One of England’s foremost legacy cities is proving a fertile frontier for specialty coffee. Birmingham and its two dozen specialty coffee shops are lucky to have a pair of venues from Yorks where Richard Trueman is a centrepiece. In this interview, Richard outlines the breadth of his involvement in coffee, starting at Caffe Nero in 2008 where he has to have his tattoos covered! Richard helped open York as head barista is now a Shareholder / Operations manager.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I started my career in coffee at Caffe Nero in Birmingham. Speciality coffee was still burgeoning so I got into it pretty old school - my love of Italy was the reason behind it. I saw the community hub of the barista in Italy and wanted to recreate that in my town. I remember telling the people at Caffe Nero “I want to change the coffee culture of Birmingham” back in 2009 and I had no idea how, but it slowly unveiled itself.
Since then, I’ve worked with some really great talent through learning to roast off UKBC-winning roasters, and spending time with the guys from Cropster at Prufrock - the home of knowledge in the UK. I am currently at Yorks Cafe & Coffee Roasters - a place that I helped open and develop in 2012.
What's the status of specialty coffee in Birmingham?
Speciality coffee in Birmingham is ever growing, potentially stifled due to the fact that it’s predominantly a drinking city. Craft beer probably moved ahead a lot faster, but that may be due to the fact that the people in craft beer have worked together well. In Birmingham we have a handful of really good coffee shops with a cult following. The multi-cultural diversity of the city means that we actually have many different versions of what cafes ‘can be’ that aren't necessarily just speciality - we have a large Muslim contingent in Birmingham so some of our most popular cafes are based around the Arabic way to drink coffee, not the third wave.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
The people suited to working in coffee are usually people with highly open traits and high creativity. The act of making a cup of coffee is the act of repeating a process to the same standard again and again. The reason for bad coffee is usually human error - so it’s got to be linked to people who enjoy a form of robotic creativity. Someone who gets a kick out of a really heavy shift too - plus if you can handle lots of coffee drinking. You’re alright.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
brewmethods.com is a great place to tinker around with brew methods for coffee. A buddy of mine, Dan Fellows, has gone on to win lots of competitions and done really well for himself used to ask me, Does it taste good out of the box? What he meant by that was, in coffee we give ourselves these strict rules to live by, sometimes coffee doesn’t play by those rules. Sometimes it goes off the scale. Make sure that for each theory you learn, there’s a counter balanced playtime with coffee that shows you something else.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
I have been getting off on helping other people gain their traction in coffee and hospitality as a whole. It’s a fascinating industry, I never really refer to it as a ’’scene” because within a “scene'‘ your colleague is the barista down the street, whereas in an industry your colleague can be global. In the next few years I hope to supply sectors that don’t have speciality coffee and make more people drink speciality coffee without realising it, that’s the way to do it. Make speciality standard. In terms of my career I’d like to train someone up to competition level.
Visit Richard and the team in Birmingham, Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon - see venue addresses here