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October 17, 2017

An Aussie Barista in Lichfield – Deb’s Story

We had both met when we were taking a break from life and were traveling through South Africa. After three weeks of traveling together and a visit to an even colder wetter London in February she had decided to come and try out living with me in the UK. Coming off the back of an Australian summer I think that might have been a bit of a shock to the system.
So a little more on who we are. My name’s Andrew, I’m an engineer by education and through my work have been in the US, Asia and now back in my home country the UK. Deb has been in coffee for over 15 years, born and raised in Melbourne. She’s worked for all sorts of coffee companies over the past years in Australia, including world Barista Judges.

So after a series of decisions Deb decided to come over to the UK and give it a go. There were plenty of changes that we both needed to make, I was moving back from the US having never actually worked and lived in my home country and Deb had spent her whole life based in Melbourne. There was a lot to learn but first off Deb had to accept that the term ‘Summer’ in the UK doesn’t really mean the same as it does in Australia, this may have been the biggest shock to the system. Second was finding a suitable employment for a highly qualified coffee trainer.

First stop was a large coffee franchise in the UK near the centre of Birmingham. This was a start but it was a bit of a rude introduction to coffee in the UK outside London. Following this there was a job starting up a small café again as part of a chain and one more for a very large chain organisation. None of these really hit the spot and to make it worse was the feeling of losing years of knowledge to create mass-produced coffee. One more job with a more specialty roaster that didn’t get to where we wanted it to and it was time to realise a dream.

Back in Melbourne Deb had been weeks away from signing a lease and opening a coffee shop of her very own but then life jumped sideways. She even wrote her own article for this very magazine. So now it was time to realise that dream but in a slightly different way and on a slightly different scale.
We live in a small city called Lichfield on the outskirts of Birmingham that has all sorts of Tudor buildings and alleyways. With a population of around thirty thousand it is a small market and some of it, as with anywhere, can be set in its ways. Down one of these alleyways is a small kiosk that not so long ago housed a small tailor shop; this was to be the location for Lichfield’s first specialty coffee shop. And what would it be called, Melbourne of course.

So, name decided, location set it was time to start work on the setup and most importantly the suppliers. I’ll talk setup first as that was probably where we had some of our biggest struggles. Being a small location we used a contractor that had done work around our house as opposed to a contractor familiar with commercial spaces. This proved to be a bit of a mistake as they were not as knowledgeable with the electrical requirements of something like a coffee machine. I have to admit that as an electrical engineer the amount of current that those things pull surprised me. Scheduling soon became an issue with Deb having a very clear view of what she wanted for the look and a graffiti artist scheduled to come in we had to push things along as best we could. And all that was before we got a phone call from the council telling us that our back wall had been listed as part of a historic building so we could do nothing to it. We worked around it but these bumps in the road were not helpful to anyone’s frame of mind.

Much more enjoyable was looking into suppliers. Deb was clear from minute one that we decided to do this that Union Roasters were the best coffee supplier for us. Providing specialty coffee and having won European Roaster of the Year three years running. She shielded me a little from the process here as I had assumed it was a typical supplier, customer relationship – ‘I want the thing, you have the thing, you give me the thing, I give you money’. In fact they wanted to interview Deb before agreeing to supply to us to make sure she knew what she was doing and that she could do their product justice. Of course she passed with flying colours but as a novice this was a new experience for me in the world of high quality coffee. Even as a non-coffee drinker I can tell the difference between the different origins and the added benefit of the hot chocolate that they provide which is by far the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s so simple with just cacao and sugar that it can be vegan friendly and providing some of the richest flavours.

The tea was a little simpler but given that the majority of other cafes in the area served a very well-known tea brand we needed something a bit different. A company known as Brew Tea was recommended to us and on further investigation they provided excellent tea with full flavour but it has to have a minimum of three minutes, preferably five for a proper brew.
For our cake supplier we wanted to stay smaller and independent and we tried but after many struggles in trying to get them to deliver they just failed one too many times. Unfortunately it seems they stretched themselves too far in taking orders, over committed and under delivered so we’ve moved to one local business that’s on our doorstep and one larger organisation that have really got their act together, quality and delivery.

We’re now stocked, fitted and ready to go. So have we got it right? Well so far it’s been going better than either of us had expected. The concept of specialty coffee has been welcomed into Lichfield with open arms. Even more than we expected – people have been prepared to look twice at what they are drinking from their regular stop and evaluate whether it is giving everything they want.

Of course we have our secret weapon, Deb, who makes everyone who stops by feel welcome and walks them through their coffee, where it is from, what to look for and how it gets from bean to cup. The interest in the coffee classes that we have is growing steadily as people realise there is so much more to their morning rituals than some brown beans and hot water. Our work on social media in building our brand and presence has been noticed by others around us who have been less active than they should be. We have even started working with some of the other local businesses on how to work with the equipment they have to produce as high a quality coffee as they can with the tools and ingredients they have. If we have an ultimate goal it is to generally improve the coffee and the service that a visitor and a resident will receive when they come to Lichfield.

Melbourne may be considered the Coffee Capital of The World today, and London is developing at an ever-accelerating pace, but if we have even half the influence we hope to then we’ll have a queue of Australians making the short journey into the heart of England to experience the history, the stories and the coffee of this beautiful city called Lichfield and at the heart of it, what else but Melbourne.

 


F. www.facebook.com/melbourneinlichfield/
W. www.instagram.com/melbourneinlichfield/





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