Barista of the Week… Huw Murdoch, Head Barista, Market Lane Coffee at Victoria Markets, 109-111 Therry Street, Melbourne.
The Coffee Guide (TCG): If you weren’t a barista what would you be?
Huw: Probably someone with a less interesting job! I have worked as a guitar teacher at other points in my life, so more of that.
TCG: How do you have your coffee at home? How do you make it and how do you take it?
Huw: I have an Aeropress and a ceramic pourover cone at home, neither of which are getting much use at the moment. I like to have at least one day a week without coffee, so I might only have one or two a week at home. I do love playing around with different brewing techniques at home though. When I first got my Aeropress I often got bemused looks from my housemates while I tried to do blind tests of several different methods at once.
TCG: What is your favourite music? (For work or for play).
Huw: For work anything that isn’t too aggressive or atonal can be good (which unfortunately rules out some of my favourite albums). As long as it’s good music that doesn’t sound like it’s come from a café chillout compilation.
TCG: What’s your favourite food?
Huw: I could live on bread and good cheese quite happily. But my favourite foods are tomatoes, cherries, chocolate, almond croissants, chickpeas, broad beans, pizza, olives, avocadoes, butter, mangoes, apples, potatoes, lentils… I can fall in love with pretty much any fruit or vegetable if it’s really fresh and ripe, and any simple vegetarian dish that really highlights those ingredients is going to be perfect.
TCG: If you’re not drinking coffee, what is your drink of choice?
Huw: At home I drink tea quite frequently, and tell myself I’m being good by avoiding coffee for the day. I’m a big fan of Lillet, which is always perfectly refreshing with a bit of lime and maybe a dash of tonic, but I drink more beer than anything else. I also love wine, and I love all kinds of whiskey, either neat if it’s Scotch or made into a Manhattan otherwise.
TCG: What made you become a barista?
Huw: I still don’t really think of myself as a barista really. I’ve been working in cafés and restaurants since 2001, first as a way to earn money during university, and then increasingly because it was something I really enjoyed. Making coffee was always something I left up to other people while I talked to customers, though, but after being surrounded by really interesting people who are dedicated to coffee I became more and more interested in getting better at making it.
TCG: What food do you think is the best compliment to a really great coffee?
Huw: If only there was such a thing! The flavours in coffee are often so delicate that they get swamped by a lot of food, unfortunately. Eating things like chocolate or really sweet food are just going to mask those flavours in the coffee. With espresso it’s slightly easier I think, but I wouldn’t overdo it. Something small and nutty is generally nice.
TCG: Does your coffee style (or how you drink it) say something about you?
Huw: Well, it says how you like to drink your coffee.
TCG: Where do all the old baristas go?
Huw: I’ll tell you when I get there!
TCG: Where has your coffee making taken you?
Huw: I’m a local, it’s taken me from North Carlton to the top of the CBD, and it’s been a great journey.
TCG: What has been your favourite moment as a barista? Is there one story that only happened to you because you are a barista?
Huw: It probably sounds ridiculous, but any time a customer really enjoys their drink and lets me know about it, is a highlight for me.
TCG: What is the most exciting thing happening in coffee right now for you?
Huw: I think that there are lots of exciting things happening in coffee at the moment. Suitably for an internationally traded product, there is a really thriving community of people all over the world who are sharing their ideas about coffee, and that’s good for everyone. I don’t want to overstate how big the specialty end of the industry is, but I think the rise in prominence of individual coffee farms is a great development. Farmers are given a better opportunity to differentiate their product, which allows them to command higher prices. In return buyers can get more directly involved with the pre-roast side of coffee production, allowing them to work with farmers in creating a higher-quality product.
TCG: If you could pick one spot in the world to sit and have a coffee, where would it be and what coffee would you have?
Huw: I would love to drink a coffee on the summit of Finca Santa Clara, overlooking Antigua, and the Volcan de Agua. Other than that, most of the time I want to sit down and drink coffee I’m more concerned about the company and the environment. Bad coffee with great friends in Paris would work pretty well for me.
TCG: Where is your favourite place to hang out in Melbourne?
Huw: Anywhere with friends is enough for me. Long Play and The Empress are both great, because they’re close enough to my house that I can stumble home afterwards. I spend more time eating pizza at Supermaxi than is good for me.
TCG: What is your guilty pleasure?
Huw: I try not to feel guilty about how I derive pleasure from life.
TCG: What are you reading right now?
Huw: Sophie Cunningham’s “Melbourne”, and The Iliad, but that’s something I tend to pick up once or twice a week. I read a lot, but I have a bad habit of only reading the New Yorker at the moment, and not getting to fiction, much as I love it.
TCG: What is your favourite trick to get you through the cold months of winter?
Huw: Well, if I’m freezing at home I just do a bit of exercise. In the evenings cooking is usually enough to keep me warm. Drinking doesn’t hurt either.
TCG: Do you have any pets?
Huw: I don’t have a pet in my house at the moment, but I am part-parent of the cat that lives at my old house. His name is Bees, and he is a maniac.
TCG: What did you do on your last day off?
Huw: Usually fairly boring things like household chores. This week I took my bike in for a service and had a few rehearsals with the various bands I’m in.
TCG: In a good cup of coffee, how much of it is due to the barista and how much is due to the beans?
Huw: Well, I don’t know about percentages, but they’re obviously both important. You can’t have a good coffee with bad beans though, and it is possible to have a great coffee without a good barista.
TCG: Is decaf a dirty word?
Huw: I totally have sympathy for those who like coffee but can’t, for whatever reason, have caffeine. So it’s not a dirty word. But it’s just not possible to have good quality decaf. Coffee has caffeine in it. You don’t see restaurants serving alcohol-free wine, do you?
TCG: Is specialty tea the new cappuccino?
Huw: Well, there’s certainly a lot of room for people in Australia to really promote the preparation and drinking of great quality tea. But we’re still in a land where the majority of cafés serve tea in pots that continue to brew the whole time you sit there, meaning you get 3 cups of tea, and only one – if you’re lucky and time it right – which isn’t horribly over-brewed.