Who is “Head of Coffee, Will” and what does he do?

Posted on Posted in Behind the scenes

If you’ve ever opened an email from us, you’ve probably seen us mention Will, our Head of Coffee. Will describes the coffee like this, Will went here, Will did that… et cetera, et cetera. But who is Will? And what does being a Head of Coffee entail? And how do you become one? Just read on, friends, and get acquainted with the bean-counting, coffee-slurping arabica expert that is Will.

Like anyone who’s thrown themselves into a BA in English Lit because they quite liked Harry Potter when they were younger, Will wasn’t the biggest fan of his university subject. Graduating in 2005 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he knew life as… well, a mechanical engineer wasn’t for him. But bills gotta get paid! Will took a job delivering packages for the Cardiff Coffee Company, despite not really being a big fan of the drink itself. But moving from delivery boy to Head of Sales, he started to learn the ropes of barista-ing. And that took him to a trade show in London, where he first tasted speciality beans…

That was it. Lightbulb moment. “Why isn’t everyone drinking this, instead of rubbish commodity coffee?” he thought. And that was Will all in. Spending the next few years entering barista championships, he searched for ways to get speciality out into the public and came up with a solution. Opening a market stall in Cardiff at the weekends meant he could practice his latte art skills and spread the speciality word, all in one fell swoop.

After a few years of that, learning more and more about roasters and helping a friend open Waterloo Tea Rooms (2009’s “best coffee shop in the UK”), Will took a logistics and buying job at Mercanta – a green coffee supplier. Over time he started doing their coffee buying in Central America, travelling over and visiting farms to build up an understanding of best practice for quality coffee production. Not only did he win the London and South East and Midlands and Northern barista championships during this time, he became a global espresso specialist. This meant he helped roasters learn to blend espressos well… and then, because he fancied it, he went into roasting himself.

His strange, mixed bag of experiences gave him an end-to-end specialist knowledge of the whole coffee supply chain – from picking cherries, to processing them, to roasting green, to brewing perfectly. And that unique set of skills was spotted by Stephen Rapoport, founder of Pact Coffee.

Will started off by recommending coffees to Stephen, advising on how to roast them and what the best grinding practices were – the menu only had four coffees at that time, so it wasn’t as much work as it is now! But after helping out on an unofficial basis for nine months, he realised there was a big opportunity there. That’s when Stephen made Will Pact’s Head of Coffee.

What does a Head of Coffee do?

So that’s who he is. Coffee-hating mechanical engineering student turned barista champion and espresso expert. But what does being a Head of Coffee actually involve?

The first six months were spent building Pact Coffee a roastery – recruiting a band of roasters and a coffee team, getting operations in order and building our first relationships with coffee farmers. And since then, a lot of what Will does has involved travelling all around the world – Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kenya and Rwanda – to find and buy from talented farmers. He goes back each year to buy from the same farmers, and as such provides a sustainable income for them and their families. Phew.

When he’s not in far-flung coffee fields, he’s either in the roastery or the office. Doing daily cupping, roast supervision and helping out with quality control when he’s in Haslemere. Relaying his tales, liaising with his overseas contacts and organising the madness that is international shipping when he’s in the office. It’s a strange and challenging job – but someone’s got to do it!

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