Interviewing The Coffee Industry - Stephen Houston

Today's lovely guest on Interviewing The Coffee Industry is Stephen, Head Roaster of Bailies Coffee and a Champion(!!!!) of a lot of things!

How are you?

Hi! I am doing as well as I can given the current situation, thankful that my family and friends are safe and healthy and I can still work my normal job and hours!

Where do you work and what is your role?

I work for Bailies Coffee Roasters based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I am the Head Roaster and I've been here for just over 6 years.

How has Coronavirus affected your job?

It has changed quite a lot in our company over all, the start of Lockdown (March) we went from a 40 strong workforce to around 10-12 with everyone being furloughed. Myself and our production manager were in fact the only staff in our building during those first 12 weeks, the rest were WFH. We had to make a few changes to how we worked, making things more efficient and multiskilling as much as possible. There was a big dip in production, dropping a huge amount of wholesale, but then a big increase in online retail sales. So we were able to maintain good volumes and as the summer came in, started to be able to bring more staff back as demand increased. Unfortunately over the last few months we have had to loose a number of staff and made some changes to some departments working hours but as a company we have survived, learnt a lot and continued to grow as the year comes to an end. 

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in The Coffee Industry through 2020?

I'd say as a company (and I'd say most companies), was trying to pivot and rethink how you do things, whether it meant furloughing most of your staff, loosing wholesale customers and navigating into the unknown has come with a lot of worries and uncertainties. We were not only worried about our end customers coffee shops etc. But also our producers that we have our direct relationships with, how much coffee we would be able to buy and how hat effects them at origin.

I think everyone struggled a little to comprehend what was happening, with a usual year filled with events, shows and competitions, going to a mainly take away industry and not seeing people was a big challenge, but it made us and myself find new ways to engage and stay connected with the coffee community and build on connections and relationships we have made over the years, in fact I feel probably more connected with coffee friends as a result!

How have you felt about the Coffee Industry this year?

I still feel the same way, I still love what I do as a roaster and coffee professional, my passion for all things from green coffee right through to brewing is still strong. As I mentioned previously, I have made sure to stay busy and connected with the coffee industry, whether it is through online meets, Instagram lives, online/remote competitions or just even messaging and calling people I would have usually had a catch up with at trade shows. There are plenty of people who need a shout out too.

@somepeoplelikecoffee did a great series on Instagram lives to keep us all connected and entertained, @thekoredirective for their weekly chats and the amazing work they do to promote diversity, equality, equity and making a safe space for everyone, @thebaristaleague for the effort of putting on an online competition and involving a larger spread of competitors from all over the world.

So yeah as much negative and difficult challenges we have all faced, this industry has shown that we do care about each other and that there are plenty of ways to stay connected and together through all this.

What is something you've missed in The Coffee Industry in 2020?

I suppose it's been the trade shows and competitions, they're usually the highlights of my year, getting to hang out with people. Travelling around the world, meeting new people, discovering new coffees and products. But saying that, I still feel I managed to stay well connected with the industry and kept myself positive and busy!

How has Coronavirus/Lockdown affected your Mental Health?

It's been ups and downs, I'd always like to think I'm pretty mentally strong and able to find ways to look at situations calmly and rationally, but for sure (probably like everyone) when the first Lockdown happened and things at the start were so uncertain, it did challenge my mind quite a bit, I was lucky that I was able to work and it was very busy so it was a good distraction, but in my home life, my wife and I were expecting our first baby, so it was scary to have all the uncertainties on top of navigating of having a baby in the middle of a pandemic! We managed to stay positive and excited that we were going to have a baby and it sure helped me remain hopeful and positive. Also being able to stay connected with friends and family was a good positive throughout all this, social media, zoom etc has really helped, as I really made the effort to keep in contact with people or to take the time to just talk and connect with people.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Well hopefully another year of being able to do my dream job and stay connected and relevant in the industry. I am hopeful that we will be able to hang out again in person in 2021, have some coffee and get back to how things were! But will still keep up with more accessible online events/projects alongside this. It's a great way to reach out to more people and involve both old and new members of the community!

Find Stephen

Instagram - Click Here

Bailies Instagram - Click Here

Bailies Website - Click Here

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