Tom Hopkinson: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #40

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Tom Hopkinson: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #40

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Published by Tanya in Coffee Insurrection Hero · 9 January 2022
Tags: Tom_HopkinsonInterviewBristolBarista_Hustle
1- Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s
your job.

I'm Tom, a freelance coffee trainer, writer, and consultant. I'm from Bristol, in the West of England, but established my career in London. These days, I'm working while travelling: currently taking the very scenic route to Mexico, via Chamonix. My main job is writing and researching for Barista Hustle where I write the blog and some of the training courses, as well as developing their apps. Working with BH has been an amazing experience as I get to dig deep into all aspects of coffee science, from the physics of percolation to the genetic origin of arabica.

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

I take great pleasure in telling people that the first coffee I enjoyed drinking was a Bailey's ice cream latte. I only really got interested in coffee much later, when I got my first cup of specialty coffee at a market stall in London. The person who made me that coffee was Jem Challender, who went on to be my boss twice: first as the co-owner of Prufrock in London, and now as the Dean of Studies at Barista Hustle.

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

My ideas about what a cup of coffee can taste like are still expanding, and I hope that never stops. A few stick out in my mind: A pretty wild natural Ethiopian from Square Mile called Jirmiwachu that tasted like strawberries and star anise was maybe the first time I really 'got' the idea of flavour notes. A few years later, Dave Regan won the Irish brewer's cup with Graciano Cruz's amazing natural Geisha, which was just pure mango pulp. More recently, Five Elephant's Eugenoides, which barely tastes like coffee at all.

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

I'm not really a morning person, I have to say. I tend to get excited about an idea late at night and do much of my best work at three in the morning. So If I'm working in the morning it's usually because I'm working with other people, giving training, or behind a bar - and being able to connect with so many different kinds of people is probably the best thing about being in the industry

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

I like a plastic V60. Cheap and indestructible. I'm generally sceptical of grand claims that one brewer is any better than another

6- Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?

Oma natural, from Gesha Village. When we bought this, we cupped it against a wonderful clean, sweet, natural Ethiopian from our regular range - and it made it taste like dirt in comparison. I've never had an experience quite like it.

Tom Hopkinson

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

Ethiopia, always. Coffee is happiest where it grows wild, and it shows. And the work the people there put into growing and processing is incredible. Ethiopian coffee should be many times more expensive than it is: When you look at the wild prices paid for geishas and 'anaerobic' coffees from other parts of the world, you realise what a privilege it is to be drinking it.

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

One you (probably) haven't heard of: in Chamonix, which is where I am right now. They're making some lovely coffee in a place where you wouldn't expect to find it, and there's nothing like a good cup of coffee with a view of Mont Blanc. Recently I've also been really impressed by Sey, in Brooklyn.

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

Idealism is important, but it's no good to anyone if it doesn't make money.
This sounds cynical, but I started out in coffee by starting a business and failing spectacularly, and I will never forget those lessons. I also came to understand that the same principle applies, in different ways, to not-for-profits just as much as global megacorporations, and to the smallest farm just as much as the biggest exporter.

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

It has been a tough couple of years for nearly everyone. For me, I'm really happy to finally be doing in-person training again, but a lot more of my work is online now and will probably stay that way. Customers have mostly adapted - one of the good things about working in the industry is that people always want a coffee, so we're less hurt by economic downturns.

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

I'm most excited by the prospect of technology transforming the way coffee is traded or traced along the value chain, and by new varieties that can bridge the gap between quality and productivity. I also hope that people will be prepared to pay a lot more for their coffee

12- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Coffee has taken me on a winding path through different parts of the industry, but I still dream of standing behind an espresso machine on a little cart, bashing out coffees for people queuing in the rain and making their day a little brighter. If my knees are still up to it by then...maybe that's where you'll find me.

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

I don't know if I can give general career advice, but I'm always happy to help someone that reaches out. But I will say this: I spent many unhappy years in my previous career thinking that the next promotion would finally be the one that made it all worth it - but none of them ever made me as happy as being knee-deep in dirty dishes did. That's how I know I'm in the right industry for me.

Tom Hopkinson



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