Harry’s Story Of Sojourn Coffee

By Ross McCrea

Sojourn Coffee, located on Barrack Street, Armagh

Harry has always had a love and passion for coffee, it was one of those things where he started drinking it young and slowly became more obsessed. After starting a coffee Instagram page during lockdown, Harry was eventually able to open his own speciality coffee shop in Armagh, Sojourn Coffee.

As the popularity of coffee develops into something of a coffee culture, people become more interested in the deeper intricacies of making a cup of coffee. This includes the type of beans used, how they are filtered and how it is brewed, paying particular attention to the flavours and characteristics of the individual coffee beans and cup of coffee. This type of coffee making can be described as speciality coffee, where the coffee is typically of a higher quality based on a scale, even the beans sourced are of a higher quality.

Speciality coffee’s increasing popularity is mirrored in high street chains, as Starbucks and Costa continue to introduce limited edition single origin speciality coffees in stark contrast to their super-dark roasts. You could almost argue it would be hard not to get interested in coffee these days, almost everywhere you go, there are big café and coffee chains offering coffee, even McDonalds do coffee now! And with speciality coffee now adding to the buzz around the coffee culture, more people than ever are getting into coffee.

Harry spoke about why he was always so passionate about coffee, “Coffee is such a complex drink that has so many layers and nuances. What really got me passionate about it was what a coffee shop can do to people.” Harry described coffee as the “middle man in a strange relationship” between customers in a coffee shop and baristas, with a coffee shop being a place where relationships can grow.

Harry explained how his passion for speciality coffee began when he was 18, “I got an Aeropress for my 18th birthday, and then I just started to spend a lot of time reading about coffee… and instead of studying for my A levels, I was fully engrossed in coffee websites and learning all that I could.” After his A levels, Harry began working in the coffee industry, “I started in Starbucks, with a desire to be working a speciality coffee shop within the year.” After 8 months in Starbucks, Harry then worked in Fruit and Brach in Belfast and then moved to The Copper Lab in Banbridge. Harry noted that during that time he “had a lot to learn” but that it was valuable time in a industry if he was to open his own coffee shop.

Harry’s dream for opening a coffee shop was clearly at the front of his mind as he explained, “my desire to open a coffee shop definitely started when I should have been revising for my A levels!”  Harry also explained that university wasn’t really appealing to him at that time either, “I had applied for university but didn’t really have any desire, because it seemed like all I wanted to do was own this café.” As Harry told family and friends about his dream, one particular family friend happened to own property all over Armagh had a building that he was happy to lease out to Harry for his coffee shop when he saved enough money.

Harry brews a fresh cup of coffee

Harry spoke of money being a key challenge, “Everything just costs quite a lot.” Harry explained that, as a speciality coffee shop “if you want to do something well, you kind of have to invest the money. And if you’re high quality, you have to charge slightly higher prices, which sets you apart from places which can do it on the cheap.” Harry also spoke about his struggle with the “multiple moving parts all at once”, and explained that it was hard to focus on one thing without losing control of the other. Distribution was also a challenge, part due to covid, where Harry was promised dates for equipment and not receiving them on time. Despite his concerns about staffing, due to a lack of speciality coffee shops in the area, Harry praised his staff team, “they have picked up their trade so quickly and have done an incredible job so far.”

When asked about the values of Sojourn, Harry said “In Sojourn, we want to be known for our welcome and hospitality” since they are in the hospitality industry at the end of the day. Harry wants customers to see Sojourn as a place for good conversations as well as caffeine, “I would rather our coffee be poor and our welcome be excellent, than our coffee be the best in the world and our welcome be rubbish.” Harry also talked about why professionalism is important to him, “the coffee farmers in Brazil have done a fantastic job growing this crop… so we should do our upmost to provide the platform for it… as our very small part in a big chain.”

Harry also commented on the current state of Northern Ireland’s coffee culture, “at the moment, (speciality coffee) is heavily populated in Belfast and the North Coast… and, in the way I’m doing it, I would expect to see more high quality coffee shops opening outside of Belfast and the North Coast.” Harry also hopes that more quality comes out, as all shops aspire to provide better quality coffee for more people.

As the coffee culture in NI continues to grow, it is clear that a well trained team and a very warm welcome is just as important as the quality of the coffee. Harry’s passion for coffee and vision for these key aspects of his business have always been on his mind. And through Sojourn, after years of dreaming and planning, Harry has been able to find a place to comfortably fit into and thrive in the coffee culture.