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From barista to roaster - meet Claire

Meet Claire, our Roaster's Choice coffee roaster.

Claire Wallace is a multi-talented coffee expert - a skilled barista, champion brewer, coffee trainer and roaster who joined our team in 2018. Claire now roasts the coffee for our sister brand Assembly, and the coffee which you can taste in our best selling Roaster's Choice subscription box each month.

What was your first experience with coffee, Claire? 

I started drinking coffee properly while I was studying Law at Glasgow. Everyone drinks a lot of coffee at uni, and I was living in the West End of Glasgow which has a really good independent café scene – while I was living there (around 2010/11) Australian-inspired, third-wave cafes started to crop up. I used to go to this café Papercup, which is still around, where I drank my first flat white, and I started to go to tasting events around cafes in Glasgow.

So how did you get from a coffee shop customer to being a roaster at Volcano?

I still hadn't had a coffee job at that point, which is a barrier for working in independent cafes – they want you to know what you’re doing. My first coffee job was at Starbucks. It was great because I got to drink lots of coffee and liked customer service. I enjoyed the whole banter at the till, the rush of making drinks at speed. They had this big folder hidden away in the back which had all the farmers information, about processing and sourcing – I’d read that on my break and thought it was really interesting.

After I graduated I didn’t want to go into Law. I went travelling and when I came back one of the guys who I’d met at tasting events in Glasgow got in touch – he’d just opened a coffee shop in Edinburgh and needed a barista. That was Machina Espresso, it’s a roastery now as well. I was there for two years and then moved to Brew Lab, one of the oldest and most well know coffee shops in Edinburgh. I was there for three years and worked my way from barista to head barista and then head of training. Then I moved to London to join Volcano Coffee Works in August 2018. I've been here nearly two years now - how did that happen!!

What led you from barista-ing into coffee roasting?

I did my first roast at a SCA Coffee Roasting Foundation course held at Coffee Nexus in Edinburgh in January 2019. I’d won a place on the course at the Glasgow Coffee Festival the year before. I started roasted for Volcano a few months after that and then in August 2019 joined Assembly, though I still roast Volcano's Roaster's Choice subscription box coffees.

I’d been wanting to learn how to roast for a while. As a barista I was really interested in flavour - controlling flavour and exploring where it came from. I had friends who were roasting and it looked really interesting. It’s hard to get your foot in the door though. I elbowed my way into it at Volcano, showing up, helping out and making myself really present – eventually they got the picture that I wanted to start roasting!

What inspires you and keeps you passionate about coffee?

To give a cliched answer, there’s always something to learn. I’ve been a barista for coming on ten years and still am learning new things about temperature, machines, water, roasting. The people are also pretty great – the coffee industry has a real community feel.

If you weren't working in coffee where do you think you'd be?

I like to think that if I weren't working in coffee I'd still be in the beverage industry somehow - they're my kind of people. I like spirits and cocktails and beer and whisky, and drinking! I think I'd make a pretty good cocktail bartender.

Drink Claire's coffee in the Roaster's Choice Box

Join our Roaster's Choice Box subscription and you'll receive a limited-edition coffee each month, selected by UK Roasting Champion 2018 Nick Mabey, and roasted by Claire Wallace. From the first box you'll begin to discover a whole world of specialty coffees...

Read: Claire's five favourite coffee shops

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