The footprint of The Gentlemen Baristas is renowned in London, home to nine specialty coffee venues across the capital. Ernie Jr. Fernandez is one of their star baristas and latte art champions. Originally from the Philippines, Ernie transitioned from baking in  2015 to get into the coffee industry and now has eye on learning more about its supply chain and establishing his own farm.

When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I started making coffee when I was a baker in a cafe back in 2009. When I finished my baking I would pull shots on the espresso machine and eventually became a routine for me doing customer service and making coffee after my baking shift.

After five and a half years of doing the same thing I made a decision to switch to coffee because I find it more interesting and I was getting bored of baking. I needed a challenge so I quit my baking life and searched for cafe which specialises in coffee and that’s how I stumbled upon Speciality Coffee Association (SCAE at the time).

I joined one of the leading Speciality Cafe in London back in 2015 and I got to learn everything about coffee from farm to consumer. It was an eye opener and I am glad I switched to coffee because I am still learning up to this day.

What's the status of specialty coffee in London?
It’s very much saturated with all the coffee shops with standard of speciality coffee. I think as a business owner it is very difficult to stay competitive in this market in London but as an employee there are lots of opportunities.

Also because of the global pandemic together with Brexit, it opened up a lot of opportunities for aspiring baristas to get a competitive salary while learning. It is in a way a motivation to stay in coffee.

What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
Anyone can work with coffee! Some learn to love coffee by artistry (latte art) and some become interested in history of coffee, some even stumble upon coffee by accident just because they have got nothing else to do.  The good thing with coffee is it is very much for everyone and there is always story behind every cup which makes it fascinating.

If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
I recommend focusing on one thing at a time. If you want to learn about espresso, start with steps in making espresso and learn about espresso extraction and theory. There are plenty of resources nowadays online, videos from YouTube and social media platforms that can help you get started in coffee.

Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
I always read articles from Perfect Daily Grind - they always have informative stories and news about coffee. There are paid websites that you can access and get certification which will enhance your skills as a barista like Barista Hustle and also through SCA accreditation courses like Barista Foundation and Brewing Foundation.

What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
Right now I am just trying to learn as much as I can. When I started in speciality coffee, I had this vision that I want to start from the end of the chain (Barista) going back to Origin (farming). I want to learn each stages in coffee so when I start my own farm in the Philippines I understand better the process.

Find Ernie on Instagram via @ernie.jr_