The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
I discovered Cult Espresso on Instagram near the start of my speciality coffee journey. Their online presence is unique and playful; a reminder to not take yourself too seriously when you are making coffee. Interested in their cafe—and their move to start roasting beans—I decided to reach out with a few questions. Adam, a barista a Cult Espresso, took some time to speak to me over email about what it is like to be a barista and what he does at Cult. Enjoy the interview.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Cult Espresso?
So a little about myself to begin, I'm Adam and I've been working at cult for the past year or so. I've always been interested in coffee but it usually ended up being a background interest as I focussed on my studies. While finishing up my business degree in Toronto I was struggling to get a work visa so had a lot of time on my hands and nothing to do. I jumped in at the deep end, bought an espresso machine and commited to try and teach myself as much as I could about everything coffee. Sure enough, I fell down an all too familiar rabbit hole, dropped out of uni and began a career in coffee.
Fast forward a few shops and a flight back to the U.K. and I managed to get the job at Cult. I do barista shifts here, so everything from dialling in espresso to scrubbing floors. I also do some shenanigans in the background with e-commerce, with some exciting developments I'm looking forward to sharing with the public in the next couple months.
What tasks take up most of your time as a barista on the day-to-day?
Being a barista is a 3 part job, split between coffee (and food), customers and cleaning. You have to devote the same energy to each of these or nothing works. You can't make good coffee if everything isn't clean, and if you can't make good coffee you can't create a positive customer experience. Everyone has their preferences in terms of what they enjoy on shift, but understanding the importance of the whole picture is crucial.
At the moment, things are obviously a little strange with the pandemic situation so our time is distributed a bit differently. With the focus on takeaway coffee we have at the moment, most of my time is spent taking and making orders. In normal times I'd argue just as much of your time is needed cleaning dishes and clearing tables, but with no options to sit in for now there isn't as much washing up, allowing us to focus on some behind the scenes stuff.
Cult offers its own beans, alongside coffees from other businesses. Why did you decide to start roasting your own beans? Do you have your own roaster?
We do indeed have our own roaster, a lovely 6kg Giesen called Thomas, hidden away at a secret location in South Queensferry.
I think for us, roasting was the natural next step in our collective journey through coffee. Having been one of the original shops of the scene in Edinburgh, anything we can do to keep pushing Scottish coffee forward is a good time. Combine that with a global pandemic and a hell of a lot more time on our hands allowed us to turn the roasting dream into a reality and we haven't looked back since.
Having access to more of the supply chain and thus a deeper connection to the processes that start at origin and end in a cup in the shop is incredibly empowering and intriguing. The hard work put in by producers is often overlooked outside of speciality coffee, so having an opportunity to showcase that work as best we can is amazing.
How long does it take you do "dial in" in the morning? Who is all involved in this process?
We spend half an hour every morning to check the espresso and dial in. The dialling in process can really vary from day to day. There's so many factors affecting how coffee extracts to consider, so understanding each of those factors is important. If a recipe has been worked out already, it's a matter of checking that it's pulling well and tastes delicious, adjusting accordingly. With new coffees, the process is a little longer as we perfect the recipe for it.
Everything we do at Cult is super collaborative meaning everyone on shift tastes the coffee, and everyone dials in. Coffee is such a subjective art so a second opinion is needed to make sure things taste great. Being able to leave your ego at the door and be ready to change something you thought was good can be tough, but we're all very close friends and are able to critique pretty well.
What would you say is the most special part of the Scottish coffee culture?
The community, 100%. I moved to Scotland from Canada specifically for coffee, there's simply no place like it. Everyone wants each other to succeed and progress, doing coffee for the passion and less for the money. The community is big enough that there's a lot of opportunity, but small enough that everyone knows one another and what they're about.
On Instagram, I see that you like to show the personalities of your staff. Why do you think this is important versus maintaining a more professional presence online?
Quite simply, the staff make Cult. You can't have a cult with no members, and we're no different.
Cult has always been about the people and the coffee those people serve, and there's been some big personalities over the years. We're not trying to hide behind anything; we're a group of friends trying to serve up some of the best coffee in the country and our Instagram reflects that.
Professionalism factors in a lot more behind the scenes then people realise, and while we have a lot of fun, we hold ourselves to extremely high standards. I'd like to think the quality of what we serve does the talking, so social media is more a way for us to connect personally with our customers.
Being professional is incredibly important, but finding the balance between it and what makes Cult unique is more important to us.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to start a career in speciality coffee?
Get to know people and never stop learning.
Other people in the industry share your passion, so get out and chat to them about it. People in coffee all have their own opinions and every opinion is important. By finding out what others love you can learn more, but also hone in your own interests to drive your learning.
Coffee is an endlessly deep rabbit hole and you can always learn more. Everything can be improved, and the more you know, the better you'll be. Not only that, but there's some amazing stories and amazing research out there so keep reading, watching and brewing all you can.
What is your favourite part about working in a speciality coffee shop?
It's hard to sum up quickly, but the best thing is being the final link in the chain that makes coffee. All the hard work of growing, then exporting and roasting is finally tied together by the barista, and representing all of that is something I find truly special.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
I'm drinking Las Cruces - Honey from Roundhill Roastery. It's a 72 hour anaerobic fermentation followed up by honey processing with notes of banana, mulled wine and nougat. It's complex, juicy and all round a banging coffee. 10/10.
What is your favourite way to brew coffee?
Probably espresso, it was where it all began for me and the never ending hunt for the perfect shot is addictive.
You can learn more about Cult Espresso on their website at www.cult-espresso.com or on their Instagram page @cult_espresso.