Behind the Grind - 10 Minutes with Howey, our Head Roaster.
It's been almost a year since we brought the roasting of our Grind House Blend home to our roastery in Shoreditch. Today, we thought we'd take a look behind the scenes, and talk to Head Roaster Howard Gill about the day-to-day of roasting the Grind House Blend.
Following a degree in Natural Sciences, it could be said that Howey took the natural next step of starting a band, and getting a job in a coffee shop. Since then, he’s made coffee across the country, roasted a whole lot of the Grind House Blend, and started several other bands. Today, he’s at work on in our Shoreditch roastery, where he and Head of Coffee Sam Trevethyen taste, select and roast the coffee before it’s packed and shipped around London.
How did you get to be a coffee roaster?
I guess it starts when I left uni with a Natural Sciences degree and my band got signed! I started working in cafes for the flexible hours to work around my music. I could never let go of my science curiosity which made me ask loads of questions and want to learn everything about coffee.
I moved to London and really wanted to immerse myself in this new coffee scene developing. I found this amazing cafe in Hackney Wick, and when they talked about starting to roast their own coffee I just jumped on it! I literally taught myself on Google and loads of trial and error; it was such a great choice.
How long have you been Roasting for Grind?
I came on board to help set up the roastery in June of last year. When I arrived there was a one-tonne roaster sat on a palette and that was pretty much it. Together we installed everything, managed to eventually turn it on (which is way more work than just plugging it in it turned out) and here we are!
What is a ‘normal’ day at the Grind HQ / Roastery?
I normally start by cupping the previous days' roasts and any other samples I need to try, perhaps new coffees we might buy. Then I fire up the roaster and try to squeeze in as much admin as I can while it’s heating up. Then it’s just all about roasting batches of coffee! There’s something quite cool about the repetition of that - you get into this kind of meditative state where it feels like you could roast until the end of time; I spend a lot of my life in that place.
Then at the end of the day it's all about cleaning - I’m pretty hardcore about the cleaning of the roaster. It’s super important to keep that consistent; it really affects the end product.
Have you ever had any catastrophic disasters with roasting coffee in the past?
If I had, I’d never tell you. My boss reads this. But actually, its all been good so far. I’m too OCD to let anything really bad happen.
People say coffee cures a hangover, does it? Whats your go to hangover cure?
I think coffee just amplifies things mentally. You know sometimes you’re on one of those hangovers where you’re really happy about it and you’re with some buddies and it was a great night? Coffee’s good then. If you’re on one of those anxious ones, be careful.
I just do loads of exercise - I love climbing anyway and it’s a great way of keeping your mind occupied; you end up forgetting you’re hungover altogether.
What music do you listen to while roasting?
Oh my goodness that’s a massive question. I think one of the main reasons I roast is so I can listen to whatever I want. Top hits I guess are Careless Whisper, the Yacht Rock genre, Hendrix, 60s Japanese surf rock, sleazy 80s jazz, 70s Turkish psych, loads of dark ambient techno…it's eclectic to say the least.
I made a playlist - it’s not exhaustive but it should give you a vibe:
If you were stranded on an island what three items would you take?…
These days I’d assume someone would eventually find me, so in the meantime I guess i’d bring some coffee plants so I could start a farm (in my head this island’s got the right climate for it), then a drum kit and a piano so I can write some music while the coffee’s growing.
What do you (GRIND) have in the pipeline in the up and coming months?
For the coffee side of GRIND is going to be amazing this year! Our next two filter coffees are especially exciting - we have a really special Nicaraguan first up, followed by a super floral Ethiopian that we’ll be debuting at London Coffee Festival.
Aside from roasting lots of delicious coffees we’ll be running lots of cool events at our roastery - cuppings, latte art competitions, and I’m thinking about doing something like Boiler Room there while we roast, but we’ll see how the neighbours feel about that first.
Howard will continue to educate people on coffee roasting at London Coffee Festival which takes place 6-9th April 2017. Find him at the Grind pop-up restaurant, La Marzocco, Baileys, and Almond Breeze stands!