Coffee Query: Paul Stack, Marco Beverage Systems
Paul Stack has been a voice of insight and reason within speciality coffee for years, especially within Dublin. His passion for improving education & quality within coffee is only matched by his generosity, & both Marco and the SCAE are made all the better for it!
What got you into coffee and what’s kept you in coffee?
What got me into coffee was an unreasonable expectation that I was very old, because now I’m older, I think I was very young!
I was 35 and I wanted to move position, so I went looking for a new position, and I wasn’t looking for anything particularly in coffee -- my background is industrial design; I’m a product designer by trade.
I was working in R&D management and operations direction before Marco. So, I was looking for a similar type of post, and a consultant I had worked with who was a consultant for Marco put us in touch as Marco needed somebody.
So, that’s how I ended up in coffee, nothing to do with the existence of coffee!
Now, why do I stay in it? I suppose… I really love the industry. It’s fascinating, the people are great, it’s a culinary/food type thing, it’s interesting; there’s all sorts of creativity throughout the whole supply chain, not least at the machine side where we are, so it’s great, I love it!
And with Marco, when I got here and had a look at what they were doing with R&D, the stuff they were doing around brewing science and beverage development from a machine company viewpoint was amazing.
So, I took that and opened it up through the SCAE through training stuff so we could share it with people, and share it with Roasters, and that’s been a great journey because I love teaching and I love being involved in the classroom, so that worked!
What have been your favourite coffees, both in filter and as espresso?
Filter, all day long!
Ok.. umm.. That’s a really difficult question… I suppose, generally, my favourite filter is washed Arabica, paper-filtered through the Chemex.
What do I prefer after that? I have no go-to favourite. I wouldn’t be picking something from Panama or something. I actually do like what my people would call a “boring” coffee, like a really good Colombian or something like that as opposed to a spikey Kenyan. I really like a good, balanced cup!
There’s nothing that really sticks in my head. Like, I don’t go around keeping farms in my head in terms of seeking out Farm A or Farm B. When I get a beautiful coffee I can say “that’s a beautiful coffee,” and I look at who roasted it and where it came from and immediately forget all that; I don’t log those things! We get so much great coffee in Marco, that it doesn’t log. I don’t know what this is [that we're drinking] right now! I did at the start! But not anymore.
Espresso.. not really, I don’t drink a lot of espresso. I drink a lot of filter -- too much filter! But not really, nothing sticks with espresso. I don’t like really acidic espressos leaning towards sour which has been a trend in recent years. I don’t like that. Again, I’m looking for a balanced cup.
What’s your home coffee setup?
I have many brew methods at home!
I have a Woodneck with cloth, I have a Chemex, an Aeropress, I have a Hario Dripper, and I have a one group espresso machine. But I use the Chemex regularly.
If I’m rushing out the door, I’ll make a French Press cos I don’t have time. I can throw that on, run away, get things ready, then throw it into my takeaway cup as opposed to hand pour. But Chemex is my preference at home… And I have a mini-Mazzer, which I shouldn’t be using for filter, but I do!
Where do you want Dublin/Ireland’s coffee culture to develop next?
A very 30,000 metre helicopter view, particularly with my position in SCAE now, I would think direction from a coffee culture viewpoint.. the move needs to be toward a more sustainable speciality coffee industry, whereby the value chain is more equitable, with the farmers included, with more awareness of the importance of small-hold farmers throughout the chain, and how without them we will lose diversity in speciality coffee.
So that’s from the helicopter view, and what can we do to make that happen.
Then when we come down a level, my personal interest with driving the education agenda has been there for the last 8 years and developing that. Seeing that continuing to thrive, seeing more and more Baristas are being both made aware of the existence of these education possibilities, but also can easily avail of them, which means coffee will inevitably become better on the High St. cup by cup, which is a good thing!
So, they’re, I suppose, the two things I’d be looking at.
Who’s someone you admire in coffee?
Lots of people, in different ways.
If you go to the “boring,” as in, the people who read this blog would consider “boring”: people like Patrick Bewley are incredibly inspirational in that, when speciality coffee didn’t exist in Ireland; wasn’t cool, he was the guy, the founding member, making an Irish chapter happen and beginning the discussions. That was really innovative of him at that time.
Drewry [Pearson] here, who I work with, when I was still new to the industry was very much a positive force in pushing me to explore what I was very obviously interested in, with all the coffee science things, and freeing me up to do that, which was great.
There’s lots of people in Ireland, we were talking about Karl [Purdy] earlier. I still remember his 1st performance when he sailed the IBC using balsamic vinegar in his signature drink and playing Violent Femmes. I thought “that’s really cool, I want to be part of this world”. Those sort of things stick with you!
One guy I would mention would be Steve Penk in the UK, who really pushed for the professionalisation of WBC. He has a great understanding of speciality coffee and how it can be made as part of a sustainable business… and there are many others!
What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in your field?
In coffee, in general, if people are interested in it, I think there’s an inevitability of this “club” mentality in coffee and I think the Barista community is largely welcoming but unintentionally elitist.
I would say to someone new, to break through that. They’re not that bad, they just seem like assholes! And as soon as you start showing interest, they will absolutely welcome you into the community.
It does have a real elitist strain to it, which is not good, but it’s like anything in life! It’s the same, like, with the machine business in Marco. Anyone who goes the extra mile and says “I’m interested in being involved in this industry, and therefore, could I get involved in THIS?,” they will get on.
So, if you take.. for example, I’m involved in SCAE in Ireland and in Europe, and I’ve seen all kinds of volunteers, and anyone who puts their hand up and says, “Can I help? And do THIS,” they have ALL got on because they’ve shown initiative, got involved, and they helped. That help is always welcomed! There’s too few people who volunteer; too many people expect.
If they get involved, they will be embraced by the industry and will learn enormous amounts.
What are you drinking now?
Now that actually IS a difficult one… I had a Kenyan? I’m pretty sure it was a Kenyan from Anne? Anne Lunell from Koppi was working our booth in Gothenburg and it was amazing, but I can’t tell you anything else about it!