Name: Thomas Hirst
Job title: Trainee coffee buyer and taster
Company & Location: Lincoln & York, North Lincolnshire
Education: I studied ancient history, English and biology at Franklin College in Grimsby. In a roundabout way, ancient history most likely spurred my interest in food and drink, because what is food and drink if not gastronomic culture?
Why did you decide to go for a career in food? Coffee is what appealed to me. It began when I was working behind the bar serving beer, wine, spirits and cocktails. I became fascinated by the flavor profiles of different drinks and how they each complemented a certain type of food or a certain type of ambience. This translated very directly into coffee. Coffee tastes entirely different depending on what country it comes from, how far up the mountain it’s grown, or even what other crops are grown around it. The coffee industry is a treasure trove of chemistry, logistics and flavor, and this is analogous with a huge variety of different foodstuffs.
Explain your job to us in a sentence (or two): I am training to become a coffee buyer and taster. Basically, I purchase green coffee for our roastery to roast and sell to customers, and I also ‘cup’ coffee to ensure the quality is satisfied.
“The coffee industry is a treasure trove of chemistry, logistics and flavour”
What does a typical day look like for you? Days in the office are varied. I feel like one of the few people in this tumultuous world who still works Monday to Friday at the office, but that’s another subject. One minute I could be tasting a table of coffees that had just arrived at our roastery, and the next minute I could be discussing the market and the future of logistics with a coffee trader whose job it is to sell me coffee they acquire from origin. The workday is never a drag.
Tell us how you went about applying for your job. I heard of the job through word of mouth. I handed in my CV via email and thankfully was invited for a first round interview. The interview was a success and I returned to the roastery for a second stage interview, during which I gave a presentation on what I thought were the key trends in the coffee industry. The intricate contents of my presentation bundled me over the line, in spite of my rigid presentational skills, and I got the job! The tough questions were regarding my prior business experience, which amounted to working for my dad’s home security business – which is a great exemplar that whatever you think your previous experience is, if you have a deep interest in an industry and can convey that in an interview, go and apply.
What’s the best part about working for a food company? Knowing that you’re selling a high-quality, tasty product engenders a large amount of self-belief, therefore providing customers with these standards is mutually beneficial, and they can also enjoy a product that has a certain quality assurance.
And what’s the biggest misconception people have about working in food & drink? That it’s mundane. It’s an essential part of everyone’s life so often the exciting subtleties and nuances can be overlooked when it comes to food and drink – particularly coffee. For instance, you meet people who are into espresso machines and that’s their thing. You can delve deep into this subject for years and still you’re only scratching the surface. Whereas other people in the industry are motivated by the coffee futures market, or cupping and taste profiles of different origin countries. The potential is endless, and you never stop learning.
What advice would you give to other young people looking to get into the food & drink industry? I would say get into something you have a passion for. It makes your work and your general life so much easier. If you’re entering a career, it’s going to take up such a monumental chunk of your life. You simply must enjoy it in my opinion.
What’s your ultimate career dream? To learn as much as I possibly can about every facet of my industry. It has become a cliché to say that in work you should be either earning or learning, but most clichés are there for a reason. I don’t see how you couldn’t learn every day with a job in food and drink, there is so much to sink your teeth into.