Barista extraordinaire Deborah Pease is at the forefront of a coffee revolution in Lichfield with her quality, speciality brews. Amy Norbury discovers more
Turmeric, beetroot and lavender may not sound like ingredients you’d normally find in your average coffee shop. And you’d be right.
But, tucked away down an alley just off the Market Square in Lichfield’s heart, Deborah Pease isn’t running your average coffee shop. The tiny kiosk, with its artistically grafittied walls and intriguing menu, couldn’t be further away from the national coffee chains which dominate our high streets.
Over the past six months, though, Debs has started something of a coffee revolution in the city. From 7.30am every day the alley is packed with those in the know, seeking out their daily caffeine fix and bonding over a love of turmeric lattes and perfectly extracted espressos.
On Fridays and Saturdays, punters are quick of the mark to pick up one of Debs’ home-baked delights – the now-famous Lichfield ‘cruffin’. Forget the ‘cronut’ and the rainbow bagel; the cruffin is the baked goodie du jour. A hybrid of muffin and croissant, filled with whatever delicious concoction Debs decides on that day, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a beautifully brewed specialty coffee.
Originally from Melbourne, Australia – probably best known in the UK as the home of TV favourite Neighbours – for Debs, coffee has been a lifelong passion. And it’s no wonder.
Melbourne is a city obsessed with coffee. Cold drips, aero-press and cupping are common words in the local vernacular thanks to a widespread passion for the bean, and it’s virtually impossible to turn a corner in Melbourne without being met by the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting down a laneway.
And it’s Melbourne for which Debs’ cafe – Melbourne in Lichfield – is named.
“Melbourne has been voted coffee capital of the world for the past three years; we took the title from Seattle, who took the title from Italy,” says 37-year-old Debs.
“I’ve been in coffee for 20-odd years; all my family are in coffee and I upset them when I went to work for a major chain, I had my own store, I was a qualified coffee trainer – and then this global chain went under. And I wondered where I was going to go.
“I’ve worked for some of the finest roasteries in the world, what we’d call the large independents in Australia, and I’ve worked for world barista judges and world barista champions. I was a site manager and had a few huge sites’ some of my baristas were amazing and have gone on to represent Australia. However I was still missing something.”
So on her very own coffee discovery journey, Debs went off to work on coffee plantations around the world, starting in Guatemala before moving onto Mexico.
“I started to learn that what I was teaching from the books didn’t actually translate into real life,” she says.
“A lot about fair trade really upset me; fair trade is a business and that doesn’t mean the farmers necessarily get the money that they should. I learnt very early on that I wanted to do direct trade; fair trade can have 32 people in the chain but direct trade can have three, which means more money for the farmer.
“We were living with farmers underneath their roofs, and they’re living with huge families and have donkeys in their kitchens and dirt floors; experiencing that really makes you want to make sure the farmers are getting more. So that’s when my whole ethos changed.
“I wanted to be happy with coffee, and to make people happy with coffee.”
When Debs’ husband Andrew, an electrical engineer by trade who also works alongside Debs in the cafe, got a job in the Midlands the couple decided to make Lichfield their home. Andrew, who’s originally from York, had been living in the States and the couple met while travelling in Africa.
“I’ve worked for a lot of companies in the UK and none of them take coffee seriously, which has been a bit upsetting,” admits Debs.
“In Australia you can’t work in a cafe unless you have a certification in coffee-making. So when I moved to England I thought I’d be able to pick up a contract in training, and I got here and found out that there’s no training. I walk into stores and see people with ‘barista’ written on their shirts and then find out they’ve had no training. There’s a huge difference between a real barista and someone who makes coffee.
“And for me, the biggest thing is being passionate about coffee – it doesn’t matter if you’ve had training, if you’re passionate then that’s the first step. But I was noticing that there wasn’t that level of passion.
“I trained all my baristas when I worked in Birmingham for a few independents, and the ones who showed passion got taken under my wing and got all of the knowledge I had. There’s a coffee diploma that’s now recognised worldwide and I’m working on getting some of the baristas I’ve trained to take that on.”
Debs had just left a role with a large company when Andrew, by pure chance, saw the hidden-away unit was up for lease. He felt it would be a perfect step for Debs, but she wasn’t so sure until Andrew persuaded her to take a look.
For Debs it was love at first sight.
“It felt like home; it just fit in the with the Melbourne culture,” she says. “In Melbourne there are lots of hidden cafes in alleys, so that’s the kind of environment I’ve come one. With a business it’s usually about location, but I’ve bucked that trend and opened up somewhere that’s ‘me’.”
Coming up with a name was as simple as bringing a slice of home to Lichfield.
“Being in hospitality, every second person will ask me about my accent and how I ended up here, so I thought if I named the cafe Melbourne, it eradicated one question,” laugh Debs.
As a coffee connoisseur, Debs only deals with the best in the business. Her beans come from Union, which has been named the best coffee roaster in Europe, and Debs even had to be interviewed to be allowed to sell the coffee.
“A lot of people think Union are a big company because of their accolades, and because they’ve seen Union coffee in a lot of places but they’re not. They’re a team of just 60 people, which is tiny in the grand scheme of things,” she explains.
“Union are direct trade, they care about their farmers and they share their farmers’ stories with you, which is amazing. And I know the price they pay is sometimes four or five times as much as another roaster might pay. They’re great company, and so consistent; their coffee is really good.
“There are very few specialty coffee dealers; most sell commodity coffee, which is a real shame, especially when you’ve seen the farmers hand-pick the beans.”
All of Debs’ coffee is graded by the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe; she only sells coffee which has been graded and which is direct trade.
“My highest coffee is graded at 87 on the SCAE scale, which is the highest to go through a coffee machine in Lichfield,” Debs explains.
“I’ve been approached by numerous roasters to sell their coffee, but it’s not graded or it’s not direct trade, and that just doesn’t work for me.”
Debs’ social conscience extends beyond the coffee she serves; all of the cups are completely compostable, and there’s not a plastic straw in sight.
“There are 688,000 non-recyclable cups used by one British coffee chain every day, which all go straight to landfill,” explains Debs. “We were determined not to add to that.”
Another of the major by-products of the coffee business is used coffee grounds, and Debs has found a company which puts these to good use. Optiat create innovative face and body scrubs from the used coffee grounds, and Debs sells these alongside her espressos and lattes.
“It’s not something you’d typically find stocked in a cafe but it’s a great product,” she says. “We found them at the London Coffee Festival and we use it at home. We’re fortunate that we can sell whatever products we like, and it’s something which fits in with our ethos.”
Debs’ innovative menu is a nod to both the forefathers of coffee and to her Aussie roots.
“I used to be a very strict trainer in the Italian style of coffee-making; knowing the Italians invented the espresso back in 1901 I wanted to pay homage to them, and I alway will. Everything on the menu is Italian.
“But six months ago I went back to Melbourne on a coffee journey to discover what was happening out there. They say that England is a good ten to 15 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to coffee innovation so I thought I could get a bit of a jump on that and get ahead.”
Debs was greeted by menus dominated by turmeric, beetroot and rainbow lattes. And while rainbow – created using elaborate dye work – was a step too far, beetroot and turmeric became the cornerstones of the Melbourne in Lichfield menu.
“Nothing says Australia like a beetroot latte, and the turmeric latte was huge, so I thought I’d bring those to Lichfield,” says Debs.
“Before I opened everyone questioned whether Lichfield was ready for me, but the quirkiness is evolving because people are responding to it. I sell dozens of beetroot lattes every day, and turmeric is our third biggest seller.
“And Lichfield is a huge city of espresso drinkers; I’ve never known as many people ordering espresso. And they know what they want; people want to know what bean I’m using and they want a 30ml extraction with a certain amount of time. They’re educated, and I’m blown away.”
Debs’ cafe is bringing together a new band of Lichfield coffee lovers; people who may not otherwise ever cross paths but who now come together day after day, drawn down the alley by their mutual appreciation for a proper cup of coffee.
“For me, coffee is about connecting,” says Debs. “When I was growing up it was about me being with my friends and now it’s all about me being able to sit and chat with customers. I’m a caffeine dealer and a milk pusher!”
For more information find Melbourne in Lichfield on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or visit the cafe at 2 Bolt Court, Lichfield, open seven days a week.