Barista of the Week… Oliver James, Owner/Barista at Caffiend, 5/78 Grafton Street, Cairns, QLD.
The Coffee Guide (TCG): If you weren’t a barista what would you be?
Oliver: It changes regularly; this week I’d be a social entrepreneur.
TCG: How do you have your coffee at home? How do you make it and how do you take it?
Oliver: I bring Cold Drip coffee home from Caffiend, and drink it on ice. In large quantities. This week was a Colombian Organic from Di Gabriel, and also the “Golden Bean” winning blend for Filter, Edeleweiss from Wolff Roaster.
TCG: What is your favourite music?
Oliver: My partner owns the only independent music and record shop in Cairns, so I’m spoilt for choice. For the café I’m really digging the East series by DJ Ping. At home I listen to lots of Aussie hip hop -anything from Elefant Traks -Unkle Ho, Astronomy Class and the new Simplex album is awesome. Favourite music for everywhere; Fat Freddy’s Drop, its timeless!
TCG: What’s your favourite food?
Oliver: I love cooking and eating most things, I’d consider myself a fairly adventurous gourmand. My current foodie project is meeting local growers to directly source regional produce and support the local economy.
TCG: Tell us what your best (or first) coffee experience was.
Oliver: I must have been about 9 years old, in the front seat of Dads 1979 Citroen, pulling up in front of a green roller door double shed on a rural block in western Sydney. He was buying freshly roasted coffee for our restaurant. When that garage door opened, its was a like a tsunami to the neurons, the dense, hot smell of freshly roasted coffee, and the sound of Italians babbling on caffeine. La Casa Del Caffe now have much bigger premises!
TCG: If you’re not drinking coffee, what is your drink of choice?
Oliver: A good whisky, Oban or similar -for the strong peaty smoky notes, and it usually means it’s nearing the end of the day.
TCG: What made you become a barista?
Oliver: I find it neatly packages both a rigorous scientific process and an artistic creative process in one task. Plus I’m a caffeine fiend.
TCG: What food do you think is the best compliment to a really great coffee?
Oliver: I think a really great coffee is Kenyan Gethumbwini Estate, brewed through syphon. I’d compliment this with a textured dessert of candied citrus and Cocoa Origins dark chocolate (single estate cocoa, grown and processed near Cairns). Both are single estate products, with rich, deep dark chocolate and earthy notes, hints of citrus and a complex buttery mouthfeel.
TCG: How many coffees would you make in the average day?
Oliver: Not many, between 80 and 150. It’s about quality, not quantity these days…
TCG: What’s the largest amount of coffees you have made in a day?
Oliver: I think somewhere around 500 – in a popular café in Sydney on a Saturday morning years ago.
TCG: What is the most exciting thing happening in coffee right now for you?
Oliver: Being able to taste blends and single origin beans from different roasters is pretty exciting, and trying them through different brew methods. I really enjoy hosting coffee appreciation courses –getting people excited and opening the immense world of coffee to them. It pushes me to develop my own knowledge, passion and sensory ability.
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?
Oliver: I’d sit with an Ethiopian goat herder, and share with them their family grown coffee, roasted in a pan over a fire and brewed in a kettle. Just for the adventurous experience of the beginnings.
TCG: If you could make coffee for one other person of your choice (anyone- past or present), who would it be and what coffee would you make them?
Oliver: I’d try to replicate Alessandro’s WBC signature drink and share it with the same Ethiopian goat herder. Just to see what he thinks about where coffee is today (and so I could try it!).
TCG: Where is your favourite place to hang out in Cairns?
Oliver: At the local swimming hole in the rainforest with my family, because it’s beautiful and refreshing.
TCG: What is your guilty pleasure?
Oliver: I love drinking the next-day-leftover-dregs of plunger coffee, because it’s loaded with caffeine.
TCG: What’s your favourite time of the year?
Oliver: It’s a close one between winter for the spectacular Cairns weather, and summer for the tropical fruit.
TCG: What are you reading right now?
Oliver: I’ve been reading heaps by Chris Hedges, his books are well considered and well written. For a laugh -the writings by Mr. Fish on truthdig.com are quirky and hilarious.
TCG: What is your favourite thing to do in Summer?
Oliver: Have a summer holiday on the NSW coast, swimming in the surf, reading books and eating oysters and prawns.
TCG: What is your favourite movie of all time?
Oliver: Probably The Matrix.
TCG: Where did you grow up? And what is your fondest childhood memory?
Oliver: I moved around growing up, the huge sand dunes at Sussex Inlet left me fond memories, I was about 7. I would climb to the top with my brother and sisters, which always seemed to take forever, and then we would race down, taking giant leaps, pretending we were astronauts.
TCG: What did you do on your last day off?
Oliver: Took the family to the local swimming hole in the rainforest, put up some guttering on the house and had dinner with the neighbours.
TCG: In a good cup of coffee, how much of it is due to the barista and how much is due to the beans?
Oliver: In order of priority –beans, grinder, barista and then machine. The rest is in the details… the many, many details…
TCG: Is decaf a dirty word?
Oliver: It’s a dirty word if you don’t use Organic, Swiss Water ground-to-order decaf beans. Decaf can be remarkably enjoyable.
TCG: Is specialty tea the new cappuccino?
Oliver: The new cappuccino is the DRPL (pronounced dur-ple) the acronym for Double Ristretto Piccolo Latte.
TCG: What is your favourite kind of tea?
Oliver: Berry tea, brewed for 18 hours through my Yama Cold Drip, served on loads of ice. Yum.