Kirsty Stewart - Steampunk Coffee Roasters

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

Head Roaster – Steampunk Coffee Roasters - pictured right with Cath Franks - North Berwick

What got you into coffee?

Kirsty used to own a cake shop in Leith and had some training from Artisan Roast as her coffee supplier. After that she worked for Starbucks for a while, “which is a bit of a gateway to speciality coffee”.

Kirsty was already keen to learn more about coffee, but a holiday in Copenhagen clinched it. “Every day I would walk to Coffee Collective to get a filter coffee, hoping to grab the seat next to the roaster which is in the front of the shop. I’d never seen anything like it before and I wanted to know how it worked.”

When she got back to Edinburgh, she started ordering coffees from roasters all over the world and based her next holiday destinations on a single criterion: does it has a roastery to visit. “I still have a box of all the bags that I collected, and in that box, there are few bags from Steampunk Coffee. Little did I know then, that I would work here.”

Kirsty, who lives in Edinburgh, can remember the moment she made the decision to leave Starbucks and move into specialty coffee, specifically and ideally to Steampunk. “I’d made a day trip to Steampunk for a coffee and got chatting to another customer. After a little while they asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I thought… I want to work here. And I’d not really thought so clearly about it before that moment. So, I dropped Cath an email and we had a chat and she offered me the opportunity to work in the café and then moved me on to barista very quickly. After Starbucks, where everything is done at the touch of a button, I had to re-train. My milk was awful - it was going everywhere but the cup! But all the team here supported me and taught me a lot and Cath was great. ‘Don’t worry, we all start from somewhere, keep at it’.

Kirsty went on to barista and then doing a day a week in the roastery - staying behind after work or coming in on weekends. “At the time Dori and Will were roasting at Steampunk and they taught me how to do production roasting (following a profile that they’d set and repeating that profile). Dori and Will did all the profiling and the picking of the coffees and they taught me so much in that time. The ins and outs of what goes into making a cup of coffee and how that big hunk of metal that I’d seen in Copenhagen worked.”

What do you love about being in speciality coffee?

Kirsty likes the variety and opportunity to improve. “It’s always going to be interesting as there is always something to new learn. It’s great to have events like coffee festivals and organised cuppings - so you can see what is new and chat to people about what they’re up to.”

Kirsty loves the interaction but is more of an observer than a leader of discussion. “Falcon Coffee held a cupping during the London Coffee Festival so I went to see what they’re doing. We always chat via email, so it’s great to actually see the people we deal with, face to face. Visiting wholesale customers is something I love doing as well, although Cath has much better chat than I do when we go, so it's always nice to go together.” 

Kirsty is also a big advocate of having Steampunk’s roastery in the shop. “Working in the shop makes it easier to get customers involved. We’re not tucked away somewhere just roasting. Sometimes I’ll be roasting and I can feel someone standing behind me, then they’ll start asking question and so it’s nice to be able to show them how roasting works. It’s the same questions I had at the beginning, so it feels good to pass on what I have learnt.”

Prioritising customer interaction also underpins Steampunk’s approach to the Stockbridge markets, which Kirsty says is better. “Switching from espresso-based to filter coffee means we have the time to properly talk to customers about the coffee, rather than pulling shots and steaming milk non-stop for 8 hours. It also allows more time for cuddles with the dogs of Stockbridge market, which is a nice bonus.

It’s not all about the dogs though. You get to meet some amazing people through coffee as well. In fact, it was through coffee that I met my wonderful girlfriend who has taken my place and now does the market with Cath once or twice a month.”

What would tell someone who was considering a career in coffee?

 “I always see a lot of movement in the coffee scene in Edinburgh. People move around because there are lots of opportunities to try new things. I feel lucky that this was my first real job within speciality coffee and I accidentally got a really great boss. It just happened. It was through chatting to people. Going to the Stockbridge market every week and asking questions - and I accidentally ended up doing what I wanted to do.

So, be curious, ask questions, hang out in coffee shops and seek out those who are already working in the coffee industry. Pick their brains - people who work in coffee love to talk about coffee. You’re only going to get something out of it if you put something in, so it’s going to be a lot of hard work if you want a career in it!”

What’s it like being a woman in the coffee industry?

Kirsty doesn’t see herself as a woman in coffee – “I just work in coffee”.

She describes the jobs she’s had and how she’s grown up. “I’ve always had female bosses, my mum’s the boss at her work, Steampunk works with as many companies run by women as men. At the recent London Coffee Festival there were lots of amazing women. Because so many strong women have always surrounded me, I don’t think ‘women can’t do things’. And I feel like their voices are so much stronger and louder than anyone who might be saying ‘women can’t do things’.

Not that others haven’t had to deal with things on their way. I know some people have had to deal with hard times and I don’t want to offend anyone or not respect what they’ve been through. But for me I don’t see the difference between being a woman in coffee compared to a man in coffee.”

Since Kirsty has been involved in speciality coffee she got to attend Fiona Grant’s Roasters Retreat. “Fiona and Lisa from Dear Green are two of the most incredible women I’ve met. And seeing them from the start, and being employed by Cath, I’ve had a great experience from the beginning.

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

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