Icon of the Week: Jericho Coffee Traders

by Isabelle Proctor | April 22, 2024


Jericho Coffee Traders began in 2009, with founders James and Lizzie selling coffee from the same Vespa truck that now makes appearances at Oxford balls. They’re not messing around: they have five locations, a coffee subscription business, a coffee school, they offer delivery around the country, and they regularly receive gifts of artisanal cheeses from customers.


I am told that their logo is a pūkeko — a bird from the home of one of the founders’ in New Zealand — and JCT was named after that bird… until someone said that pūkeko might be a rude word in Mexico. Their High Street Cafe, affectionately termed the ‘espresso bar,’ is emblematic of the Oxford coffee scene, happy customers watch the world go by from their highly coveted outdoor space, be it sleet or sun. The Castle Cafe is tucked away by (shock) Oxford Castle and is a quieter space with gorgeous light and lots of seating! I went to hear more from Amy Rapoport and Jorj Hux, managers at their Castle and High Street cafes, about all things JCT.


I lean against the counter at the Castle Cafe, helpfully getting in people’s way, while Amy multitasks making coffees, answering my questions, and serving customers. She has been working in coffee for five years and says that the friendliness “was the reason I started working here,” explaining that JCT hire based on personality, which is what makes the company unique (if you’ve ever wondered why all the baristas are so cool, that’s why). Hux and I sit outside the High Street Cafe, enjoying blaring sirens and a rickety bench which I nearly fall off. We talk about the postcards — which people send to JCT from their travels — and trinkets decorating the espresso bar, and how “people come in and feel like it’s their living room.” Hux has been at JCT for a year and a half and defines its ‘thing’ as making “specialty coffee unpretentious”.


So, I start by asking what the barista’s equivalent of having to pour a Guinness is. Both are slightly confused by the question; clearly not everyone is chronically online and transfixed by TikToks of bartenders despairing when a customer orders Guinness. After rephrasing to: what order makes you think ‘for fuck’s sake’? Amy replies with the strangest coffee order: “Half decaf, half non-decaf” which she qualifies with ‘It’s not the end of the world, we’re not going to get upset about it.” I’m upset about it on her behalf. Hux says: “Maybe the dirty chai, it just takes the longest to make.” I put my dirty chai down sheepishly.


I shift the focus to latte art and an avian theme emerges, as Amy tells me how long it took her to perfect swans and how when she first started making them, they looked “more like turkeys”. She also used to be able to do little bunnies. Hux is “still perfecting” what he describes as a “multi-layered tulip” and can “nearly do a swan…” Both managers’ love of their craft and JCT is evident, but I am impatient to get to the gossip.


Neither Amy nor Hux are quick to tell me their customer pet peeves but after some pressing, “not saying hello back” or “can I get a coffee please,” bugs Amy. She points to the wall: “We have a menu, it’s really big!” I assume the worst offenders are boomers but Amy refuses to comment because for the most part, the Castle Cafe gets “really nice customers,” with one “who brings us cheese from the Jericho Cheese Company!” Hux settles on customers who “continue their conversation once they get to the till and there’s a queue behind them” as his worst offenders.


Rude customers are few and far between at JCT, so Amy has no juicy anecdotes (to my dismay). I am shocked by Hux’s story of a customer telling him that the “coffee is undrinkable,” but he shrugs it off: “It’s a subjective thing…” As is ordering tea, which Amy “used to get annoyed about” but jokes it was probably due to “snootiness from wanting to make coffee.” Hux, however, is “absolutely fine” about customers who order tea and decides he likes “the boldness of coming into a coffee shop and ordering tea.”


Rest assured, reader; baristas do listen to your conversations and judge how well your date is going, but they keep their opinions to themselves and, disappointingly, neither manager re-enacts the romantic scandals they have witnessed when asked. Shame, I really wanted to know how my friend’s latest Hinge date went. But Amy does admit that she is “pretty sure someone came here to break up with their partner.” Ouch. On the upside, both Amy and Hux think coffee shops are “definitely” a good place for a first date. Hux talks about how there’s “no pressure, it’s a very safe environment” and you can be completely yourself. Amy sagely adds that the only downside is that “you can’t leave — no windows to climb out of!” Interpret how you will regarding my friend’s date.


I want to get to the heart of how we are seen as customers, usually so preoccupied with getting our caffeine fix, or crushing on the barista that we forget how insufferable Oxford students can be. I conclude that we should pity the High Street baristas who endure “heavily academic” conversations about philosophy and quantum physics, though Hux clarifies that he loves how “genuinely interested” people are in their degrees. Amy did despairingly show me a note which a customer left under his mug, with the line ‘I like you a latte’ scribbled next to his phone number. Don’t be that customer.


Hux tells me about the events which JCT caters, with their turquoise coffee cart – from local farmers markets to Christmas fairs and JCT’s residence in Bicester Village. They were recently at the London Coffee Festival and delivered to the Royal Alber Hall! Of course, JCT is also a fixture on the Oxford ball circuit, and I ask Amy what her favourite event has been, to which her immediate response is: “Magdalen Ball” which cuts a bit deep – I was on the Oriel Ball committee and we also had JCT, the night before. I move swiftly on.


As a local business engaged in the community and conscious of its carbon footprint, Amy explains how JCT works with a company that recycles their coffee grounds and that their general supplier is based in the Southwest so that when “they deliver to other people in Oxford, we’re on their way.” I ask Hux how he sees the coffee industry evolving and a slightly pessimistic discussion about ESG ensues; he wonders about the rising price of coffee and rising global temperatures. “I think it’s going to be hard for people to afford a daily coffee, people are going to have to price things consciously. There are so many coffee places are popping up everywhere so it’s going to be interesting to see if the demand stays the same.” Apparently, lots of coffee farms are thinking about moving to different parts of the world where the climate is better for growing coffee berries, “like what’s happening with wine.”


Given their extensive knowledge of the process and the industry, I am intrigued by what baristas drink when they’re at home. Amy tells me: “I do a lot of V-60 at home, I can’t lie,” I nod enthusiastically at her while she continues: “I feel like V60 really brings out the notes of the coffee you’re tasting.” As soon as I get home, I look up ‘Be60’ and eventually find out that a V60 is a piece of equipment which you use to make drip coffee. Hux explains why he doesn’t want a coffee machine at home because he believes coffee should always be a social thing but that he does have “a soft spot for instant coffee.”


And finally, I just have to know Amy’s and Hux’s off-menu recommendations. Amy’s: a short black, “which is like an espresso with a little extra water”. And Hux’s: an oat milk espresso with sugar syrup shaken with ice. Sounds good to me.


JCT are hiring now.


Words by Isabelle Proctor. Image credit to Isabelle Proctor.