Full name: Guy Wilmot
Role: Owner and MD of Bird & Wild and Decadent Decaf
Twitter Handle: @BirdandWild and @DecadentDecaf
Website: https://birdandwild.co.uk/ and https://www.decadentdecaf.com/
Fun Fact: Guy’s a fluent Russian speaker
So, let’s start at the beginning. You’re a career coffee guy by all accounts – travelling the world to source new and exciting varieties, setting up coffee businesses left right and centre. Where did it all begin? Did you always know that a career in coffee was on the cards? Did you grow up in a food and drink loving family? Please tell us about your formative years and the journey to today?
I’m a country lad at heart born in Wiltshire and food and drink has always been important to our family, though I was mainly chief washer upper. My brother went on to become a chef with a stint at various Michelin starred restaurants, but coffee was not on the cards, though I’ve always been a coffee drinker since my teens.
I worked abroad in Eastern Europe straight out of university at 23 and was working out all over the place for four years. I decided to travel around the world for four months which was a fantastic experience but when I had spent my savings, I started work at Bloomberg in the City of London for a year.
I hated it and ended up moving into coffee through a chance meeting through a friend of a friend who needed help with his coffee importing company. That was 12 years ago and I’m still working with them.
Please tell us a little about what you’re doing at Decadent Decaf? Or should I say, what you’re doing differently to the majority of other decaf producers. What exactly is the Swiss Water method? I’m assuming there’s still some ‘education’ required for the public to understand that decaf coffee can be nice too?
I started Decadent Decaf in 2015 and it’s the world’s first decaf coffee brand that only ever does decaf. With the largest range of decaffeinated coffees in the world, we have six flavours available all year round.
We only ever use the Swiss Water Decaf Process to create our decaffeinated coffee which uses water to decaffeinate the beans. This method is chemical-free (most decaf is made using chemical solvents), environmentally friendly, leaves the coffee 99.9% caffeine-free and preserves the unique taste of each blend.
There’s definitely work to be done in explaining to consumers why we’d only ever use the SWD process, however, more and more people are actively seeking out food and drink that is closer to its natural source, so are asking more questions generally.
Most people don’t realise that most brands use chemicals for extraction in their decaf, and as you say, there can be a bit of a negative perception around decaf not tasting as good as caffeinated. With one cup of coffee, we aim to educate and win round their taste buds at the same time!
The Great Taste Award judges, (the world’s largest and most trusted fully independent food and drink awards) know what they’re talking about, and have awarded us three One Star Awards in 2017.
As we know people like to drink their coffee in various ways, our decaf is available in whole bean, cafetiere/filter grind, espresso/aeropress grind or, as raw green bean for home roasting. We’re now sold on Ocado and the customer response has been fantastic.
Now onto your other project – Bird and Wild. Prior to this, I’d never heard about shade grown and ‘bird friendly’ coffee. Could you please give us some background on the company and what you’re upto with it?
As a coffee industry veteran of 12 years, I wanted to launch a Smithsonian Institute Bird Friendly Coffee (this certification is much better known in the USA/Canada). The Bird & Wild brand was already in operation, but was closed down by the founder in 2016 as he was not getting enough sales.
I contacted him, bought the IP and relaunched it as a lower weight size of 200g, a lower RRP of £4.49 and a partnership with the RSPB where we would donate 6% of all sales to the RSPB charity. In short, a more competitive offering and nicer packaging which has turned the business around. I launched at Bird Fair, the ‘Glastonbury of Bird Watching’, in August 2017, and listed in Ocado in December 2017.
Bird & Wild coffee is Fairtrade, Organic, Bird Friendly and Shade Grown. As the RSPB’s official coffee, 6% of all sales are donated back to them to help them to protect wildlife, restore our woodlands and build a future where we live in harmony with nature.
Bird Friendly Certification guarantees that every bean is produced organically and under high-quality shade, ensuring tropical ‘agroforests’ are preserved and migratory birds find a healthy haven when they travel from northern climes to faraway farms producing the beans.
With widespread clear cutting for sun coffee plantations, it’s imperative to protect the tropical forest that remains and help to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems.
Traditionally, coffee was grown commercially under other trees that provided shade, and in its natural wild state, coffee much prefers shade in the heat of the tropics. However, since the 1970s, new sun-tolerant coffee plants have been developed with the aim of higher production rates and larger yields through higher-density, open planting over huge areas of land.
Unfortunately, these cultivation practices of open planting is unsustainable, destroys the land through overexposure to the sun and has a negative impact on the environment. As a result, the concept of Shade Grown Coffee, a return to traditional coffee farming, was born.
A canopy of assorted types of shade trees is created to cultivate shade-grown coffee, which incorporates principles of natural ecology to promote natural ecological relationships.
What are your most and least favourite coffees? Or your best and worse coffee drinking experiences?
I’m afraid I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to coffee.
It’s not very fashionable to say that a good washed Colombian or Central American coffee are some of my favourites. I’m also partial to Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, which is just classic good taste – a little bit of everything and a creamy smooth aftertaste that lasts in the mouth. A good example of a Jamaica Blue Mountain is memorable.
Actually, my least favourite coffees are the super trendy ones coming out at the moment, which are very lightly roasted and taste like fruit teas – it’s just too much. The trend is towards the honey process and natural processed coffees, which I enjoy occasionally, but aren’t my go to coffees.
How’s your caffeine tolerance?
I’ve actually developed a sensitivity to caffeine over the years which is why I started trying all of the decafs on the market. They either tasted terrible, were tasty but flavours were only available seasonally or, were chemically decaffeinated, so this inspired me to launch Decadent Decaf.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the coffee business?
Being a small business owner means always being on – even when on holiday and at weekends, but that doesn’t mean I’m always working, but you have to have your eye on the ball.
I often work from my home office, so no wasted commuter time and I’m fresh in the morning to plough through work and come up with ideas.
Being in the coffee business is like any business – pitching businesses, dealing with accounts, checking on customers, but it’s also a good business to be in – people keep drinking coffee, it’s recession proof thus far and people will be drinking better quality coffee in future.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
I’m also involved with Marley Coffee, award winning organic coffees from the family of Bob Marley, and I’ll never forget my weekend out in Kingston, Jamaica, with Rohan Marley and friends – it was like one big party!
Where do you get your ideas?
I get most of my ideas from wanting something that doesn’t exist. The trick is to actually do something about it. I used to be great at coming up with ideas then not doing anything about them!
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge is still my biggest challenge – trying to change hearts and minds once cup of decaf at a time – and increasing awareness about bird friendly coffee and why it matters. The biggest challenge is still greater education and awareness about coffee.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
My late father, Michael, who was a food and drink entrepreneur and involved in everything from Chewits sweets to Carrs biscuits and everything in between. I like to think he would be a little proud of what I’ve achieved so far. He was always very supportive.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Enjoy = coming up with an idea and seeing it through.
Least enjoy = accounting and paperwork
What advice would you give to aspiring coffee professionals who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
It’s a hard old work out there and there’s so much competition. I feel like we may have hit peak coffee when it comes to the sheer amount of roasteries that have opened up. So, my advice would be, if you get into coffee, settle in for the long haul and don’t expect easy wins – it’s going to a hard old road, but very rewarding too.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
If I was a millionaire, I’d learn French and Spanish and become a marine archaeologist and volunteer for the marine work being done on the Egyptian coast regarding ancient Egypt.
If you could get anyone to try your coffees (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the coffees would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
That’s a tough one. I’m not some fan of Leonardo Di Caprio, but I think what’s he’s doing on the environmental front – using his fame to highlight climate change – I think is fantatic and I wish more celebrities would do the same. I’d like give him some Bird & Wild Bird Friendly Coffee of course.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for your business or your careers? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Money and reality are no obstacle, so shoot for the moon…
I’d like to be able to work for the sheer pleasure of it – to have a regular easy income from coffee and work part time from abroad. Currently, I’m still very early stage when it comes to the business and everthing’s going back into the business.
Where next for you and the various coffee ventures?
It’s more of the same – work like crazy to build Decadent Decaf and Bird & Wild Coffee, as well as other coffee businesses I’m closely involved with.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you had a day to spend in the life and body of your seven year old self (but with your current experience and mindset), what would the first three things you would do?
Exactly what I did as a seven year old. Change nothing.
If you had to be transformed into any kind of household appliance, but retained your memories, ability to speak and personality, what would you pick?
That’s nuts. Um, a kettle?
If you had to employ any character from Futurama to come and work at one of your companies, who would you pick, and why?
I’m afraid I’ve never ever watched Futurama!