In this week’s edition of My Coffee Journey, we’re talking with Hayley Kirkby, who recently joined the Connect Vending team as Wholesale Sales Manager. We hear about Hayley’s family introduction to coffee and how it’s crucial in the vending industry to have a discerning taste for all things coffee.
What was your first experience of coffee?
My first experience of coffee was when I was about 8 years old, in my Nan’s kitchen. My Nan was Austrian and coffee was an important thing to her, which was obvious even at such a young age. I’ll be honest, I had a very active imagination as a kid, and I was pretending that this wonderful kitchen space was in fact, mine!
I really wanted to be a grown-up, and knowing how into coffee my Nan was, I thought I should give it a try. Obviously when you’re 8 your tastebuds aren’t finely tuned to flavours like coffee, and so I ended up piling ten lumps of sugar into it my mug to make it drinkable. That was my first taste of coffee and the impact of that sugar heavy beverage is still with me today – I can’t have anything too sweet in my coffee!
After my challenging first coffee experience, I started drinking tea. This was my hot drink of choice all the way through to my early 20s when I joined Nestlé Professional. As part of my role, I would spend a lot of my time assessing in-cup quality for instant coffee, which tended to be cappuccino and other milky coffees.
It’s always going to be hard to stick to tea when you’re exposed to coffee every day, and this is when I really started to develop a taste for coffee. I had to train my taste buds to enjoy the taste profile and complexity of coffee that I couldn’t really appreciate as a child, but here I am now, as a seasoned coffee drinker.
What’s your favourite coffee?
If I’m in the office I like an Espresso, but if I’m out and about at a weekend and I’m in a coffee shop or a café, I love a Cortado. In my line of work, I’ve tasted so many different types of coffees and I came to realise that I prefer straightforward hot espresso-based drinks that aren’t laced with syrups, sugars or are overly milky.
I also absolutely love going to Jamaica Blue in Cambridge because of their coffee blends – it’s the sort of place where I can really appreciate a Cortado because the beans are bursting full of flavour and are balanced out with the milk to create a fantastic tasting cup of coffee.
In your experience in vending, what’s the best coffee and which machine did it come from?
I really do enjoy the coffee beans that Change Please offer. They do some great roasts and the story behind the Foundation and their work with the homeless is truly inspiring. It’s a very difficult decision but I do think they’re right up there when it comes to quality.
I’ve had the privilege of using coffee machines from many different manufacturers and the one thing I would say is that most, if not all manufacturers are now delivering great quality machines.
That said, if I had to pick one to dispense my Change Please Cortado, it would be a Franke A600. I really like the build quality of their machines and I love the user interface. Most importantly though, it makes a great tasting coffee, every time.
What role does coffee play in your life?
Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a massive part of my life, both personally and professionally.
I’m not someone who drinks coffee just for the caffeine, I drink coffee because I genuinely love it. I know there’s quite a few people at Connect who have a similar background to me, in that they’ve always worked in the industry and we’re proper coffee enthusiasts.
At home I’ve got a simple setup with a fresh milk Nespresso machine, though I do love a filter coffee, especially with Jamaica Blue beans or a coffee bean from an independent coffee shop or roastery. I enjoy trying different types of coffee whenever I get the opportunity for something new!
When you’re working day-in, day-out, tasting coffee at machine installs or taste testing for new products to go into machines, it’s important that you enjoy the taste of coffee and that you also understand the nuances between a great coffee, and a good coffee.
What’s the single most important element of a good coffee?
One hundred percent, the coffee bean is the most important element. It’s still really important that the machine you’re using has been set up, calibrated and the coffee has been taste-tested, but all of that hard work can’t make up for the downside of having a low quality bean in the hopper.
You learn to identify whether a machine has the right water pressure, dosage, boiler temperature etc, based on the taste of the drink you’re making, but nine times out of ten, a quality coffee bean will taste great even if the machine hasn’t quite been calibrated correctly.
Do you feel that workplace food and beverage solutions are becoming more experience-based and aligned to workers’ lifestyles?
Without a doubt. Employees have now come to expect the level of quality and variety in the workplace that they are getting from the high street. I don’t think we’re quite at parity as things stand today, but there have been some huge improvements over the last 15 years or so.
The concept of ‘as long as it’s hot and brown’ has long gone, and we’re heading towards a future in workplace coffee where there will need to be even more personalisation and customisation from machine manufacturers, to cater with changing trends.
High street coffee brands are driving this behaviour change with the introduction of things such as dairy-free milk alternatives, the rise of syrup customisation for coffees, and most recently the rise of iced coffee drinks.
There’s been a huge jump in the popularity of these iced drinks this year and it will eventually work through to workplace coffee. It’s just a matter of time, and in what format they can deliver this functionality.
What is the next big thing in coffee machine vending?
I think there will be a couple of big developments in office coffee over the next 3-5 years.
Manufacturers are taking their lead from the results that the high street coffee chains are achieving, and developing machines that are as close to what these chains can offer whilst adapting them to work in the context of vending.
One of the biggest things that I think will come through from the high street will be the non-dairy milk alternatives, but it will have to adapt to work for the industry. Soluble alternative milks will be one way to achieve this, and I am certain functionality for these will start to pop up on new machines soon.
The iced coffee trend is not likely to go away overnight and machine manufacturers will need to find a way of enabling these sorts of drinks to be made from their machines in a way which is sustainable and won’t be time consuming for operators to service and maintain.
As it is right now, you can have iced drinks from several machines, provided you make ice and store it somewhere aside from where the machine is located, which relies on someone keeping it topped up and it being brought across whenever someone wants an iced coffee. There’s some work to be done here and I’m excited to see what innovations will come from this.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to businesses looking at buying coffee machines, what would it be?
My top piece of advice for anyone looking to buy coffee machines for their workplace would be to not underestimate the importance of great consumables as part of the package. If you’re going to be working with an operator like Connect, make sure that you’re getting into the detail of what coffee beans and other ingredients will be used. We will always make sure this is discussed as part of any solution we propose.
As I said earlier on, your choice of coffee beans will make a world of difference to the drinks you’re getting out of the machine, and you can taste test different options before you make your decision.
Likewise, if you want to stock the machine yourself, you can come to companies like Connect who have been delivering coffee solutions to the industry for more than 25 years, and we will be able to give you impartial advice on exactly which coffee bean suits your business’ requirements.
If you’re looking for a supplier for consumables, coffee, confectionery and more, drop us an enquiry or give us a call on 01865 341011.