Life Behind Brews
This week’s Friday Feature will be the final instalment in this current unbroken run of 20 weeks! It will certainly return in the future, perhaps with some changes, but I think this is a good time to pause proceedings or to end the “season” if you allow me artistic license! With this break, I hope that those who have enjoyed TFF will revisit some of the previous features and check out any you may have missed. I feel there is real value in the experiences of others and I consider myself fortunate to have unearthed a wealth of inspiration and motivation from the passion of others, which continues to leave me in awe. So thanks guys!
This week’s feature is Ollie, Union’s London Account Manager, and if you attended the London Coffee Festival, you may have seen him at the impressive Union corner on the ground floor. I met Ollie at a small and personal Union cupping session earlier this year and loved his warmth, passion and open-mindedness. His consideration for ethical coffee and the people who produce our coffee is inspiring and symbolic of the third wave movement we’re all enjoying. Find out more about Ollie below, as we talk Bananas, Brazil, Direct Trade and so much more!
Q- Who Is Ollie?
A- Ollie is short for Oliver but that is usually used when I am in trouble or being told off by my mum…
Q- Preferred coffee drink?
Q- Favourite brew Method?
Q- Tell us about your last coffee.
A- My last coffee was a FAF Dos Santos Brazil Microlot roasted by Union Hand Roasted. The team at Urban Baristas (Queens Way London) are trialling it for their seasonal batch brew filter option (it’s delicious).
Q- Why coffee? Was there an eye-opener or eureka moment?
A- Growing up in Wellington NZ you are surrounded by an amazing café culture so I was drawn in by the music, food and then coffee. My game changing moment would have been in my late teens when I tried a little flat white from Supreme www.coffeesupreme.com down at their little Roastery/ takeaway kiosk on Tory Street. From then I was hooked and basically started exploring Speciality coffee.
Q- Do you have a favourite coffee producing country, particular farm or varietal?
A- I think it’s easy to swept up in the super high scoring Geishas (they taste amazing) but I feel the story behind the cup makes the coffee that much more special. Now days I appreciate all types of roasts, varietals and origins as I feel it’s good to keep an open mind. I wish I could give you a more definitive answer but that’s why I love coffee. It’s a constant journey and part of the joy is tasting and being exposed to different varietals, processes and origins.
Q- Share a coffee highlight so far; where everything from the drink to the setting was just perfect!
A- I would say the one that stands out for me would be a few weeks ago whilst in Brazil. The producer Joao Hamilton, has a rock that sits overlooking some of the land. He took us up there and brewed us some of his Bola fogo (fireball) coffee. I truly took some time to reflect on how fortunate I am to work in such a fun creative industry.
Q- Have in or to go?
A- Well considering most of my time is spent visiting our customers, it’s usually have in.
Q- Favourite coffee shops?
A- Well I am a tad bias when it comes to this question haha. We (Union) are lucky to supply some amazing cafes, restaurants, carts and much more. I think they become much more special when you know the owners and staff behind them as it creates such a personal experience. Owners and staff work their asses off every day and you build a pretty special bond supplying them on that journey. So to kind of sum that up, my favourites would be all of our guys!
Q- What’s your must-have coffee companion?
A- Probably my work laptop and a Banana to balance out the excess caffeine…
Q- Most important coffee tool?
A- That’s tough as there are so many that are crucial. I am going to go with passion and an open mind haha.
A- Not for me but people like what they like!
A- Yeah why not. I have tasted some really decent decaf espresso. Stand out for me would be our Decaf Rwanda Mararba & Square Mile have a really decent decaf too.
Q- Capsules/ pods. Thoughts?
A- I mean it’s a lot of plastic per coffee! Kind of takes the romance out of coffee but that’s the future I guess.
Q- Why Speciality Coffee?
A- Really it comes down to taste and ethics. You also don’t want to be walking around with a belly full of boiled milk mixed with dirty espresso! I also think the smaller independent café has a lot more charm and character than the generic chains. All that being said, the high street chains have their place, plus they are good recruiters for speciality coffee shops!
Q- Union promote “Direct Trade” coffee. In a nutshell what does this mean? Do you think the industry is doing enough to give coffee producers at the farm a fair deal?
A- Good question! I have a lot of respect for our founders and management as they have held these values from day one. It’s a transparency thing for us and the producers. I am not going to try do it justice and summarise Direct Trade (though please visit Unions Website for more on this) but I do feel the term is getting quite loosely thrown about these days. I think visiting a producer, cupping a bit of coffee then selecting a few sacks to buy and never seeing them again isn’t really the best way to go about it. I love the fact we put in the hard yards and build partnerships that lasts years! Check it out at www.unionroasted.com
Q- Talking of visiting producers, tell us a little bit about your recent trip to Brazil!
A-It was amazing! FAF Coffees have a network of producers based 4 hours north of Sao Palo. They hosted us at their Farm which produces some high quality coffee among other things such as honey, cheese and much more. They have been pushing themselves and other producers to grow coffee in a more effective way, creating life instead of death! The results speak for themselves and some of their coffees and producers they work with have coffees scoring high 80s already. This is still early days for them so imagine what is going to happen down the line! Union have built a solid partnership and I was fortunate to host one of our key customers Urban Baristas who use a significant area in the Bobolink region called Boa Vista. We got around to quite a few of the producers and had some inspiring conversations. It really hits home when you see the positive impact the company you work for and the account you supply has on the lives and wellbeing of the families. Urban Baristas are also going to set up a charity fund to help with the water treatment in the Boa Vista Valley; plus the added assurance that they will continue to buy their coffee for house espresso gives them a lot of security.
Q- What’s next for you, on your specialty coffee journey?
A- I will continue to work with our current customers and help provide quality ethical coffee as well as support. I really enjoy the buzz of seeing a new café or customer progress and flourish, so I can’t see that changing for me. As much as I enjoy the technical aspect of brewing, roasting and tasting coffee, I would like to dig further into the people behind it and the environment more. I love working with people so as long as that continues I am a happy man!
Q- Any final thoughts or words to leave us with?
A- I think it’s just keep an open mind really! I would love to see more coffee bloggers and people within the industry not get too caught up with whoever is new and trendy. It’s important for anyone who talks about coffee or has that platform to not have an agenda. I think there is room for everyone and making high quality/ ethical coffee more accessible should be on everyone’s agendas.