james wise | assembly coffee
Not only does our LDNER this week work with Assembly Coffee and hold the title of 2017 Coffee Masters champ, he’s also involved with the coffee set-up at the newly opened Old Street Records Cafe, so as well as being incredibly busy, he knows how to make a good brew. Meet barista and all around coffee expert James Wise..
Where do you live in London and what do you like about the area?
I grew up just outside of Croydon in a tiny town called Kenley. My dad works for the Corporation of London as a ranger looking after commons and we lived in a secluded cottage leading to the woodland, a beautiful place with forests stretching as far a the eye can see. It’s definitely a contrast to most of the places I’ve lived in the city, and I find myself missing it at times. I recently moved to a little one bed flat in Langdon Park next to the canal with a bunch of great green spaces dotted around that are well within walking distance. It’s a perfect combination of central but scenic. I was in Bethnal Green earlier this year, and I can’t say I don’t miss having all of my favourite bars and restaurants on my doorstep – but you can’t have everything.
You’ve had a few different jobs in your time, like landscape gardening and a tattoo apprenticeship, why did coffee stick?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, so I chose not to enter into higher education for fear of following a path that carried no benefit when i could be gaining experience in the real world and understanding exactly what I wanted to do at the same time. I moved around a lot, never really spending more than a year in each position. There I would learn what I needed to do, worked hard, advanced, gained a good understanding of my new position, then I moved onto something new. Each job has offered new experiences and I found aspects of each job I enjoyed, but coffee just managed to incorporate a lot of these elements I had enjoyed. When it came to making the jump into tattooing I just couldn’t pull myself away before I had a thorough understanding of the product and production. 3 years in and I’m getting there.
How did you become involved with the coffee set-up at Old Street Records Cafe?
My new position with Assembly allows me to work closely with clients, helping them get the most value out of working together. Old St Records has created this amazing space and a great concept, and I personally wanted to help them make an impact during the launch which meant playing around on the Sanremo Cafe Racer (über-cool espresso machine) and listening to some great music! We ran a couple of events together during the opening week which was great fun, like teaching people how to pour latte art and how to mix some awesome espresso martinis.
You also work with Assembly, so what does your day-to-day look like?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Every day is really different. You can normally find me working out of our roastery in Brixton or at a cafe in the city shooting the breeze with baristas. Creating recipes in the morning has become an unbreakable routine for me so as soon as I reach the roastery I jump straight on the espresso machines and dial in, then move over to brewing myself a filter coffee before settling down and checking emails. I work specifically with new business, which includes helping to plan how a cafe will flow, what equipment best suits the client and how we can best help them to grow. I have a lot of experience in curating how a bar is set up, and the importance of this can make or break for a site. Being able to share my experiences and ensure these new businesses are able to function to a high standard is very rewarding. Currently, after my “working” day is over I stay behind with Nick Mabey – my mentor since starting in coffee – to learn the roasting process, which is a part of the production step I’ve yet to delve too far into.
You won the 2017 Coffee Masters Competition, tell us a bit about what you did to earn the title?
To enter the competition you are required to create a signature drink which “clearly demonstrate your knowledge and ability as a professional barista and coffee expert”. I wanted to use the signature drink as an opportunity to express my knowledge of extraction and maceration. The drink is based on a classic cocktail “The Americano”, which is vermouth-centric. I made a vermouth and learned what a vermouth is at the same time (highly recommended). I had been experimenting with my recipe for six months, and I finally landed on something that I love and enjoy drinking. The signature drink was the easy part. The competition takes place over 4 days in a head to head format at the centre of London Coffee Festival. I spent pretty much the entire festival at that stage either practising or performing. We are judged on a multitude of sensory tests and knowledge, from origin identification to producing speciality quality drinks at speed. In the finals, I came up against Nick Mabey – Student vs The Master. It was incredibly close but I managed to come out on top and walk away with the title and prize money. I still can’t believe how well I did; constant training really paid off.
Describe your perfect day in London?
When I’m not drinking, teaching, or talking about coffee, I can normally be found wandering with my Mum and little brother around the parks and commons of London. Nunhead Cemetery is a personal favourite and definitely a hidden gem! A perfect day would probably be brunch at Sager + Wilde on Paradise Row, quick skate at the Victoria Park Bowl, couple beers at Mother Kelly’s, then down to Genesis Cinema to catch a film and back up to Bethnal Green to grab a nightcap from Satan’s Whiskers.