Despite recently losing its UNESCO status, Liverpool’s specialty coffee scene has remained a constant. Coffee shop and roaster 92 Degrees holds up three venues in town, stretching from the emerging warehouse district of Baltic Triangle, to the prestigious double frontage of Hardman and Hope Streets where a pair of venues are located. Southport, Leeds and Manchester are each lucky enough to have venues too.
Jeorge Johns is one of 92 Degrees’ in-house caffeine dealers and baristas who has grown with the industry over the past eight years. In this interview, Jeorge outlines his conversion from disliking coffee to moving into the sector as a supermarket barista, the heritage of coffee in the prestigious Merseyside port town, and recommendations for others looking to start a career in coffee.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I was lucky enough to start my coffee career as the third wave coffee was in full swing; around late 2013 - and let truth be told, prior to working with coffee I actually hated it! I had the view that it was too much of a bitter and ‘adult drink’ for me. My first job as a barista was with M&S, and I initially hated the idea of working in a Café and almost considered quitting… Saner heads prevailed; and I very quickly found myself becoming deeply invested in all of the processes and techniques involved with making a cup of coffee. Several years later I’m probably in too deep and can often be found in search of exotic-origin coffee beans or new and obscure brewing methods.
What's the status of specialty coffee in Liverpool?
Liverpool has a very strong and ingrained culture of coffee which no doubt stems from its heritage of being a port-city, and coffee from the South Americas was one of the largest commodity imports - there were even several renowned coffee houses around the commercial district in the 1800s in which customers could no doubt sample these imports.
Now, Liverpool is amazing for specialty and even niche coffee. There’s so much choice and variety! I am lucky enough to work for the first roastery to start in Liverpool and 92 Degrees as a company keeps going from strength to strength and our current offerings are fantastic. Our Café neighbours such as Coffi and Bold Street Coffee often also have exciting guest roasts from much loved and revered global roasters and never disappoint.
What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
Literally anybody: I believe that everybody has something to bring to the industry. It’s very easy to forget that coffee extends beyond your morning cup of coffee and a plethora of people are actually responsible for your barista being able to produce your drink. Roasters, equipment technicians, growers, sourcers, charities and even policy makers have all contributed their skills to your cup and the barista pulling the shot is the final link in a very long chain from bean to cup.
Personally, I am very process- and detail-oriented (and something of a perfectionist!) so I find a great deal of pleasure in perfecting techniques involved with producing a drink. This drive helps me produce my best possible work and (hopefully!) best possible cup of coffee to each customer.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
Early career, most of us gained our skills from many of the well-known café chains and have since moved to more independent, or specialty cafés as we’ve nurtured our interests. If you’re feeling bold, you could even go to your favourite independent café and ask if you’d be able to have a go behind the bar! We’ve had a couple of people ask at 92 Degrees and have been more than happy to accommodate and oblige - deep down, most of us are real coffee geeks and love nothing more than to share our knowledge and pass it along.
In terms of equipment, definitely invest in at least a Hario V60 brewer (or similar), an adjustable hand grinder and (most importantly!) scales. Pourovers and filter coffee allow you to explore and appreciate the nuances and varied flavours that coffee can truly offer along with learning techniques and practicing the process behind ‘dialling in’ a coffee. True passion comes from appreciation; and this demonstrably, is also true for coffee!
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
Not websites as such, but YouTubers such as James Hoffmann, Sprometheus, MorganDrinksCoffee and The Coffee Chronicler are my usual go-to’s. I’m also a member of a few pourover coffee Facebook groups and I have found that having an open forum with like-minded individuals to discuss and discover has also been very helpful.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
I’m also currently in the final year of my Aerospace Engineering undergraduate degree and would love for my interests in Aviation and Engineering to somehow combine with Coffee. Many of the products and equipment used by baristas are actually designed by Engineers (from vastly different disciplines) such as the Comandante Grinders and even the AeroPress, and indeed – many Engineers owe a debt of gratitude towards coffee and caffeine helping us get through our education.
Follow @92DegreesUK on Instagram to get a sense for what Jeorge is involved in