We’re dishing up a good dose of nostalgia as we catch up with some Climpsons of yester-year to find out what they’ve been up to and reflect back with stories of the good old days. Memory lane here we go.
First up it’s Matt Randell, who began his journey as Cafe Manager back in 2013 before moving to our office, first working as a Barista Trainer and then becoming our Lead Account Manager. Matt now heads up the UK office of Langdon Coffee Merchants, supplying Climpsons with some of our finest single origin offerings each year.
Hey Matt. Let’s start at the very beginning. What first got you into coffee?
Like a lot of people who end up working in coffee, you’ve failed at something else beforehand, in the best possible way. So I was an actor for 3 or 4 years after graduating from drama school in Scotland in 2008. Then I did some plays in Manchester, then I packed my bag to find my fortune in London. I found a job at a cafe using Square Mile and at that time I barely drank a coffee, so they sent me for training and I didn’t know who it was at the time, but it was from James Hoffman. I liked the environment and it felt a bit creative. And I was good at latte art, so that helped.
Then I got a job at a place called Coco di Mama and that’s how I got involved with Climpsons. I had a training session with Danny, it was in the old roastery back in the Mews on Broadway Market, the one that set on fire (... that’s another story). And we just ended up sitting and chatting for a while and then we went for a beer. Best training session I’ve ever had I reckon.
Then the Climpsons did a music festival at Jimmy’s Farm. They roped in baristas from all of their different accounts and I was one of them. So the long and short of it I kind of fell into coffee, but it came at a really good time in life and a good time for coffee in general. There were loads of jobs going, all of which you were underqualified for, became a manager, never had any managerial training, all that kind of thing. But it’s because there was lots of space to fill with young businesses, trying to figure it out.
What was it like working at the cafe then?
Ian really wanted to do cold drip coffee. He had seen one of those cold drippers, and he wanted it because it looked cool. Manuel was Head Barista at the time and was obsessed with filter recipes. Once you set him a task he would spend all day working on it, thoroughly. One day it was really busy, and Manuel was just fiddling away with this dripper. I was getting more and more frustrated. And then he knocked it and it spilled all over the floor, smashed. I lost my rag at Manuel, and at Ian for wanting to get this bloody thing in the first place.
Overall, working in the cafe, I absolutely loved it. The regular customers were great and I was there at a time when the area still had a lot of people that were born and bred here, or lived here a long time. We still had a lot of regulars who had seen it change more than we ever had. I suppose every cafe has a little period where you worked there, or you think it was a golden period. We had some cool people, a great assistant manager called Tammy. And she was good at all the stuff I was crap at. She’s now working in coffee in Australia. And Manuel heads up a big coffee programme in Melbourne. Even stuff like Alex Mellon, who used to be doing the kitchen, he was an illustrator and he was really good at it. One of the things I really enjoyed was how people came through the business, so Mellon started doing some of the graphic design stuff. Last I heard he was head illustrator at The Guardian.
I guess the next thing is your role in the office, and moving into account management?
So I started as a Barista Trainer really. It was me and Dan Dunne. I really enjoyed getting out there, getting into the curiosity behind the coffees we were having. So rather than the minuscule management of a cafe, rotas and that kind of stuff, we were actually looking at the coffee and seeing how we can make that taste and then translate that love and care to our wholesale customers. I really enjoyed training, I found it really fun. What I enjoyed about training was by telling people what you know, you learn what you know yourself. So you’re arranging it in your head, finding where it fits with this piece of knowledge. Imagine you’ve got books everywhere and starting to teach people is like arranging the books. And then you create a system of things that you know you know, and can draw upon whenever you want. So I really enjoyed that process. And then we got a fun team together of really great people. So there was me, Dan, Henrik, Laura and Lisa Laura and we all really complemented each other and it speaks to how hard it is to run a roastery. We needed 4 or 5 account managers, which is insane!
I guess it was growing a lot at the time?
The coffees we were getting in were better, (Anthony) Piper and Simon (Clark) were doing a great job in the roastery. I remember Piper doing a competition, when he came 3rd in the Brewers, that was my first exposure to that side. That was pretty wild, the first insane coffee I’d tasted, I think it was one of the Granja La Esperanza Geishas or Sudan Rumes? So it felt like things were happening. It felt like there were interesting and interested people in every department across the business.
And it was around the time when we started the brewing clubs on the weekends. Going through the designing of that was really fun. I helped Lisa Laura, it was her baby, but helping her develop that was just great. How do we make it interesting for people, and something that they want to pay for? That was a really good experience, and has really helped going forward to describe coffee in a more democratic, accessible way.
What’s your job now?
In October 2019 I started to work for an Australian green import company. You get to a point where, and you’ll probably get this with everyone that’s worked here, you learn a bunch in a business like Climpsons and it pricks ambition and knowledge and suddenly, at some point, you bump up against it. In a business this size, no matter how wonderful it is, you bump up against that and feel the pull to move. So Langdons got in touch, they’re a really old ingredients company that started a coffee arm 6 years ago. And they’ve been great. The pandemic started very quickly after that and I was very green to green coffee, so they were great with me, through a weird time. Literally no coffee was coming in because the cafes were shut and we were really new anyway so it was a very odd time. And then we got out the back of covid. The team in Melbourne have an amazing supply network and some of the exporters and producer partnerships they have now are fantastic. I’ve learnt loads about that side of the industry. More connected with what producers need and do, and what an exporter does. More in tune with the supply chain and how it links with terms you’ve heard like sustainability or fair prices, how those actually apply in the real world to farmers and producers. But all the DIY attitude I got from here.
Next we meet Emily Jackson, who previously ran all things health and safety as our Production Manager at Climpson’s Arch. You’ll now find her approximately 100 metres away in her role as Manager for IKAWA Home.
Hey Emily! Let’s start right at the beginning. How did you first get into coffee?
I started drinking coffee when I was 6 years old. When I was at high school in America I had a job as a barista after school, and sometimes before school. That was in 1999.
Before school? What time was that?
That was in my last year of high school. It was 5.30 until 8. I’d do the early morning shift and then head off to school. I went to university and always fell back on coffee but I didn’t really pursue it as a career until I was 23 or 24. I had moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to go to grad school for my Masters in library science. My idea was to focus on archival sciences and become a librarian.
This makes sense, because you are so organised!
So I wanted to do that, but when I met the director of the programme I realised he was not a nice person and I didn’t want to spend 3 years with him to get my doctorate. So I was at a loss of what to do. The coffee shop where I was working was transitioning from a second wave large volume coffee house into a more third wave specialty. So our wholesale partner sent a trainer out to do an advanced training with me for a week to help me become a coffee trainer myself. They asked me if I’d ever considered working in coffee as a career, saying I’d be really good at it because I had a great palette and was absorbing all of this information, and applying it in real time. I hadn’t, because I still wanted to be an archivist. So I walked away from that conversation and put two and two together. I ended up moving out to Olympia and getting a job with that same wholesale partner as a trainer. I then became a roaster, going into their roasting apprenticeship programme not long after.
How did you find training when you first started?
I loved it. I still love coffee education, it’s probably still my favourite part of working in the industry. My favourite thing is to see someone have an ‘a-ha’ moment, when they finally get coffee, or a certain segment of what they’ve been working to achieve. I find it endearing when people want to show me their latte art. I still get photos sent to me from people I trained a decade ago of their most recent latte art. I really appreciate that.
Training is so important for baristas at all levels, stepping out of the day to day, gaining knowledge and applying it back in the role.
It can become an endemic mentality in the industry of ‘it’s just a job’. But it’s more than just a job, because coffee is an opportunity to create a connection with people. And I think the people that are drawn to working in coffee long-term tend to view those interactions and connections with a bit more value.
I think the coffee industry isn’t an industry for introverts, unless you’re roasting. I’m a natural extrovert and that’s part of why I’ve loved working in coffee for so long. I get the opportunity to share something with people. And I have that opportunity on a daily basis, which is great.
How did you end up coming to Climpsons?
In 2017 I was in Austin, Texas and I bought a one way ticket to come back for my cousin's wedding and tried to settle into life in the UK. I’d been away from the UK so long I didn’t have an NI number anymore, I didn’t have a passport or a licence. I had to go through the whole process of emigrating and that took quite a long time. One day I saw Climpson & Sons were hiring for a Roastery Operations Manager. And I’d just got my NI number, so I sent my CV and Simon called me the very next day. We did a phone interview and he asked when I could come to London to meet face to face.
I showed up to the roastery and oh god, it was just chairs everywhere, piles of chairs everywhere. The restaurant had just shut down. There was just furniture everywhere, and I was like, what is this place? So we sat around that old round table, with Danny and Nicole, and we just chatted for a couple of hours. I walked away from that feeling like I’d met really good friends. I had a really good feeling about it. And then the next day Simon rang me and offered me the job. So then I had to figure out how to move to London.
What was it like in those first few months at the roastery?
I was just trying to get around reorganising the place, making a safe working environment. I wanted to throw everything away. That was my battle with Ian on a daily basis. Getting to know the team was good. I think most of them didn’t know why I was there. So I had to exercise my manager status a couple of times.
It’s a really hard role to step into, coming in and shaking things up, physically rearranging to make things more functional. We can be very resistant to change.
That was probably one of the biggest takeaways, to be more gentle with people in a managerial role. I think a lot of my Americanisms came in, I tend to be quite direct when someone is pissing me off. And I think that people weren’t used to that.
I guess one of the challenges you had was during the pandemic when the roastery became a restaurant again. How did you manage that?
A lot of that was based on communication with the Brat team, so we were fully aware of what they needed from us in our shared space and also communicating things that we needed. If any of us got covid, the roastery would have to be shut. So that was a big part of our risk assessment. Basically I was like, someone from the restaurant can’t come into the roastery while we’re there, and likewise roastery staff can’t intermingle with the Brat team.
You did so well, you kept a really tight ship there. I was terrified of stepping foot in the roastery for a good while, with good reason.
That was the thing - I didn’t get covid until July this year. And a big part of that was we were so stringent about who could come in and who couldn’t come in.
And that’s it - there wasn’t a moment that you stopped roasting through that time. So well done to you all - it’s impressive. I wanted to talk about the home roasting workshops you set up at Climpsons?
So Alex from IKAWA approached me in 2018 about setting up a home roasting course. At that point the Ikawa home roasters were mostly in the UK. It’s a UK business, built in Britain. So they were quite focussed on creating educational experiences for their customers in the UK, but also using it for anyone that might be interested in home roasting. They could try the home workshop, see what it’s about and possibly buy a home roaster. It was great because I got to meet a lot of IKAWA users that I still communicate with on a regular basis now.
So I guess this leads us on to your job now?
I was first hired at Ikawa in the home team, so my role is creating content for the home user, as well as sourcing all of the green coffee for use in the home roasting machines. We call it the home roasting system - it’s the machine, the coffee and the app. It’s the whole thing.
I’m interested in this home and professional user distinction?
We have different personas of home IKAWA users. There’s the pioneer; the first users, technology focussed types. Then we have the seekers; they’re curious, into the outdoors, have lots of hobbies but are also time poor. So we’re trying to create more products that are suited to them. The professional persona is entirely different from the home persona. We’re trying to really break apart the business in a really clear way. We have separate teams within the business as well. In terms of purpose, our overarching mission is to improve coffee. So that looks different in each segment of the business. For the pro department that means providing tools for producers, roasters and traders to help create a more symbiotic relationship in purchasing and roast profile creation. And then from the home side, the aim is to make coffee roasting at home commonplace by creating a device and a system that allows the home consumer to connect directly with the producer. So a lot of the coffee we're purchasing is direct trade, straight from producers or co-operatives. So the Honduran coffee I showed you, we purchased 3 coffees from that co-operative that we sell as a bundle, so you can learn about the co-operative and also each individual producer. It’s about creating that relationship along the supply chain.
Any thoughts on where the coffee industry is going? And what would you like to see happen?
I am pretty committed to the idea that the future of the coffee industry lies with the home consumer. And I think that the desire for more education, more resources and more knowledge is going to lie with the home consumer. And you can see it in the last 5 years. 5 years ago it wouldn’t be common to have the producer's name and all of the processing information available on the coffee bag. But now if you don’t have it on your bag, a discerning customer won’t pick it up. I think that people are going to be looking for more transparency, and that will be driven by the home customer.
I have to say I am eternally grateful for having worked at Climpsons. Not only did it serve as a networking opportunity, working with Danny, Nicole and Simon so closely for 3 and a half years was a great experience. Learning how to be hospitable, learning about UK hospitality, that was my introduction and it was a whole new company culture to learn. And that set me up for where I am now. The fact that my new office is 100m from Climpsons is not lost on me. I’m very happy to run into the Climpsons people. I walk to the train, I see the Climpsons. I saw Kieran this morning, carrying a very heavy bag of tools on his back and suggested he upgrade to a case with wheels. The health and safety officer in me will never die.
Next we’re catching up with Dan Dunne, a Climpson’s OG who worked his way across the cafe, roastery and finished his time as our Head of Training. He has taught countless budding baristas how to brew our coffees to perfection over the years, inspiring many a coffee career and making the science behind the process truly accessible. You may also recognise him from the most viewed YouTube video of Climpson’s history, a step by step guide on how to set the volumetrics on a La Marzocco PB. He’s since moved to beautiful Amsterdam where he runs the education department at Stooker Specialty Coffee.
How were you first introduced to Climpsons?
I started in coffee just as the scene really started to take off in London. If you were into coffee at that time, you would know who the Climpsons were, for sure. They are one of the original pioneers!
How has working with Climpsons impacted your life?
I gained so much experience. I learnt a lot and made life-long friends. I guess you could call that a pretty massive impact!
Are there any people you’ve worked with or met that you’d like to make a shout out for?
I could give a shout out to many people, however I'd like to give a particular mention to Danny Davies and Henrik Moller. Henrik actually got me the job at Climpsons. He was my partner in crime; professionally and socially. Danny (AKA Head of the Food Chain) gave me so many opportunities at Climpsons, which I'm forever grateful for! If it weren't for Danny and Henrik, I would not be where I am today. I owe them a lot! Mentors and best pals!
Any wild stories you would like to share here?
There are so many stories! Though I should probably mention Nicole Ferris and I dancing on table tops singing "Shine bright like a diamond..."at the top of our lungs. This was a relatively common sighting at a Climpsons shindig!
Where are you now? What's changed in coffee?
I now live in Amsterdam. I'm the 'Head of Education' at a specialty coffee roastery called 'Stooker'. My role involves teaching SCA courses and roasting. The skills and experience I acquired at Climpsons were all pretty transferable, albeit for a European market. The scene continues to grow in Amsterdam and I'm delighted to be a part of that. I just need to work on my Dutch …