After landing in London via Dundee and Saint Andrews, although his ‘daily ride’ is a straight filter, Nicolas’s favourite brew is still a short, strong shot boiled in a ‘briki’, the traditional long handled coffee pot of his native island, Cyprus.
So his life in coffee started with drinking the best. As a student, he shared the love by starting up a university coffee society. Then decided to switch from business studies to barista, and got his first job behind the counter. And now he’s Head of Coffee, no less, at Saint Espresso in uber-trendy East London.
He explains that Saint Espresso started out as a family of neighbourhood cafés, serving great coffee in great locations. But then they decided they wanted to impact a little more on how the coffee they brewed was produced. Now they work with importers sourcing speciality coffees from “the freshest of crops, with the finest of flavours and fairest trade to the farmers”.
Thinking like that, working with Alpro on ways to make the most of plant-based in coffee was a totally natural step. “It’s a great philosophy. It’s for the planet, and for people who need to make a living from coffee.” Nicolas has seen the demand for plant-based grow and grow. Now one in three coffees served in London is plant-based, with oat and soya winning the plant popularity contest.
He finds the differences between countries’ choices fascinating. In the Mediterranean, pea-based drinks are flavour of the month. While elsewhere, almond is heads-up favourite. Because plant-based offers such a range of flavours and the balance between sweetness and acidity varies so widely, there’s one to suit every national palette.
As well as the use of more plant-based, Nicolas sees more exciting times ahead for the coffee industry. Like fermentation, what it adds to the menu and the added value it contributes along the supply chain. More diversity and more women stepping into decision-making roles. Clearer career pathways and opportunities for anyone coming into the business. And automation. Which may sound contrary, but he believes that handing over the mechanical process of making coffee to machines will improve beverage consistency, reduce service time and free up baristas to do what they do best. Applying their brewing skills and knowledge to setting the controls, and their people skills to keeping customers happy.
Nicolas’s passion for coffee simply pours out of him. So it was no surprise that he found it hard to single out one thing that he loved most about his work. The chance to taste amazing coffees, every day. Talking coffee endlessly with like-minded people. Judging the Academy of Chocolate Awards and sampling all the entries. The list could go on.
When he’s not immersed in coffee, you might find Nicolas pedalling around London’s cycle routes, running around the squash court, or teaching his “very smart” Golden Doodle a few new tricks.
Any tips for barista beginners? “Learn all you can, get out there, get to know your local community. Work on your ‘can do’, rather than ‘know it all’ attitude. Act positive and make people want to work with you and be served by you. And always be, and think for, yourself.”
"Gently does it when you create the topping to keep it light and frothy."
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