07 May 2019 | company news | Views:

Grab a coffee with… Stephen Gray, Head Roaster & Coffee Quality Manager

Long-time coffee boffin and fledgling beer brewer, 28-year-old Stephen is a big reason why your coffee tastes as good as it does. Less American in Paris, more Australian in London - find out how our Head Roaster got to where he is.

Tell us about life before Pact Coffee

Back in Australia, I studied Philosophy at uni, completing a dissertation on 20th century French philosophy - a very practical degree! After that I worked at the uni, the Post Office and as a personal carer, saving as much as I could to come to London!

So how did you come to work at a coffee company?

When I came to the UK in 2015, I’d moved to London and needed a job. I started off as an operative at Pact, weighing and packing the coffee for delivery. But even on the first day, I saw the roaster and knew that was what I wanted to do. From there, I discovered a passion for coffee and the good work that Pact do.

What’s a day in the life of Stephen?

The day starts with cupping - doing quality control testing for the previous day’s roasts, to check quality and consistency. This also means some sensory training for my team!

The rest of the day involves roast planning and admin, reviewing and adjusting roast profiles so they’re optimised for each coffee, production and sample roasting, and other QC tests - like green coffee analysis, particle analysis and water analysis.

What are your ‘best bits’ from working at Pact?

- Last year, two of my roasts - Planalto and Nyaruszia Ngara - won Great Taste awards

- I had the opportunity to fully spec and build my own quality control laboratory at our new roastery

- I’m very proud to have helped set up a relationship with the Partnership for Gender Equity, who work with producers to encourage the equalisation of access to resources and opportunities between genders at origin

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt from working here?

How coffee works. The great thing about my job is being exposed to every aspect of the industry - not only on the roasting and brewing side, but everything from farming and processing, to pricing and buying, and exporting and importing.

But every time I think I’ve got a handle on how one part works, I realise that there’s another whole field that I haven’t considered - like the genetic development of new disease- and climate-resistant hybrid coffee varieties, which will be crucial for the sustainability of the sector going forward.

What do you love about coffee?

That’s a very big question. Coffee, to me, is the perfect mixture of art and science; my role involves an intense amount of data analysis and scientific testing, but all of it is pointed towards developing these amazing flavour profiles which you can literally taste the results of.

But more than that, coffee for me is being able to play a part in showcasing the incredible amount of passion and dedication that goes into this product, from so many different people - farm-owners, pickers, mill-operators, cuppers, roasters, baristas/brewers, and of course consumers. Coffee is a global collaboration, and I think that’s absolutely beautiful (getting a bit emotional, sorry!)

What’s the coffee that you’ll never forget?

The first coffee that I was able to distinctly assign flavour characteristics to was pretty memorable. It was an Ethiopian Natural that we had here - long-time customers might remember Kayon Mountain Guji Natural. From the first sip on the cupping table, I was just hit in the face with the sensation of blueberries - that’s when I realised what coffee was capable of.

How do you brew a cup for yourself?

My job requires that I brew in a variety of ways - but at home I’ll usually go for V60 or Clever Dripper, occasionally bringing out the syphon too. In the office, it’s likely to be an espresso or batch brew.

Tell us something interesting about you

I’ve found a way to make my very specific skills transferable - I’ve started a side-hustle microbrewery with a couple of good friends called the Sad Boys Brewery.


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