200 Degrees Mike Steele: 'It is still like every day is a school day'

200 Degrees Mike Steele:  'It is still like every day is a school day'

Mike Steele, head roaster at 200 Degrees, talks about his career, challenges for the coffee market and why he is at European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drinks Expo.


How did you get into coffee?

I went off to university, had a part time job in a café and thought I was settled with my future career. I graduated in forensic computing but after four years realised it was not what I wanted to do. I carried on with the part-time café job, which turned into a full time job and really got into my coffee.  I ended up moving to Brighton as there was not much of coffee scene in Leicester.  I got a job in a café, that also roasted its own coffee, and it took one shift in with the roaster and I was sold.

Luckily, when I decided to move back to the Midlands,  I stumbled across 200 Degrees when looking for a job. This was five years ago before they had any cafes and they were still a really small roaster. I dropped them an email saying I wanted to get into roasting. I was thinking I could come on board as an apprentice but within six weeks I was jumping behind the roaster doing everything.

What has been the biggest lesson in your career so far?

A lot of what I have done roasting wise has been self taught with trial and error. Everytime I thought I had conquered something, something else has cropped up for me to overcome. I can never stand still. Even five years into roasting, it is still like every day is a school day. Though you may use the same farm year-on-year and harvest after harvest, coffee is a natural product and it is going to be different. You may have roasted this coffee before and have an idea but it is still going to need subtle tweeks year-on-year in order to get the best out of that type of crop.

What challenges is 200 Degrees facing as a roastery?

We place ourselves in the middle between the big chains and the small niche independents. We are that doorway to specialty coffee, bringing in customers that are not quite ready to step into a niche independent.

The challenge is to subtly educate people so they realise that getting good coffee isn’t hard and understanding what you are drinking doesn’t have to be scary.


What is happening in the coffee market?

More people are taking an interest in what they are drinking. There is no such flavour as coffee as coffee tastes of other things, much in the same way as wine. You don’t really describe something as 'tasting like wine' because wine doesn’t have a flavour. People are paying more attention to that and that is where companies like ourselves can help bring that forward. We can introduce them to flavour notes, brew methods - whether it is in the barista school or behind the counter. It is bringing people to experience coffee in a different way than they have before.


You are involved in European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drinks Expo Roastery Masterclass Live! What made you want to become involved?

It is a bit out of my comfort zone. For roasters it is not something we do as we are not the front of house baristas and public facing. We are very much back of house, out of the way and as long as the coffee is tasting good we are happy. This is putting myself out there.






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