Josh Tarlo is a former UK Barista Champion that now works at Oatly and, as he sets his sights on Brighton this August with the Brighton Coffee Festival, we sat down with the founder of coffee leaf seltzer Headstand, to see what’s in store this summer.
Hi Josh, thanks for taking the time to talk, how are you doing?
Great thanks. So glad the sun is here.
Can you give me a little rundown of your background in the coffee industry?
I’ve pretty much only ever worked in coffee. From being a 16 year old barista in my home town to eventually moving to Melbourne to learn to roast, then Toronto before moving to the UK. Since being here I’ve run the sourcing & roasting for places like Origin & Kiss the Hippo. Most recently I started a drinks company called Headstand where we use the leaves of the coffee tree to make a healthy sparkling drink alongside managing the Barista team for Oatly UK & Ireland.
Your role with Oatly now is Barista Market Development (BMD) Manager. What does that involve day-to-day?
The BMD team is basically Oatly’s connection to the coffee world. I remember when I started it was described to me like this, coffee is what made Oatly successful and still the best capturing of Oatly is in a cup of coffee. Because of that Oatly wants to always be repaying the coffee community. Our job in the BMD world is to do the events that support that and our mission of transforming the food system away from animal products.
What is your personal ethos towards sustainability, and did it affect your decision to join Oatly?
100%. After spending years visiting coffee farms, I saw first-hand how the changing climate is hurting people today. To help support a low carbon future we need to transform our food systems. I’ve always been really impressed at Oatly and how they are one of the few companies that has actually induced mass consumption shifts to a lower carbon product. When the opportunity came I wanted to get involved.
Tell me about Headstand. You are the founder, right?
Yeah, I started Headstand after spending years as a green buyer and coffee roaster. I would travel a lot to Latin America and East Africa. During that time I heard from so many coffee producers how it almost felt impossible to grow their farm and improve their conditions. One year while preparing to compete at the World Barista Championships I heard you could turn the leaves of the coffee tree into a tea. Chatting to a producer friend of mine Carlos we got working on turning leaves into a tea.
Years later I was in lockdown and just playing around in my kitchen making sodas. I realised one day that coffee leaf, with it being rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties could be the base for a healthier drink. I got obsessed and eventually created the model where we double the income a producer makes from every tree we harvest. Not long after Headstand was born.
How would you like to see Headstand develop over time?
I hope that Headstand can lead the way in showing that drinks can be better for the planet, better for consumers and better for farmers. I hope overtime coffee leaf becomes widespread and we can help increase the value of coffee farms everywhere while offering consumers something new and delicious.
How do you think your experience competing in barista competitions helped form the basis behind Headstand?
Without barista competition there would be no Headstand. It was the motivating force to first explore using the coffee tree in a different way. Without that I wouldn’t have become the guy obsessed with leaves.
As the 2018 UK Barista Champion, you’ve got a successful history in competitions. What advice would you give to any junior baristas starting their journey in competitions?
The first thing I always say is just start and do one. It’s such a unique and different thing that it will take time to get good at it. From there just read the rules and study the score sheet. A lot of folks will do the whole thing without really spending time asking how they plan to get points. So just asking if what you are doing will let you score higher can be huge.
Last year Mikolaj Pociecha (a competitor at the German Barista Championship) broke the competition rules and used oat milk in their set. This caused a big wave within the coffee industry but what was your opinion of their stand?
It’s difficult for me to know exactly the ins and outs of the dynamic within the German coffee community and how the full effect of how this played out. That being said, plant-based milk was something people were talking about for years but nothing was changing. If this was the thing that finally made the SCA change the rules then I applaud it. Even if it wasn’t, I do stand by people’s right to protest and I agree 100% with the sentiment behind what they did.
What do you make of the SCA’s decision to now allow plant-based milks in future competitions?
I’m very grateful to see the change happen. It is something that has turned a lot of talented baristas getting involved in competition and it acknowledges the reality of consumer preferences as well as the need for coffee to move to lower carbon products.
It sounds like Headstand is doing fantastic things for the coffee producers globally. What has the reaction been?
It has really been an amazing reception. So many coffee shops have fridges but most don’t have something in there that compliments the values they’re showing in their coffee program. Headstand has offered them a chance to do just that.
What are your personal aspirations in the coffee industry?
I’ve always thought that coffee is one of the most interesting ways to connect places like the UK to places like El Salvador, Ethiopia or the many other coffee producing countries. Coffee is often the only product people in the UK would consume from these places. With how specialty coffee attempts to actually share the story of producers I think it is a rare place of de-commodification that lets people from massively different experiences connect. My aspiration is just to keep supporting that, the connection between coffee consumers and producers.
Oatly are one of the Brighton Coffee Festival’s lead sponsors, is there anything in particular you’re excited about for BCF?
I love coming down to Brighton and it has such an incredible coffee scene. I’m really looking forward to just seeing what the roasters have been doing, chatting to people, and hopefully enjoy the sun by the sea.
What should visitors expect from the Oatly stand at BCF?
We’re going to be giving away heaps of our brand-new soft serve ice cream as well as playing games with the public on the stand so people can win prizes.
Oatly’s popularity in Brighton only appears to grow and grow. Why do you think it has been such a hit in our seaside city?
Since moving to the UK I’ve loved Brighton. The vibe there has always felt very creative and DIY. I think it’s really important to have a place that supports people creating everything from small business to just being creative for the sake of it. Add in the sea and the amazing food and drink there isn’t much not to love.
Oatly always has exciting plans in the pipeline, what’s coming up in 2023 we should keep our eyes peeled for?
Just tons more events around the UK in every coffee community around.
How can people get in touch with you day-to-day?
Probably the easiest way is through Instagram where I’m @josh.tarlo