Happy New Year!
2020 is a thing of the past, and with a new year brings our very first Coffee Roaster of the Month for 2021. I am so thrilled to say this is our very first feature of a roaster from the UK.
The coffee scene in England has some pretty well-known coffee roasters that are doing a lot of great work to grow the specialty coffee community across the UK and Europe for that matter. One such roaster that I am very excited about, and cannot wait to share their story with you about is none other than Kiss The Hippo.
I’ve had the chance to get to know Josh Tarlo who is the Head of Coffee for KTH, and what you might not know is that there is a Canadian connection. But I’ll let him share their story…
Q: So who is the team behind Kiss The Hippo?
On the roasting end for Kiss the Hippo we have Marcus as our Head Roaster and Zuza as his production assistant. UK-Barista Championship champ Paul Ross is in the wholesale department with Deyvi and Gizem. I’m Josh, and I’m the Head of Coffee here at KTH.
Like Tyler said, I have a Canadian connection, as I am originally from a small town north of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. I was living in Toronto and I was offered a job over in the UK as a green buyer. At the time I thought some years in Europe would be fun. I quickly fell in love with it and decided to settle down in London.
Q: So what’s your backstory in specialty coffee?
My first job outside scrubbing dishes in my parent’s restaurant was as a barista, after that I never really left. I went to Toronto for University and kept working behind machines. Eventually I moved to Australia where I got my first job at a roastery. Since then it has been a long road of roasting then sourcing green and now overseeing the roaster.
Q: Who were some of your early influences in specialty coffee?
I definitely come from the acid bomb espresso era of 2010-ish Melbourne. Giant flavour, huge presence in the cup. Places like Seven Seeds and Proud Mary were easily my favourite. Although I’m still really into the high intensity, lots of character coffee I now like to have more flavour definition, not just massive sensation.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the history of Kiss The Hippo. Where did the name home from?
Kiss the Hippo was started by Can Eren. In his past life he travelled a lot for work and specialty shops around the world sort of became a home away from home. After years of visits he decided to slow down and open up his own place in London.
Can wanted to make an appreciation towards nature centre to Kiss the Hippo and this is a tongue-and-cheek way of showing affection to nature.
Q: There’s no question that the coffee community in London is known for being one of the best coffee communities, perhaps in the world. So what about it do you love?
London is one of the global hubs for coffee with some really incredible roasters and shops. Every year the big event is London Coffee Fest where about 32,000 people cram into an old brewery for a week. It’s funny when you’re there it can feel a bit overwhelming but now that’s it gone I really miss it.
I think what I’ve noticed about the London scene especially with everything going away is just how big it is and how it can feel very tight knit but you’re constantly meeting new people. This sort of close endlessness creates a really nice feeling like you’re always discovering so it’s hard to feel burnt out over.
Q: What sets Kiss The Hippo apart from the many other coffee roasters in England/UK? Feel free to toot your own horn!
A lot of what makes Kiss the Hippo special is the team. We have a really strong group of pros in coffee with years of award winning experience. Although we are new as a company there’s a big history with each person in specialty coffee.
Q: Looking forward beyond COVID-19 what do you see as some of the emerging trends or new initiatives that will shape the future of specialty coffee?
I reckon predicting anything while were in this great upheaval is probably not too reliable. I do reckon though there are some obvious feelings not in high supply this year, or maybe at least for me.
With so much live art like theatre and music shut down there has been a lack of wonder. With hospitality so massively effected the excitement of a good night is gone. I think these things will push people out of their house, I think it will drive them experience things. With that comes meeting new people, new connections and with that is usually brunch, coffee dates and wandering new neighbourhoods. Cafes will bounce back, it’s just going to be a question of where.
Q: So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
I’m still really enjoying drinking our Christmas blend. When I was conceiving that I was thinking of what origin excited me the most this year and without a doubt it’s Colombia. Over the last few years the quality has exploded. So many interesting cultivars and processing’s. It has completely become one of the most innovative origins in the world.
Q: So Josh…you & the KISS THE HIPPO team have certainly done well in the competition space in the past few years? What is it that you love about competing in coffee? What are you most looking forward to when coffee competitions resume? Anything you would like to see changed?
Competition is a huge part of what we do. Both Paul and I have been fortunate to have success over the years and it really feeds our approach to coffee. There’s just something about putting yourself out there and focusing on what you think is great about coffee.
I’m looking forward to when they come back because of the people involved. I’ve been lucky enough to make some incredible friends through competition and it’d be really nice to have everyone together.
In terms of changes I would prefer if the competition could focus more on creativity for the barista. It’s important anyone who wins should have knowledge and capability but if we want innovation we need freedom to do it. I’d love at a category that is completely open to anything.
And lastly I’d think it would be cool if the competitors themselves would vote for someone among them to win a Barista’s Champ type of award in the final. Sometimes the one the industry learns the most from isn’t on the stage and it would be cool if there could be an expression of that.
Q: Tell the readers of Commonly Coffee about some of your recent accomplishments. Or any upcoming announcements from Kiss the Hippo?
With the Covid restrictions coming in and out a lot of our 2020 plans have been put on hold. For now we are excited to launch our pod coffee range so people can more easily enjoy our coffee at home. We’re excited because our pods are 100% compostable so you can enjoy your coffee knowing your waste won’t stick around for lifetimes but will naturally breakdown into organic matter.
Find their beans:
If you’re looking to get your hands on some beans then definitely check out their web-store for what they’re currently roasting!
Visit their cafe:
I just want to say a huge thank you to Josh for sharing about Kiss The Hippo and for being such a huge contributor to the coffee culture in London and across the UK. Keep up the great work!