A Coffee With.. Glenn Watson [Owner of Coffee Forums UK]
So you founded Coffee Forums UK in June of 2008, what inspired you to make this move?
I used to use other online platforms, but the available options were aimed more at the US market. The forums that were out there seemed to be aimed at a certain level of Coffee enthusiast, which might put off people who are just learning the art. I often found myself chatting with friends (calling them offline or meeting at one of a handful of places in London that served good coffee) about coffee and more specifically home brewing. It got to the point where I just thought, why don’t I start a more accessible platform. I wanted everyone to have access to the information, regardless of their existing knowledge.
Thus Coffee Forums UK was launched in June 2008. It began as 3 people talking, then 20, then that soon grew to 100. Skip forward 10 years and we now have almost 20,000 members strong with 3000 visitors daily.
What was pre-Coffee Forums UK – I understand you work in Travel Management, has this been something you have always done?
I have worked in the hospitality industry (nighclubs, bars and restaurants) back in New Zealand since turning 18. In fact I got my general managers certificate which allowed me to operate a licensed premises at 18 (despite the fact you can’t work in a bar until you are 18). I have worked in hospitality since my teens, from bar work to silver service to the obvious – coffee shop.
The travel consulting industry didn’t pay particularly well back home and it was not uncommon for people to work second jobs, and mine happened to be in hospitality. I had coffee training with Allpress espresso back in New Zealand.
Three months before I moved to the UK (to explore new roles in the travel industry) I got to run a coffee shop by day and bar by night, that was one of the best jobs I ever had! I loved wowing people with coffee, something that is a little more difficult in New Zealand than over here. I enjoyed providing the service and seeing happy customers.
So I have always been involved in the coffee scene
Yes, is the short answer. I think it is one of the best things about the forum. We are a vibrant friendly community. I remember when someone was looking for advice on what home espresso setup to go for, another member had a similar setup they were looking at and invited them round to their house to give it a go. In New Zealand, that is normal. Here in the UK though that’s a bit weird.
Yeah, we don’t really like people over here. Maybe, the forum is just people from Southern Hemisphere helplessly trying to find good coffee in the UK?
Haha, perhaps it is. We certainly have a few expats onboard.
I think that because everyone gives and receives from the forum it is a very friendly and open place. We have all been ‘that beginner’ looking for advice on which grinder to get. Even the early adopters can use the help of the members. There are coffee shop owners looking to the forum for advice and it’s great that the consumers can help shape the places they will be visiting.
It is great that we have created a place where not only can people gain knowledge but also make lifelong friends.
What is next for Coffee Forums?
It is more of the same honestly. We want to help grow the industry and educate people in coffee. We want people to understand you can make coffee as good as your local coffee shop can – in your own home.
We want to have more meet-ups and hands-on days. We have run some at the Rave Roastery down in Cirencester which were really successful. It is great for people to get the chance to play around on kit they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. We just try to cover our costs on these events and they have been a great success so far. There are some key members who help put these together – it’s a real community effort, and people travel the length of the country to attend these days.
Favourite region for coffee?
Purely down to reliability it would have to be Costa Rica. I haven’t had a bad Costa Rican (perhaps due to my choice of roasters). Honey processed, to bring out an extra little bit of sweetness. Coming in close second would be El Salvador – I just love the variety you can get from these regions.
Hands down Kaffeine. This is mainly down to the consistency of the whole place. There is no snobbery and ego. They aren’t boasting they have best coffee, they just prove it with the coffee they serve. One day the barista is behind the machine the next they are serving pastries, the next clearing tables. It is the atmosphere that makes it. The service is great and is just so happens their coffee is consistently good!
This comes from Peter (the owner), he is often seen at one of the stores, will open the door and say thank you when you leave. A great guy that lives customer service – which is passed on to all his team.
I do like some from The Barn in Berlin, but it would be Keen from the Netherlands, I think, if I had to only buy one it would be theirs.
Where do you think the industry as a whole is going?
Consolidation. I think there has to be. We have been through a large period of growth and we haven’t enough quality, trained staff to meet the demand. So secondly, I think there needs to be better education. We need coffee shops to be training the baristas and sending them through the company, allowing them to learn and grow.
They also need to be paid the living wage. They are so underpaid at the moment why would you expect someone to wish to pursue a career in it.
I think it is still a long way until speciality coffee hits the mass market but we are definitely going that way and the coffee is a damn sight better now than when I moved here!
I know, I keep getting tricked by these whole “speciality shops” with the authentic Hipster look to them serving rubbish coffee.
The industry needs to drop the whole “artisan, speciality coffee” label. Roasting and brewing coffee is a process. You are a process manager and managing a process to the best of your ability.
I couldn’t agree more.
It was a pleasure to interview Glenn and I learnt a lot just in a few hours of being with him (especially the fact that he used to be a beach lifeguard and avid surfer down-under). I will be working with Coffee Forums UK soon, and I urge you to check it out and join up. It is a fantastic resource that is there to help you get better at making coffee at home. (https://coffeeforums.co.uk)
Also – for anyone running a business or looking to run a business within the coffee industry, Glenn is a very knowledgeable consultant and you can contact him email@example.com.