Ben Miller: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #75

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Ben Miller: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #75

Coffee Insurrection
1- Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s your job.

My name is Ben Miller, I am originally from the US and am currently located in Lisbon, Portugal. I am exploring some independent projects, but until December I had been working for 6 months in Papua New Guinea as Operations Manager and Quality Control for Sucafina and for the year before that filling the same role for a company in Timor Leste.

2- When and why did coffee become important to you?

Well, I would say it first became important to me during my university years! It was, however, in 2014 when coffee become more than a caffeine delivery system. I had just walked away from a previous career and had moved to Vietnam to shake up my life. There I met a businessman who wanted to open a roastery/café and offered me a job managing the coffee aspect of the business. It sounded better than teaching English or tending bar, so I took it as a short term plan and am still running with it 9 years later.

3- Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?

There are probably others, but during my Q Certification, we got to try some of the Yeman coffee that Mokhtar Alkhanshali had smuggled out of Yemen, along with the story of the risks he took and danger he had been in to get that coffee into the US. It gave me a different perspective on something I had always taken for granted as ubiquitous and made me realize that coffee comes with a story.

4- What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?

Meeting and talking to new people and learning from them. I’ve had the good fortune in my coffee career to have done everything from planting nurseries to brewing coffee for customers in cafes. From the people growing coffee to the people consuming coffee, everyone brings their own viewpoint. For such a simple beverage, it comes with millions of stories.

5- What’s your favorite brewing method and why?

While this has a tendency to fluctuate, I’d say most frequently it is pour overs. I like the V60 for more than one person and the Phoenix 70 for a single cup. I find it is the cleanest, simplest way to find what a coffee has to offer.

6- Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?

Oiff, how to answer? As I am not sure I could determine the “best”, I’ll list the coffee that most recently blew me away. It was the Asnakech Ethiopian Cup of Excellence #38 from Black and White. It was such an nuanced, complex coffee that I found myself thinking about it hours after finishing the cup. I tried to order a second bag the day after I received it and it was already sold out!

Ben Miller

7- Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?

This again tends to shift periodically, but these days I just want clean washed Columbians. This is largely due to a backlash from burning out on anaerobic fermentations and carbonic macerations and other weird trends over Covid. Now, I am looking for pure, perfectly done “traditional” coffees.

8- Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one you working at/you use at work).

Only one?!? In the US I lean most frequently on Black and White out of Raleigh, NC, in , I’m a huge fan of White Label out of Amsterdam and in Asia, take a trip to the outskirts of Da Lat and visit Josh and Rolan at K’ho coffee where they grow, process and roast their own coffee.

9- What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?

Just how many people are involved in getting you that morning cup. Until I started working in coffee, I never gave a thought to how far that coffee had traveled, how many steps it had gone through and how many opportunities there were for it to go wrong. Every cup of coffee represents the hard work of innumerable people.

10- How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new
challenges for hospitality?

In January of 2020 I went to Timor Leste for the first time and agreed to take a job there. I was told it would be 6-8 weeks before they were ready to get started and I could spend that period in the US and take care of anything I needed to before moving to a remote island. Then Covid hit and 6-8 weeks turned into almost 18 months before I was finally able to make my way there. I think in the specialty coffee world in general, there was a shift towards home brewing and making better coffee for one’s self, though I think that shift is starting to recede a bit. My hope would be that the
interest in home brewing remains, while reestablishing the social nature of the café scene.

11- How do you see the specialty coffee scene in 10 years?

I think the next decade will see great challenges coping with climate change. Unpredictable weather patterns will cause the whole industry to rethink the approach to a whole range of variables. Whether that is new, more resilient varieties, higher elevation growing or some other combination tactics, this will be the new reality. I do think that, at a consumer level, we will see a higher demand for high quality coffee, stemming from new generations who grow up with the ready availability of specialty coffee.

12- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I’m currently trying to swing the pendulum of my career back towards roasting. After spending most of the last decade changing locations (often continents) almost yearly, I would like to find a role to settle into and dig my teeth into. Whether this is an established roastery or my own business, I would hope in ten years to have settled into something more permanent than the last ten.

13- Any last word? Any tip or suggestion you wanna share with someone that want to
start this path?

Take chances. Most of my career has been made by saying yes to opportunities and putting myself in positions others are hesitant to accept. That’s led to finding myself in some fairly out there scenarios, but also some pretty amazing stories and a whole bunch of fabulous, interesting people. Coffee is an industry that, in my experience, rewards taking chances. Some of the best experiences in my life and career have come from pushing past my comfort zone.

Ben Miller

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