Rob describes himself as ‘an all-round coffee professional’. He’s a trained barista and roaster, has had his own brand of coffee on the market for the last five years, is a regular at events and in competitions, manages his own marketing and creates and curates his own website. So, a man of many talents!
Obviously Covid-19 has had a major impact on his business over the last few months, but he’s not one to sit around and simply wait for life to get better. If people can’t get to a competition, take it to them, online. The challenge was to create a brand-new drink or dish incorporating coffee, with one prize awarded by Rob, a food blogger and a well-known chef; the other via an Instagram vote. And the winner was… a very different starter of asparagus in a hazelnut coffee sauce from one of his favourite innovative restaurants. It played right into his love of introducing people to new flavours and new ways of enjoying coffee. This was just one way to do it, and support a struggling industry at the same time.
Rob ‘caught the coffee bug’ just after he arrived in Copenhagen to start an internship. Coffee meant comfort to this stranger in a strange city, and visiting a coffee shop for the second time he was amazed that the barista not only recognised his face but remembered how he liked his coffee. It was a moment he’s never forgotten. “It made me feel so at home, it made my week.” He’d worked in hospitality before, but never in coffee; but that didn’t stop him from deciding then and there that somehow, he too was going to make people happy with coffee once he got back home to Rotterdam. He says, “It’s an old cliché, but it’s so true. Coffee really does bring people together.” He had the skill set to do it. He’d always been good at the creative side and digital design, so the marketing and website were sorted, and his degree in business and retail gave him a good solid base for becoming a coffeepreneur. And so it began!
Rob still loves the people side of the business. But, as a student who opted for chemistry and physics at school, he also loves the science behind every cup of coffee. “There’s always something new to learn, it’s almost unlimited, the amount of technical knowledge and skill that goes into coffee. There are specialist experts in varieties and cross-breeding, in milks, in machines, even in what kind of water works best.”
When the world is back to normal, or the ‘new normal’, whatever that looks like, Rob would love to open his own café or roastery, or maybe a combination of the two. It’s a dream that’s had to be put on ice since Covid-19, but one day…
Rob enjoys what he does so much, work tends to segue rather easily into leisure and pleasure. But when he’s not talking coffee or working on the website, he’ll be working out in the gym or relaxing with yoga.
His own personal favourite brew? If pushed, he’d probably say a good filter coffee. But apart from the way it’s made, what really turns him on is the thrill of the new. Like the Brazilian coffee he recently tried, grown at the impossibly low altitude of 600m above sea level but an absolute stunner. Or a rare coffee grown somewhere unusual like Thailand or Myanmar that defies all his expectations. “Coffee is a constant voyage of discovery, and I just love exploring!”
Rob believes a great cup of coffee is 100% down to meticulous measuring. “There are so many variables to understand and get right. The alkalinity of the water, the roast, the grind, even the altitude you’re at, can all affect the flavour. Test, test, test until you get it just how you want it.” And his overall advice to baristas? “If you don’t know something, admit it, then go find the answer. Better that than relying on technobabble to get you out of a spot!”
A career in coffee has given Rob a helicopter view of the business. At the top-end, the emphasis on fresh origin speciality coffees and innovative, new processes have been driving the changes. In the commercial marketplace, it’s been the shift towards more transparency in traceability and provenance as customers get more savvy.
He thinks the challenge for baristas is to keep on introducing coffee lovers to new ways of enjoying their favourite drink – and that starts with staying up to date with all the latest developments. Coffee as we know it may only have been around for 50 years or so, but it’s rapidly heading the same way as the wine industry, demanding a high level of skill and knowledge at every stage, from plantation to that perfect cappuccino sliding across the counter.
Plant-based is another of the big things that’s happened over the last few years, and Rob is a huge fan. If people are passionate about the provenance of their coffee, it’s also really going to matter to them where all the other ingredients come from – hand-crafted syrups, artisan chai blends and the right milks. If it’s dairy, people really like to know where it was farmed – locally and organically is best, naturally. And if it’s plant-based, what they’ll be looking for (after taste) is sustainability. Future-thinking brands like Alpro score highly there – proof that big companies can be caring companies, too!
The new products taste great and perform brilliantly, so demand is growing. But Rob thinks there’s still a job to be done. Smashing some of the misguided soya myths, for example. “If you’re using Alpro, soya’s a great choice as it’s all grown in Europe, and not one bean comes from a rainforest – but people need to be told that.” He goes on, “Sometimes vegan and vegetarian products have a steeper hill to climb – customers will always be looking for holes in their plant-based halo! So they really need to keep on reminding people just how good they actually are.” Plus, the coffee business is all about being cool. The coolest-looking modernista machines, the uber-cool dress code. So to make it onto the barista’s play list, humble, wholesome plant-based has to sharpen up that side of its image, too. As if saving the planet wasn’t enough!
Rob doesn’t know quite what holds it together, but knows that somehow the coffee community is a very real thing, online or on the street. “Coffee is very unifying.” Does he think it’s important to keep adding to your repertoire? “Absolutely! I’m talking to people about coffee all the time, soaking up that coffee knowledge like a sponge. One minute I’ll be getting the lowdown on the latest top-secret equipment launch, the next it’ll be checking out new recipes online.” He’s modestly (and quite rightly!) proud of his well-earned rep as the “go-to guy for all things coffee”.
"Once you can admit you don’t have all the answers, you’ll learn something everyday."
Zierikzee, The Netherlands
Our baristas best picks
You saw it here first! Tips, tricks and recipes from our baristas that you won't find anywhere else. Go create!