Antony Watson (Olisipo Coffee): Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #61

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Antony Watson (Olisipo Coffee): Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #61

Coffee Insurrection
1-Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s your job.
My name is Antony Watson, originally hailing from the UK but ‘Brexited the Brexit’ to co-found a coffee roastery – Olisipo Coffee Roasters – along with Sofia Goncalves in Lisboa, Portugal, six years-ago.

I am the Head Roaster at Olisipo and oversee QC and green bean sourcing – although, to be fair, we are only a small team of two so am involved in all day-to-day aspects of the roastery.

I also enjoy the practice of science education/communication and have been privileged to collaborate with leading scientific experts at ZHAW (Zurich University, Switzerland) on the development of their online, distance learning Certificate of Advanced Studies in Coffee Excellence over recent years.

I have also collaborated with coffee consultancies such as Coffee Mind (based in Copenhagen, Denmark) and the SCA on coffee science research publications and also covering Sustainability issues affecting the global coffee value chain.
2-When and why did coffee become important to you?

From an early age, coffee has always been an important part of my life. My earliest memory of drinking coffee was from a hot thermos flask that my grandparents would prepare before we went on a day out or holidays to Snowdonia, Wales. My first grinder was an old wooden German hand mill and I was immediately hooked from the invigorating aroma of freshly ground coffee filling the room.

Fast forward many moons and decided to embark for new horizons after pursuing a varied career in journalism and communications. I was lucky enough to be paid to leave my job in international cultural relations and bought a touring bike.

The idea was to combine my passion for cycling, travelling, and coffee.
So, what better way than cycle to the ‘birthplace of coffee’? Although had no real understanding of where this was until I researched it… only to discover I was going to embark on a two-wheeled odyssey to Ethiopia.

Just before Christmas 2010, I started on my coffee-fueled field trip and took the boat to Spain before cycling through southern Europe and eventually arriving in Lebanon during the Arab Spring in 2011 before taking a flight to Ethiopia – just in time for the coffee cherry harvest.

Of course, this experience opened my eyes and tastebuds to the kaleidoscope world of coffee and cultire - which was to ultimately change the course of many aspects of my life from a personal, professional, and of course, sensory perspective!
[Ed: to read more about the field trip, Antony’s blog “Bean on a Bike” is just a click away.]
3-Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?
Tough question. I have many moments where it was more than just a ‘cup of coffee’ but one of the enduring moments was in Ethiopia. The dawn was just breaking and I had emerged from my tent where I had just set camp on the grounds of a wet washing station to the west of the Rift Valley, near Jimma, amongst the shade canopy tress underwhic wild heirloom coffee shrubs thrive.

It was a very special moment to savour such a sweet, complex, flavoursome coffee in the fashion of a ceremonial Ethiopian coffee ritual. I felt truly humbled by the opportunity to taste coffee that had been grown,  cultivated, harvested, processed, roasted, ground, brewed and finally served with a simple breakfast of corn, honey and salt – all within a few kilometers of the very spot that I was enjoying this wonderfully invigorating black elixir.

Not only because it holds such a sacred place in Abyssinian / Ethiopian culture but we were also simultaneously strengthening human bonds before we set out on a long day ahead sorting and turning the parchment coffee as it dried under the intense African sun – often involving lots of song, laughter and of course more coffee!
4-What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?
I have to say that I am very lucky to not regard my time in the roastery as ‘work’. It is a labour of love; often surprising, always challenging, sometimes maddening when a batch doesn’t go according to plan, but always enriching in the sense that I get to learn something new – or even paradigm shifting - every single day.
5-What’s your favorite brewing method and why?
I love the coffee cupping protocol for its simplicity and for the fact that it’s one of the most gentle, consistent way to brew a coffee – especially for sensory evaluation purposes.

However, my go-to brew method at home or on the road would be the Moka Pot for its ingenuity of invention, portability, and ability to brew an intense, flavoursome extraction that never fails to tickle the taste buds! I also enjoy experimenting with other brew methods such as V60 and Kalita, but love to brew coffee using the Siphon for its theatricality of preparation, and for the resulting clarity in the cup.
6-Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?
I find this a truly hard question to answer. The sensory enjoyment of a cup of coffee is always so relative and closely tied with many influencing factors such as a sense of time, place, people, emotional state, atmosphere, even down to the shape, feel and colour of the vessel that you are drinking from.

So in this sense, I can only say that I have many memorable moments that can define the ‘best’ coffee I had ever tasted in that specific moment. In this regard, coffee is the precursor to flavour and one which is the ‘gift that forever keep on giving’.

Olisipo Coffee

7-Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?
As above… but coffee from Ethiopia will always have a special place in my heart for the reasons I explained earlier☺
8-Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one you working at/you use at work).
Please check out in London. They have a great team and their head roaster, Edgaras Jüska, is roasting some amazing coffees that never fail to express the diversity of aroma and taste that this agricultural marvel has to truly offer.
9-What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?

Stay humble, respect the many hands (indirectly or directly) that have touched the coffee, keep an open mind, always ask questions…. and never give up.
10-How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new challenges for hospitality?
The hit from Covid has been particularly hard for the entire value chain – particularly for the producers who ultimately carry most of the risk of all the actors. However, from a hospitality perspective, we have to adapt to changes that are often outside of our control. We have to keep evolving.
11-How do you see the specialty coffee scene in 10 year?
In my opinion, the challenges to so-called ‘specialty’ coffee are many – especially at origin. From a sustainability perspective, coffee is indeed in crisis and time is running out if we are to increase the genetic diversity and ultimately profitability for coffee producers worldwide.

From climate breakdown, to the threats posed by pest, diseases and water scarcity, to the socio-economic challenges of encouraging the next generation of coffee producers, to supply chain shocks and the volatile speculatory economics of the futures markets; we all collectively have a big hill to climb – and we can all play our role in this.

From a roasting perspective, I think we will probably see a much greater offer as new roasters contribute to a proliferating and growing third – or even fourth wave movement – as we collectively seek to grow the market and take the challenge to the big commercial roasters. We will also see interesting and innovative new brew methods, and ways of coffee extraction. The limits are boundless!

We will probably see high-quality coffee becoming more of a luxury as supply/demand economics take hold which means that ultimately, coffee consumers will have to pay more. But wherever we are in the value chain, we have all responsibility to communicate this to the consumer in a transparent and authentic way so that the true share of value that a cup of coffee comprises is understood and fully appreciated.
However, I remain hopeful that niche markets such as ‘specialty coffee’ can help to move the dial across the board to achieve a critical mass of conscious consumer solidarity where it concerns greater fairness, transparency, traceability, trade justice and ultimately a memorable tasting experience in the cup.
12-Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ask me in ten years☺
13-Any last word? Any tip or suggestion you wanna share with someone that want to start this path?
Stay true to your primary motivation and passion. The world of coffee has many entry points so be focused on you mission and your perseverance will eventually pay off. I can’t sugar coat things and say it has been an easy ride either but I wouldn’t change / trade my ongoing journey into coffee for the world. In the end, coffee is connector of people and communities. And during these extreme times, I believe that we need coffee and its potential for positive social change more than ever.

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