"I fell in love with how coffee made me feel, the culture, the people, the art, the science."
Get to know Celeste Wong, founder of The Girl In The Cafe
, content creator and consultant, award-winning barista and global coffee expert, co-host of The Global Coffee Festival and now The London Coffee Festival Virtual
Tell us a bit about yourself, how you first got into coffee and how you got to where you are today?
I'm Chinese but I was born in New Zealand and have held top positions in leading artisan cafés globally. I fell in love with how coffee made me feel, the culture, the people, the art, the science.
I started out in an award-winning café/roastery in NZ at ground level learning how to make really good coffee consistently. From there, I moved to Melbourne and ran a breakfast café but was lured by the bright lights of London!
In London, I started at Flatwhite & Milkbar
in Soho which was internationally famous at the time with people in-the-know (circa 2008). 6 years later, I went to Lantana Café
to be Head of Coffee and assistant GM. It was a busier role where I had both the freedom to create and implement ideas, but also work within a larger structured team and growing business environment.
As a side project. I produced, directed and presented a webseries celebrating coffee people which is a piece of work I'm really proud of. I decided to go all in on it and left my full-time job — a bold move for someone with little savings and forefeiting an income! It was also at a time where long-form content was not very common, especially within the coffee industry. But I had a vision! Luckily it had relative recognition by being broadcasted at part of Air New Zealand's inflight entertainment. While I was still producing the series I started blogging and creating concept pop-up shops and collaborations to satisfy my creative entreprenurial head and make ends meet. I started working with high calibre people, companies and brands, I was testing machinery and equipment, giving feedback and insight from my own consumer and industry knowledge, experience and perspective. My brand sort of grew from there. I didn't start out planning to create a "personal brand" or business, but I guess I learned that my natural approach was always this way inclined and it feels good to inspire, educate and entertain people.
(Image: John Jarrett)
What does a typical morning look like for you?
I get up around 6:30, make a brew (more on this below!), exercise and then start work. Sometimes I need to just make things, talk, write, read, listen to podcasts or try new ideas with coffee, milk and flavours, bake or walk to ignite inspiration. When an idea hits me or a collaboration that feels right, I get to it. I'm quite fast at getting something going once I've decided and can see the potential. But sometimes it takes time to get that right idea or project.
My favourite kind of coffee is usually made with a pour over. I like to have a black filter coffee first thing in the morning, it's just the best! Then afterwards I'll mix it up with a milky coffee, usually a flat white. If it's hot outside, I've been making concentrated cold brews or espresso over ice with creamy cold frothed milk!
What's your favourite coffee city and why?
Hmmm...I've been all over the world, but there's still so much to explore. But right now, I probably enjoy Berlin as a coffee city. There's such a range. It's chic but not too curated, professional but still feels relaxed. My favourite cafés have a distinct personality. Also Berlin is so easy to get around, you can visit different cafés easily without having to plan too much.
A couple of favourite cuties are Home.Berlin (brewing and kitchen), Roamers_berlin (brunch & Bloody Marys), Five Elephant (coffee and cake), Bonanza Roastery, Companion tea & Coffee (Voo Store). I have an entire blog post dedicated to Berlin cafés
(Image: Jeff Newton)
Do you have a "coffee in the times of covid" memory that you won't forget?
I was stuck in NZ for five months due to Covid, lockdown and restricted flights! In NZ every business shutdown except for essential services like the supermarket. You couldn't even order takeaways because all cafés and shops had to close immediately. I casually ordered some coffee beans the day before lockdown officially started, which luckily arrived on overnight delivery because then the government stopped all deliveries of coffee during lockdown. I'll admit, slight panic ran through me! I was shocked coffee wasn't deemed an essential service! Very soon after lockdown started that changed thank goodness and just in time... the coffee beans flowed through the country once again. But I was like "DUH!". It was a very confusing moment.
You can follow Celeste's coffee journey, read her blog and shop her merch - including her own coffee - at The Girl In The Cafe. Catch her on 16 April 2021 at The London Coffee Festival — free tickets are now available!
Feature Image: Zsuza Zicho