Barista Conversations: interview with Ian Kissick
Monday 23 October
Ian Kissick, 2023 UK Barista Champion and founder of Formative Coffee in London, started his coffee career in 2018, after quitting a corporate job. His love for coffee began as a way to take a break from his desk, strolling down to the nearby specialty coffee shop and chatting with the baristas.
In just four short months, he enthusiastically jumped into competitions, experiencing rapid professional growth along the way.
In his interview by Merijn Gijsbers, Ian tells us a bit more about his take on coffee, plant-based beverages and offers some valuable tips for the newcomers.
Tell us a bit about Formative Coffee.
I opened Formative - a coffee bar in central London - in March 2019. In essence, it is the embodiment of everything I believe about coffee. We aim to serve exceptional coffees across every beverage, in an approachable manner. It's our hope that we can create experiences which change our guests' understanding of coffee for the better, whether it's their first time trying specialty coffee, or if they're a long-time coffee professional. Last year we started roasting for ourselves, which has been a fantastic journey, and now we're beginning to expand into wholesale and e-commerce.
In your opinion, what is the most essential quality for a barista to have, and why?
A willingness to learn. I think that too many of us, as coffee professionals, reach a point where we're afraid to be wrong. The reality is that as an industry, there's so much we still don't understand about coffee - so no matter how experienced you are, there's still more to learn. So whatever the experience level, I'd say that a willingness to learn - to be able to admit that you're wrong, and to search out the right answer - is not only key to professional development, but to actually pushing our industry forward.
Plant-based beverages and coffee: what is your take?
Like many coffee professionals, I used to be very sceptical about the quality of beverages that could be created using dairy alternatives. However, over the past year or so, my opinion on this has completely changed.
I've come to realise that we can use plant-based beverages to create drinks which arguably do a better job of showcasing the underlying flavour profile and quality of the coffee. Dairy is fantastic in combination with espresso - it allows us to create sweet, creamy beverages, which I'd tend to describe as "traditional". However, we can easily create drinks which have more structured acidity, and more flavour clarity, particularly using oat drink.
The very best 'milk' drink I've ever tasted, for example, is an oat beverage, combined with a thermal shock Colombian coffee, and tasted like orange wine and apricot danish.
With the in particular, there's a lot of hesitance about the possibility of introducing the flavour of the plant-based milk. For example, using Oat drink, and finding an oat-y flavour in the beverage. However, I've found that with careful recipe design, we can completely avoid this. On the other hand, when using dairy, it is almost impossible to remove that creamy, milky flavour that's imparted, leaving us with a fairly selection of potential flavour notes.
What does the future of plant based coffee look like, according to you?
We've seen plant based companies have a lot of success in creating products which deal with a wide variety of (usually lower quality) coffees, mitigating the negatives. I'd like to see products created which allow us to create drinks which are of such a high quality, that they change our perception of what a milk drink is.
I believe that the notion of 'traditional' milk drinks - lots of sweetness and creaminess - is a bit outdated, when we look at the trajectory of high-end coffee shops. By creating plant-based options which facilitate structured acidity, while maintaining balance, we can completely change customer's views on coffee and milk.
How and when did you start competing?
I started competing in the UK Barista Championship 4 months into my coffee career, in 2018. At that point, coffee competition was a real accelerant in my understanding of coffee, workflow, and technique, and served as a means to keep pushing my professional development.
Since then, I've always viewed competition as a way to present new ideals in a fun and concise manner.
Any advice for beginners?
Read the rules - especially those regarding disqualification, make sure you finish in time, and have fun!
Watch Ian Kissick's performance at the 2023 World Barista Championship in Athens.