The photo for this article was provided by the interviewee.
Manifesto Coffee is a values-driven company, focused on transparency, quality, fairness, and environmental consciousness. I wanted to learn more about Manifesto's work so I reached out to one of their founders, Alex. He responded to a few questions I had about how Manifesto roasts coffee and what it's like to pursue a career in the coffee industry. Our chat is below.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself and your role at Manifesto?
My name is Alex MacIntyre and I’m one of the founders of Manifesto Coffee. I’ve been working in coffee most of my life and have had several coffee shops in the past in London before tiring of the city and moving up north. I’ve always had a passion for coffee and hospitality and firmly believe it’s a wonderful industry to forge a career in.
At the same time it can be a financially limited career (particularly in big cities) and unfortunately many people move on simply because the choice of working in hospitality or coffee can be a financially poor one. It can be soul-crushing to be offered minimum wage in an industry that takes pride in its skills and knowledge after a 15 year career. Manifesto was born out of this frustration and others. My role is mostly operations and growth, pushing the company forward and seeking new opportunities, product development, design… You name it! Having a small business will often mean you tend to be a bit of a Jack of all trades.
What technology do you use to roast coffee?
A coffee roaster, obviously! We decided from the outset that we wanted to avoid using gas for our roasting, which is simple decision to make, but a difficult one to put in practice. There aren’t all that many highly capable electric roasters out there, so we settled on the Aillio Bullet to begin with and have since also started using the Stronghold S7. Both are exceptional little machines, with the S7 featuring some pretty powerful roast replication capabilities which help a lot with consistency.
Beyond the roaster, we use Airtable for our inventory, order tracking, and most data we need as a roaster and ecommerce business.
What would you say are the most important characteristics of a good coffee roaster?
Consistency, palate, and adaptability. If you’re consistent in what you do and how you roast, then you can achieve quality as long as you’re also adaptable. If you’re inconsistent, you might produce great results one day and rubbish the next, if you’re not adaptable and you get into some bad habits then you’ll get stuck. As long as your palate is good, in combination with the other two characteristics you can produce great things.
To what extent does experience play a role in becoming a roaster? What are the best ways for someone interested in coffee to start pursuing a career as a roaster?
None. As long as you’re an avid learner you can be a roaster. Buy a roaster and start. It can be hard and you’ll produce some rubbish coffee, but there are so many resources out there so it’s easy enough to learn, there’s no predefined point in your learning that defines you as a roaster, and you’ll never stop learning. Like anything you really can’t achieve something without giving it a go.
I guess one of the beautiful things about coffee is how varied a career you can have - writing and journalism is one path, roasting, sourcing, green buying, running business, or simply being a barista.
What do you think about compensation for those who work in the speciality coffee industry?
When we get large enough to hire (and therefore actually pay ourselves properly!) we’ll be paying a fair and sustainable rate, after all minimum wage is what a business is financially obliged to pay. If a business pays minimum it says that they would pay less if they could. Liveable wage is simply the minimum a business can pay while feeling good about themselves. We believe in openness, and with our new website we’ll be as forthcoming with our practices as we possibly can be - be it staffing, environment or coffee sourcing.
What are the main tasks that comprise your average work day?
Staring at a computer screen. Currently building a new website for the company to better handle growth and automate a lot of tedious tasks such as order management and dispatch, so that’s occupying a good amount of time. We cup several days a week to ensure our coffees are tasting on point and choose new coffees for the future. Roasting, packing and social media also take time.
How do you know when a roast is ready? To what extent does technology influence your evaluation of a roast before it is dropped onto the cooling tray?
Technology plays a big part in our roasting. We have a rough window of what we shoot for in terms of our style, but we roast each coffee for itself, so each coffee we get in has it’s own profile and is dropped according to its own recipe.
How do you evaluate a roast after it is completed? Do you cup each roast?
We use small roasters (for now) so it would be pretty unrealistic to cup each roast. We do random testing of batches to ensure consistency.
What coffee(s) are you drinking at the moment?
Kenya Kakindu, our honey-processed Kenyan. Super tasty! And, as always, our decaf hits the spot better than most caffeinated coffees.
If you could visit any coffee origin in the world, where would you go and why?
Yemen. It’s largely considered the birthplace of coffee as a commodity and as a country alone it would just be incredible to visit.