Words Kirk Truman
Photography Tom Brown
“I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work, but the highs definitely outweigh the lows.”
There are oh so many elements of my life that I have come to admire and conversely so many I find distasteful. However, there is one addiction I am proud of. My long-term love-affair with coffee has turned serious: these days I can drink nothing less than 5 cups per day. New Zealand born Celeste Wong has helped me sustain my addiction, and her relationship with coffee is equally bittersweet. The girl in the café speaks to us about Fitzrovia, coffee, and developing her own coffee web series.
Born in Dunedin of Chinese origin, Celeste began her accidental relationship with coffee while studying in New Zealand. She sought out a job in an edgy and progressive café, with seemingly huge odds stacked against its success. “It was a little shack of a building on a back street that you’d expect no one to know about, but it was roasting coffee on a little 10kg (Turkish) Toper and we had lines out the door. Once we were out of food and coffee, we were out. We always sold out.” Being the youngest of the team, she was proud to be part of such a successful café. She admired the quality of the coffee and the experience of working with passionate, knowledgeable people in the industry.
On a holiday to London, from her newfound home of Melbourne, Australia, Celeste quickly made the decision to live here, falling in love with the vibe and energy of the city. “I was wide-eyed with hope and ready for a new adventure and opportunity!” Having worked at Soho’s Flat White (one of London’s original artisan café’s) she then helped run its sister café, Milkbar. About 3 years ago, she started working at Australian owned Lantana, where she became head of coffee and manager, with the objective of continuing to raise the company’s focus and reputation for quality coffee. Fitzrovia felt like a slightly more upmarket version of Soho, though in balance a hub for business, creativity and hustle. “I guess working here, there’s a growing sense of community. But maybe that organically or naturally happens when you get to know people and the surrounding businesses better,” she says of the neighbourhood.
This relationship and passion for coffee that Celeste had forged back home in New Zealand was now becoming a career for her as she began delving ever-deeper into the coffee industry. She developed a particular fascination: is coffee a science or an art? “When I first started making coffee, I was obsessed with espresso and certain technicalities of milk texture and speed but as my instincts have become deeper rooted, I now trust and rely a lot more on my senses and experience over just technicalities and theory. I’ve said this before of my relationship with coffee, that it is bitter sweet. It’s hard work but the highs definitely outweigh the lows. Coffee is so complex yet delicate – it’s that and the process of making it and drinking it. That’s what I fell in love with. I love the taste of coffee and how it makes me feel!” she says.
With Celeste experiencing both the Melbourne and London ‘Third wave’ of coffee, she has been fortunate enough to have only worked with some of the top individuals in the industry such as Tania Vorrath, Jason Chan and Cameron McClure and other pioneers. “What I respect most about the people that have influenced my work and career is their attitude and support. They love what they do, and as a result, they are good at it. There is a defiance within them to do it ‘their way’ not giving in to outside opinion which is incredibly inspiring in this world were comparison and imitation is rife” says Celeste.
However, Celeste is by no means just the girl in the café. Her passion for coffee has led her to go one step further by launching her own brand, eponymously titled The Girl in the Café; an exploration of coffee, people, its culture, the science and its place in the world. “In short, I had an idea and I went with it. It is an interview series with inspiring, creative people who are living their dreams with authenticity. I go within and beyond the coffee industry, so it encompasses a range of topics, depending on who my guest is, with a couple of surprises thrown in too. I wanted to create a medium where people who aren’t exposed to this sort of conversation can have access to such ideas and inspiration. I have been fortunate to have met many inspiring and determined people within and outside the industry. It is through my personal experience and insight with these people that I share stories, lessons and thoughts with others through my web series, blogs and vlogs in a casual but entertaining and insightful way,” she says.
The primary focus of her brand at present is the online series itself, blogs and vlogs. In addition to this, Celeste will be setting up a two-day pop up café in Dalston in August with friends who are involved with the project and the coffee industry. “It’s like a hang out with friends and a good opportunity to try some new concepts and have some fun. I’ve also designed a range of #ThatsHowILikeMyCoffee t-shirts which have been really well received,” she says on the brand. The 1st season of Celeste’s online series will launch later this year with an eye to growing the series on an international level and working with larger companies in the industry, and getting on board with a digital distributor. “I have so many ideas as to how to expand from the series. The sky’s the limit! I have new ideas all the time about how to expand, but television is the obvious option, along with my podcasts and other related products”.
For Celeste, her personal relationship with coffee is undying. An accidental vocation has now become her career, passion and fascination. “I want to be consistent, do more of what I enjoy and somehow contribute to the world in a positive way. Being in the coffee industry challenges me in ways that keep me interested. So in that way, my relationship with coffee is like any other long-term relationship; it takes passion, patience, perseverance, and ultimately trust and love.” With her brand still in its infancy, The Girl in the Café seems ready to embrace the limitless prospects of this long term love affair.