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'How can I get better at making coffee?' Meet James Wise

Meet James Wise, the man behind our new Brew Better series of tips and vids.

James began his specialty coffee journey as an avid home brewer and curious customer. Having started his first cafe job at his local cafe in 2015, he ascended rapidly – opening several of his own sites, and becoming the youngest winner of the prestigious UK Coffee Masters in 2017.

James is one of the most talented, driven and knowledgeable people in the UK coffee industry, and we’re lucky to have him on board as part of our Volcano team.

Where did it all begin?

Like most of us I suppose, I got into coffee by accident. I needed a part time job while I was getting ready to take my tattoo apprenticeship so I started working at a local coffee shop. I’d been speaking to the head of coffee there for quite a while already about different brew methods and how coffee works. I was already playing around with brewing coffee at home, it was something that was really interesting to me.

What brewing method were you using at home at the beginning?

My first brew at home method was a plastic V60 that I picked up really cheap - it seemed like the easiest way of brewing coffee. It didn’t require an incredible amount of preparation, and there wasn’t much mess to clean up.

It’s probably the most convenient and cost effective method - essentially all you need to buy is, what, a £7 dripper? And then you’re done.

At that time I was still getting used to the theory of using coffee so it didn’t really matter what I was brewing on. I was working out how to fine-tune all the elements of a brew – getting a good temperature to pull out specific compounds or being able to manipulate time and manipulate strength.

What brewing method do you drink at home now?

At home it's always been filter, or drip. I’ve played around with all the methods, but at home I still prefer a conical or flat-bed dripper because of their ease of use.

How can I get better at making coffee?

I think with coffee there’s only so much practice you can do. The more you repeat making a cup of coffee the faster you will become and more accurate, but a lot of value in getting better lies in the theory, and then looking at things in a more creative way and playing around. You have to understand why you’re doing things and how to change them to get different desired effects and to improve what you’re pulling out.

I had an active interest in coffee before I began working in it, and a lot of what I was doing to get better was theory based and sensory based. I was going home and reading books on extraction theory, researching the standard cup profiles for a region and setting up cuppings at home to hone my sensory skills, so I knew what to look for when tasting it and could tell if what I was making was right or wrong. I was doing hours in the coffee shop but also equal amounts at home trying to understand the theory of what I was making and how I could do things different to make things better.

Is coffee an art or a science?

You’ve got to embrace both sides to really get the most out of it. The production is an art; the theory is science. You have to balance them both out. If you look at it too much like an art you’ll rely too much on the unknown, if you focus on it too much as a science you’ll lose creativity.

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