Missing a train at Paddington Railway Station is only mildly problematic. With Monocle’s Kioskafé around the corner on Norfolk Place, a venue furnished with magazines and delicious coffee serves as as an optimal waiting room. It’s here that artist Matthew Corbin Bishop works one day per week alongside his work as a fine artist. For stamp collectors or those interested in Philately, his work is worth exploring. In this interview, Matthew outlines his progression in coffee, the crop’s history and how he has paired his art with coffee work.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry? My Barista experience began purely by accident. I had been searching for part-time jobs on an arts and culture job site, and due to Kioskafé's selection of publications (art, design, culture), the barista/sales assistant position had been uploaded.
I had worked part-time as a Gallery Assistant before this. But as a coffee connoisseur, I had always wanted to learn to use an espresso-based coffee machine. I'm pleased I took the leap, and grateful to the manager for taking me on, despite zero experience! I was whisked off to AllPress before the apron could go on.
What's the status of specialty coffee in London?
Well obviously it's one of the leading cities for quality coffee in the world; endless cafes producing good brew, and everyone offering up options from a plethora of roasters. Being a pour-over drinker, I always seek out the establishments that stock sweeter, fruitier coffees. I have a preference for coffees from the old-world centres; Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen. Prufrock is a favourite establishment, however being a West Londoner I should give a shout out to Tab x Tab, Guillam, Flying Horse and Wildcard.
What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
Patient people! Like in all hospitality sectors. Perfectionists. Hard-workers. But most of all friendly. I can't speak for the roastery side of the business, but obviously passion for what you are producing.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
Learn about what makes a good coffee. As a barista, from your point of contact, the shot weight, brew time, pressure and mastering the milk wand. But personally, I was always interested in the history of coffee. What brought an obscure berry crop from East Africa and southern Arabia to Europe, via the Ottoman Empire, and then out across the world to environments not natural to this crop. How differences in these climates, these soils created diversity in flavour, and how those flavours and different cultures have affected the way in which we brew coffee. What we sit down and enjoy in cafe in Europe is obviously a far cry from the fresher, greener coffee - maybe infused with cardamom - that was enjoyed at the very beginnings of its consumption.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
I will look for tips here and there; nothing centralised. But for me it's like any theory based skill; you want to be learning from someone who has the experience and has put the time in to perfect it. I have my coffee guru at the cafe, he helps me to improve day on day. Also asking tips from establishments where you appreciate the coffee, that's always a bonus. There is obviously a skill to being a barista, but it’s largely about the product. I don't care particularly for latte art. A swan isn't gonna make your coffee taste better.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
I'm an artist primarily - the barista work is a way of getting involved in something I’m passionate about, and stepping out of the studio into the real world. So I would say my goals in the coming years aren't based primarily around my work as a barista. I would like to move towards the roastery environment if I was to take a next step. But my passion for coffee really is drinking it, enjoying one slowly, whilst reading or catching up on world affairs. So this is my goal, to enjoy as many brews as I can, wherever I get the opportunity.
Follow Matthew on Instagram via @matthewcorbinbishop