"Nobody starts in coffee" says Roaster Oli

It's frozen outside and I'm chatting to Oli, our new roaster at 200 Degrees in our slightly chilly Roasting house. We both realise this is ironic. Perched in a comfy seat with a good few layers on he has a grin from ear to ear. 

“It’s rare to find people who begin their working career in coffee (although it does happen). It is often something that people transition into. That was certainly the case for me!  The expectation is you must have done something before coffee."  He elaborates "I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do after I left school, or what I wanted to do long term."  I learnt the answer to this is to do an awful lot until you find out what you love the most!


At Uni Oli studied environmental engineering; "I was ambitious about improving the environment and Rob Darby (200 Degrees co-owner) also studied this".  I start to ponder if there is, after all, a bar to get into coffee. After 5 years as an engineer and then a consultant, frustration with the industry and a lack of impact on the real world got the better of him.  So, it was obviously time to… join the army!


"I don’t want to sound bragalishus" begins Oli "but I felt I had leadership potential that wasn't being harnessed or utilised.  I spent 2 years in the TA then did officer training at Sandhurst for 12 months".  I'm still googling 'bragalishus' as he goes on to tell me it was a "mixed bag - fantastic leadership training but very brutal. Sleep deprived and a lot of being shouted at.  12 months later I returned to civilian life.”


The year was 2008 and Oli landed back to reality with a bang.  "I rang my old company and didn't realise that the world had gone into recession, with no jobs."  He moved back to Oxford as a sales and marketing manager, then at a publishing firm, which he clearly enjoyed.   "It was the Economist of the water industry.  They were and are predicting water will be the next oil." Very philosophical so I can see how this was aligned with his personal views.  Going from analysing water for pollution to seeing the impact of this on a global level.  "I then moved on to some online product management and product development".  Never one to sit still is he.   


All change in 2014 with a move to Canada.  "My wife had an opportunity which we grabbed in Canada. She was working hard whilst I was skiing.  I got a job in a bike shop as I also love cycling. Then I found coffee."

"Canada has a fantastic coffee scene" he says, face lighting up with every word.  "It's totally exploded.  We found Vancouver's top 50 coffee shops and planned doing one a week for the year.  We ended up doing 85, writing a journal as we went along.  The coffee was so good because at least half of the sites were roasting their own coffee.  I knew what I did and didn't like and the journal helped me understand what makes a great coffee. 

We did some roast house tours and embarked on a tour of Central America, taking in the coffee plantations of Guatemala. It was in Antigua I took my first course in coffee roasting. It was amazing seeing this and seeing the working life of the people there.  It's a hard job, with so much corruption and theft.  It was an eye opener - for example they store beans in a huge store, not in bags, because they are too easy to steal".  Their time in Canada was over, back to the UK. 


Landing back in Derby was clearly a shock.  But passion was flared and is apparent in his voice. "I wanted to put a roaster in my garage and get going! But I also needed some coffee beans, so I took a trip (more of a pilgrimage) to Ethiopia, the home of coffee, where I toured around Yigacheffe and some of the other coffee growing regions in search of some good quality beans to bring home. During this time I met a guy working at a speciality coffee roastery. I volunteered initially and then I got a job roasting their coffee and I set out on my new career path. They trained me well, motivated by their love of coffee, they were emphatic about quality.  Towards the end of 2017 I realised it was time to move on.”  Through a stroke of epic luck (and a good Linked in profile), he was approached by 200 Degrees and joined us in March 2018.


He's settling in nicely. "Mike and Alex (our other roast house ‘boys’) have welcomed me on board, and we are already bouncing ideas off each other, looking at roast profiles and other future product developments.  I'm also passionate about the green side - working with the bean traders as well as looking into direct trade relationships and making sure that we are responsible throughout our supply chain.  That's one I'll work on!  With the company strategy at 200 it's something I hope we can support from a CSR (Corporate Social responsibility) perspective." It would be amazing to get to visit more of the coffee growing nations and our suppliers.  We’re looking at making our operations more sustainable, socially responsible and environmentally friendly here so the pull to 200 is clear.  This may involve training and skill sharing which I would love to be a part of.”


He's moved on from his small roaster to our two bigger, large capacity beasts.  "It's good using the 200 (Degrees) roasters, different controls but the same principles apply with temperatures, airflows and profiles (more to come on that in a later blog.)  The biggest change is scaling things up, moving from an 8kg roaster to a 30kg roaster is totally different."


“I'm spending time on the 15kg roaster today to get used to that one.  I’ll be roasting up some of the single origins that we have in stock for our retail offering.”


To taste the beans Oli loves roasting you can visit one of our stores, buy online or even subscribe to have it delivered to your door regularly.  In fact, if your work coffee isn’t up to much Oli and the team can help you convince your boss to switch to us and make everyone more productive!