups of coffee themselves.
They’ll find me at the head of the queue.
- For more information on Ground Coffee Society visit: groundcoffeesociety.com
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