Fancy a brew? Lancashire's 130-year-old Roberts & Co. and their master roasters have you covered

Roberts & Co. know their stuff when it comes to tea and coffee. After all, it's been the family business for over 130 years.

The Café at Cedar Farm
The Café at Cedar Farm

The great-great-great-grandfather of current owners Amy and Lucy Roberts, John Wilson Roberts hailed from Nefyn in North Wales and, like many of his fellow countrymen in that era, headed to Liverpool in search of work, eventually establishing the tea merchant's Wilson Roberts & Co. near the city's docks, which were the port of entry for a world of new flavours.

Originally, the company's sales went mainly back to North Wales, but soon Wilson Roberts & Co. was supplying large companies such as Cunard Steamship Company and White Star Line. Business continued to boom into the '30s, which saw the arrival of a new product to the merchant's inventory: coffee.

The decline of Liverpool's port in the '60s coupled with the arrival of large supermarkets, however, necessitated a change in tact. The company pivoted smartly, turning to retail and catering in order to open new markets. Wilson Roberts & Co. soon opened a range of specialty tea and coffee shops in the '80s with branches in Wigan, Chester, Manchester, Southport, and Soho.

Oliver Cunningham, Roberts & Co.'s master roaster

Before long, these outlets were their main source of sales, but rising rents saw the company decide instead to consolidate efforts on their pride and joy: their base at Cedar Farm in Mawdesley out of which Roberts & Co., which also sells wholesale, has been roasting and selling their beloved coffee ever since.

"We've been here since 1999 and it's a lovely way of being part of the community, especially in a small village like Mawdesley," says Amy, 46. "People are friends as well as customers, which is something I've always loved about the business. I grew up working in our shops and always enjoyed it. And I still do to this day.

"It's just great to be able to meet new customers, see the regulars coming in for their lattes, work with wholesale buyers, and get an insight into people starting new businesses in the coffee industry every day because I just love the whole shebang behind the coffee business, really," says Amy, with Roberts & Co. having been roasting their own coffee since the '60s.

"And it's a real family operation: my mum and dad are still involved in the business alongside me and my sister Lucy," adds Amy, from Parbold. "We've also got Oliver Cunningham, who's not a member of the family but might as well be - he's been with us for 25 years since he was 17 and has such a good eye for the roasting side of things, which is quite a skill.

Some of Roberts & Co.'s coffee

"Roasting is all done on the colour of the coffee beans and the sound they make, which is old-school," explains Amy, with the company still using their original vintage English Whitmee machines. "But we like to keep it old-school, especially with the roasters, one of which is over 100 years old. They're part of us and represent a history we're very proud of."

As well as selling directly from their roastery online and wholesale, Roberts & Co. also run The Café at Cedar Farm, which boasts a menu fit to burst with locally-sourced and homemade food as well as an always-vibrant espresso bar, which has allowed them to 'take things to the next level' and experiment with things like espresso martinis.

But Covid was, like for all hospitality businesses, a challenge.

"Covid was tough, but we had plenty of email orders so that pulled us through at a time when the rest of the hospitality industry was hit so hard," explains Amy. "But it was all about community: we even did days when we handed out drinks and biscuits in the village just to check in on a few more elderly customers.

"That lifted spirits and allowed us to make the best of the situation we were in."