Coffee and interview with Modern Standard's Lynsey Harley

Lynsey Harley has been at the working in the London coffee scene and beyond since 2008, gaining invaluable experience working for companies large and small and gathering an impressive list of coffee qualifications and experience. Her company Modern Standard attempts to bridge the gap between speciality and commercial roasters: roasting great specialty coffee for innovative coffeehouses such as MacIntyre while also roasting for the likes of Sainsbury’s and Five Guys.

LBC: So tell us about how you came to found Modern Standard?

Lynsey: Out of frustration I suppose. I worked for a couple of large coffee companies, but I also kept myself very involved in the speciality sector: judging, volunteering etc. Late in 2012, I think the frustration just hit a point when I knew it was time to do my own thing so I put together a plan, spent a year working for a green trader, then threw myself head first into starting the business.

LBC: It's a great name.

Lynsey: I can’t take credit; my friend Stephen was the genius behind that.

LBC: How did you first get into coffee?

Lynsey: Whilst at University, my first job was in Starbucks in Edinburgh; my nick name with my friends there is still Harleybucks, mainly because I’d give them free coffee.

LBC: And could you tell our readers about your background?

Lynsey: I moved to London in 2008. I was accepted onto the graduate programme with KMPG but after a month I knew it wasn’t for me. So I went back to what I knew - coffee. Luckily for me, speciality coffee was just starting to become really interesting in London. Fernandez & Wells were looking for baristas and I was lucky enough to work there with Jorge and the team. Coffee wasn’t meant to be a forever thing, just until I decided what ‘proper’ job to do, but I’ve never really decided what that is!

Fast forward to the 2010 World Barista Championship in London, I got speaking to Gwilym Davies and Dale Harris. Dale was leaving his job at the huge commercial roaster United Coffee to go to Hasbean and asked me to replace him. I would recommend people work for a bigger company for a while, you learn a lot of non-coffee things that are important in business, although you should definitely keep a foot in both camps.

LBC: Tell us about the Sainsbury's connection. Exciting times for specialty coffee?

Lynsey: Sainsburys were on the lookout for something speciality and I struck up a conversation with the buyer. It progressed from there - quite rapidly really! We are in 350 stores at the moment, with 2 product lines (Momentum espresso blend and Colombia Aromas del Sur), and we are hoping to increase both in terms of number of products and stores.

My experience working for bigger companies allowed me to have a bigger picture view point, and not to be scared to talk to companies. We need people to explore new markets, not attack the same base that is already saturated. It seems more roasteries are opening than cafes, and more cafes than consumers entering our market. And that’s not healthy. Consumers are ultimately the lifeblood of our industry - the people who drink our coffee. We need to move people onto better coffee, not confuse them with technical jargon, or talk down to them for liking high street chains.

LBC: Just how much coffee are you roasting?

Lynsey: About 8 tonnes per month, which I’m happy with, considering we have been roasting for less than a year.

LBC: You say you aim to bridge the gap between specialty and commercial roasters, could you explain? 

Lynsey: Commercial roasters are all about margins. They buy cheap coffee, roast it in the smallest amount of time to give it colour, and spray it with water to cool it down and to add a little more weight back in. Then they bag it, flushing with nitrogen (to reduce oxygen content and extend life), and send it out. What’s fun or tasty about that?

Speciality roasters are all about quality, but that comes at a price. They buy expensive coffee, roast it with software that tells them development time and temperature of beans and exhaust, and then they cool it, bag it by hand, box it, and drop it off themselves to customers.

There’s a place in between, which is a little empty. Companies out there want the sexiness and quality of specialty but not the high labour cost.

We have coffee in places like the MacIntyre, which is at the extreme end of speciality, using all the latest equipment. Alex’s ideas and innovation are mind-blowing: he’s a brilliant customer and friend to have. And then we supply the bigger companies like Five Guys and Sainsbury’s who love our innovation and tasty coffee.

LBC: Tell us about Zsuzsa.

Lynsey: Zsuzsa is rather cool, something I’m not. She applied for our trainee roasting position back in September, and she was just so humble and lovely. Her approach was, I’m a good barista, I love coffee, but I know nothing about roasting and I’m keen to learn and work hard.

She’s a keen photographer and an all-round wonderful person. Everybody needs a right hand person at work, and she’s mine.

LBC: Any current favourites among your coffees?

Lynsey: The Gashonga is my favourite at the moment, it’s just so perfect: balanced, sweet cranberry notes, caramel finish... buttery. I just love it.

LBC: Where can we drink your coffees in London?

Lynsey: Most Sainsbury’s, Minor Figures cold brew, MacIntyre coffee, and Hej in Bermondsey are a few.

LBC: Where do you like to drink coffee?

Lynsey: Prufrock, I still have my paint stained Asics trainers from when I was helping Jem and Gwilym paint the walls - it holds some nice memories. And it’s been a pleasure to see it evolve over the years. Even when the staff change they still welcome you warmly.

February 09, 2016 — Best Coffee