150-year-old coffee company’s still full of beans
Founded in 1864 as a small tea blender serving a select clientele, the
Gorbals-based firm is now one of the leading independent coffee
merchants in the UK.
Now the company is celebrating its 150th anniversary – and is looking forward to 150 more.
Ewan Reid, technical director for Matthew Algie, said: “We are still a
family run firm, run by Matthew Algie’s direct descendents, and a great
place to work.
“Since I joined the company in 1993 there have been really exciting
developments in coffee and we’ve seen a lot of changes in the way
consumers drink coffee.
“It’s certainly very different from in Matthew Algie’s day.”
Mathew Algie, who was born in Greenock in 1810, was a grocer and marketed tea chests imported to the Clyde on clippers.
In 1864 he set up his business in tea blending and wholesaling. It was
common at that time for tea blenders to have small shops with a group of
For the next 80 years the business developed, selling not just tea but also spices to retailers in and around Glasgow.
It was in 1950 that the company, by then called Algie’s, took a decision
that would transform it – the family opted to start selling coffee.
Before long, the company was selling tea bags, coffee and vending services to retail outlets and caterers around Scotland.
By 1974, Algie’s had begun selling coffee machines to offices,
restaurants and hotels, leading the charge to replace instant with
quality roast and ground coffee.
In the early 1980s the company went through a time of rapid expansion
and took its trade UK-wide, adding bulk-brew coffee machines for the
catering trade, and 1989 saw the first espresso machine added to the
David Williamson, a great grandson of Matthew Algie, and by then in
charge of the company, visited Portland, Oregon, in 1995 and saw how
coffee culture was taking over the streets of the US.
He returned with the modest intention of restructuring the company to drive the espresso revolution in the UK.
Two years later Espresso Warehouse was created, selling “everything but
the coffee” and filling a niche helping equip the growing wave of
independent café bars.
Also that year, Matthew Algie introduced the UK’s first Fairtrade
Espresso bean, a forward-thinking move given that Fairtrade coffee now
accounts for 96% of coffee sold.
In 2004 the firm launched the world’s first Triple Certified espresso: Fairtrade, organic, and Rainforest Alliance.
Now the focus is on high-end coffee and catering to the tastes of those looking for unique coffee blends.
David died suddenly in 2008, just days after his 42nd birthday, with streptoccyl toxic shock syndrome.
The family firm set up the David Williamson Rwanda Foundation in his honour.
The Foundation works with communities attached to the coffee-growing co-operatives in Rwanda to improve health and welfare.
Matthew Algie, which now employs around 200 staff, has also inspired loyalty in its customers through the years.
The Buffet Shop, in Helensburgh, has been a Matthew Algie customer since it opened 100 years ago.
Ewan added: “I think if Matthew could see us now he would be incredibly proud.
“He was an innovative man who could always spot a business opportunity
so I think we will have taken the company to exactly where he would want
it to be.”
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