Friday, July 14, 2006

crossing the pond for the scoop

so as promised, i am beginning today a semi-regular interview series with people i like who are into coffee and espresso. i first "met" stephen leighton a little while ago (on the coffee forum which shall not be named) and he always seems to rock my face off with his cool ideas about coffee, his dedication to the bean and, perhaps most importantly, his seeming belief that no question is out of bounds in the pursuit of coffee excellence.

steve is the founder of has bean, an amazing roastery in the u.k. that sources just some sick, sick coffees. he's a regular purveyor of cup of excellence coffees and an active leader in the specialty coffee association of europe (the sister organization to the specialty coffee association of america), as well as probably numerous other accolades and honors.

i was elated when steve agreed to do an email interview for the coffee press and even more pleased with just how much fun the process was.

no more time wasting. here's my interview with steve leighton. i asked steve to begin with his own brief introductory bio...


Who am I ? I'm a 32 year old coffee roaster and business owner based in
Stafford UK. I've been involved in coffee for only a relative short
period over the past seven years. Two of those spent as a coffee shop
owner, and the other 5 as a roaster e-tailer on line. I've been lucky
enough to work with some UK industry greats, and work with some of the
finest coffees on the planet. Our business remains relatively small with
just myself and my wife both working full time (full time = all the time). I
love my job and my life and here I will try to explain some more about

what's the first cup of coffee you remember drinking?

I'm fairly sure I must have had coffee at home but it would have been instant or something not so good. I do remember a small coffee shop in
my local town and I one day just to shock my parents said I'd have a
coffee instead of a milk shake. So this is the first memorable cup at
say 8 or 9. I then remember pestering my mom to buy a home filter
machine with papers and we bought 5 bags of pre ground (ohh just feel
the freshness from here). From my humble upbringing I thought I was a

when did you know coffee was going to be your life's work?

Is it !!!! Only kidding. I never ever thought it would be, I enjoyed
coffee, but that was as far as I thought it would be. I worked as a
nurse in a psychiatric hospital for a while and then in a Jail as a
prison officer for a number for years, but nothing seemed right. I
remember sitting down and thinking "What do I like?" As there was no
chance of a career in football (the real one--not that American rugby you
play) because I was rubbish, I guessed coffee would be good. It's only really
the past three years or so that it's become what defines me as a person.

what has been the greatest single moment in your coffee life thus

I've had many good things happen to me, but this one is easy. My first
invite to be an international jury member for the Cup of Excellence. The
email...I can tell you exactly the time it came through. [It was] 11pm at night,
and after I had run up and down stairs shouting at the top of my voice I
couldn’t sleep that night. At the time we were really small and I was
buying one or two bags of CoE coffee but that was it. So the thought of
being invited was strange, exciting and very frightening. The
competition was awesome the trip sooooo exciting. I hadn't been on an
aeroplane for over 20 years and never outside of Europe, so this huge
trip (23 hours travelling), not speaking any Spanish, all on my own to a
place where I don’t know who I am meeting and don’t know where I'm even
stopping. Truly special.

who are your influences in coffee? do you have any coffee mentors?

I've been influenced by some great people. My biggest I guess is Stephen
Hurst and Flori Marin of Mercanta here in the UK. These guys took me to
one side when this nobody, who knew nothing about coffee turned up at his
cupping lab, and started very patiently at the beginning, and walked me
through. Their influence on my business has been huge, and I owe them a
great debt. Today still they continue above and beyond in their help and
willingness to share not only their great coffees but their experience
and knowledge [that is] is invaluable.

Other influences are my big friend Joel Pollock at Stumptown: what a guy
and a joy to cup with. His cupping vocabulary is immense and he nails
things when I'm left up in the air trying to decide whether it was
coffee or not. He is like my soul mate in coffee(not in a dirty way :)) and a good friend.

Duane at Stumptown is also a huge influence and Geoff Watts at Intelli, what great guys they both are. All three are like coffee brothers, and
meeting up again with them is like meeting family when you haven't seen
them for a while. It's wild.

Phil Jordan of TooMuchCoffee also needs a shout out here, a VERY
good friend, and my sounding board. He and I share similar pallets and I
respect his opinions.

One more I've got to add is someone I've never met, and never had a
conversation with (not even an email) so it’s a strange one. But in my
early days, all of my learning was done through Tom Owen at Sweet
website. I'm scared that the day I do get to meet him (it was
meant to happen in Bolivia last year but a hurricane Stan put a stop to
that), he will think I'm a stalker and get an injunction out on me.

if you could have a cup of coffee with anyone in the world (living
or dead), who would it be and why?

This is going to sound corny so look away now if you are of a nauseous
disposition, but I really do mean this. Every time I have been to origin
and every time I have met a farmer it's been in a very false setting and
slightly awkward due to my poor grasp of Spanish. All I want to do is
sit down on a farm, with the farmer of one of the coffees I've bought in
the past, drinking his coffee and telling him in Spanish why I love it so
much and what it's like to work with his coffee everyday, and [let him] receive so
much praise for the work he and mother nature do. I also want to know
what it's like for him every day working with the coffee before I get my
hands on it. I am going to night school to learn Spanish, and one day it
will happen.

if you could throw scalding hot coffee on anyone in the world, who
would it be and why?

I guess I'd let it cool a little. I'm not a nasty man but it would have
to be Max Morgenthaler the inventor of soluble coffee and just shout,

[to be continued]
next time on the coffee press blog, the conclusion of my interview with steve leighton, including steve choosing to love one parent over another, how a chincy $25 piece of plastic is standing up to an $8500 piece of coffee equipment, and being a little tipsey while meeting one of his coffee heroes.

stay tuned...


At Saturday, 15 July, 2006, Anonymous Lukas said...

Very nice! Thanks for bringing this to us.

Great Photo, also!

At Monday, 17 July, 2006, Anonymous CakeBoy said...

Steve you are at the forefront of bringing great coffee to the people and a total legend in the UK. We all love you (despite the shirts). Great interview Blanco, thank you. The European coffee resource and forum


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