In the next instalment of our My Coffee Journey blog series, we speak with Guoda Monkeliunaite, New Business Development Executive at Connect Vending, on her early experiences with coffee in Lithuania, her favourite drink, and how important it is to know your beans in a Sales role.
What was your first experience of coffee?
My first experience with coffee was in my home country, Lithuania, when I was a child. My mum’s job meant that she was up early every morning, around 4am, and the first thing she would do when she left the bedroom was boil the kettle for coffee. The coffee wasn’t your typical instant coffee, but was a granulated type which would create a kind of puree at the bottom of the cup which would eventually float to the surface.
I was convinced that drinking coffee was something adults did, and I wanted to be a grown up so I decided to try it. All I remember from that first experience was a feeling of gritty, almost sand-like granules in my mouth and stuck between my teeth, which I hated!
At what point did you give coffee another try and get a taste for it?
I was probably 15 years old when I tried coffee again, which quickly turned into daily consumption for me once I’d found a drink that I really enjoyed. I got hooked in and had a coffee every morning before school started – like when I tried it as a child, I wanted to be seen as a mature teenager and I thought coffee would show people how grown up I was!
Since this time, coffee has been an important part of my life. It became especially important during my time at university, where I relied heavily on coffee to keep me fuelled and focused through the early mornings and late nights.
What’s your favourite coffee?
When coffee was relatively new to me, I was quite happy to drink the Nescafe 3-in-1 instant coffee sachets, but I realised quick soon that I wasn’t great with having sugar or sweetener in my hot drinks.
I’ve tried loads of different coffees, different flavour combinations and different brands, and I’m quite content with a simple White Americano. It’s got nice depth in flavour in the espresso and a creaminess with the milk that makes it so easy and pleasant to drink.
Even if I was on the high street and had the option of any drink from one of the big brands, I would still opt for a White Americano. I find the range of coffee available in your big chain coffee shops too much, and far too sweet. Why complicate things!
Over your time in the industry, what’s the best coffee you’ve had and from which machine?
The Coffetek Vitro X1 Mia does a fantastic fresh milk coffee. It’s a coffee machine that you can really have a play with to personalise your drink, which made it easy to make my perfect White Americano.
The technology in the machine also makes a super thick milky cream which adds a lovely velvet texture to an already great espresso. Coffee from the X1 Mia is one of those drinks that you can’t leave a sip in the cup, you finish it all!
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since your coffee journey began?
I’ve seen so many changes, both whilst I’ve been in the industry and as a general coffee-drinker in my life. In the UK, there have been so many cultural changes which have brought coffee into people’s lives in a way that I don’t think anyone anticipated. Espresso specifically is a typically continental European concept which has now become huge in this country.
There’s much more emphasis on having a good quality coffee made from great quality ingredients now, than there was even 10 years ago. The UK also has much more interest in this than in Lithuania, in my experience, where it’s still treated as more of a staple item and not something you spend time or money on.
Take the coffee vending machines that we sell now at Connect Vending, where you can spec a machine that gives a consumer a choice of beans, a choice of syrups, a choice of milks, a range of different milk froth densities and so on. It says to me that UK consumers take their coffee choices seriously, and that there’s enough demand in the market to justify having so many variations.
Arguably the biggest cultural change has been the way that coffees and the high street brands are becoming a larger part of a consumer’s identity and personality. Drinks are so customisable now that niche drinks are now accessible on the high street, and people feel it represents their individualism each time they buy that drink. There is an experience that comes with walking into a high street coffee shop and being part of that brand’s ecosystem, by extension.
Do you feel that workplace food and beverage solutions are becoming more experience-based and aligned to workers’ lifestyles?
I cover the London area in my BDE role and I find that a lot of my clients want to achieve that ‘high street feel’ within their workplace, bringing the quality, value and variety into a work environment. I often hear stories of business leaders wanting to offer something that meets the needs of their workforce within the building, to help improve the working environment and keep workers satisfied and productive. It’s also becoming more of a given in office working environments that there will be a source of hot drinks available to staff, and their expectations are growing.
I also think it’s important to give some structure and routine to staff, especially when there’s a level of unfamiliarity working from the office post-COVID. Having that coffee routine at set points through the day, which they’ve likely had during their time WFH, is important for continuity and important for keeping people fuelled up and motivated throughout the day.
Organisations are also more aware than ever for the opportunity to tie their coffee vending provisions into their CSR activity. We work with a fantastic charity called Change Please, who give homeless people the opportunity to train as baristas, and that’s funded heavily through the sale of their own coffee beans into workplaces. Organisations can now say that their workforce are directly aiding the fight against homelessness with every cup of coffee they consume, which is a huge boost to the coffee-drinking experience for many.
How important is it for you, to be a coffee person when you’re working in this industry?
It’s vital. I need to know what makes a great cup of coffee, so that I can be confident that my clients are having a great coffee too. I also think it makes it so much more enjoyable, working in this industry, to have a personal interest in coffee. Being excited and passionate about what I sell is so important to me, and I hope that when I speak with my clients and prospects that they know how much I care.