If you don’t know who Anette Moldvaer is, you should. She is the co-owner and founder of Square Mile Coffee in London, and has roasted coffee for three consecutive World Barista Champions. Learn more about her childhood and how she’s influenced the coffee culture in London and beyond.
Cover photo courtsey of Tony Koneckny
Ashley Rodriguez: You grew up in Norway. What are your earliest coffee memories? What was the coffee world like where you grew up?
Anette Moldvaer: A cup of coffee is often the first thing you are offered when you go to the home of a Norwegian. So I grew up with the smell of coffee wafting through the house, and seeing my parents share coffee and homemade waffles with their guests. My first taste of it was in the frosting of my mum’s chocolate cake, she always added a couple of spoons of coffee to it. Coffee was such an everyday thing, and it was enjoyed at home more than being something you’d go out for. Coffee shop culture didn’t become part of my world till my late teens.
AR: You moved to London, and you did a lot to foster the coffee community in London. What did coffee look like when you got there? What sort of outreach did you do to connect the community with coffee?
AM: London had a lot of chain coffee shops in it when I moved here, but there weren’t many independent coffee houses that specialized in high quality beans and brews. I could count the number of cafes I could go to and get a reliable good brew in on one hand, and most people couldn’t name a good coffee roaster. There were some people doing good things of course, but they seemed disconnected.
Through my work at Mercanta and the London School of Coffee I could tell there was a lot of interest in coffee and some people were trying to get their projects off the ground, but there lacked a bit of a catalyst, a place where people who had questions and opinions could meet and chat and exchange ideas. When Square Mile started up we wanted to kickstart something, drive the coffee scene forwards, and provide a space for a community to develop. By opening our doors and arranging various tastings, workshops and competitions, we wanted enthusiasts, colleagues and competitors alike to get to know each other in an informal, relaxed setting.
AR: Why did you start roasting? Did anyone teach you?
AM: I was sample roasting and cupping for 4 years before we started SQM, which I think was the best school I could have had. Jumping from a 100g barrel to a 15kg drum was scary, but once I got to know the workings of the machinery itself I felt I could make the coffee do what I wanted it to do, or rather, allow it to be what it had the potential to be. I had a few people to ask questions of when I needed to, and I am glad I could learn from other people’s experiences. But the biggest lessons you just have to learn over time, over years and over harvests.
AR: What are you the most proud of in your professional career?
AM: Building Square Mile has been an amazing journey full of challenges and rewards, but I’m the most proud of it when I see the fantastic people we have working with us doing well, both customers and team members. They are the biggest reward.
AR: What does your perfect day off look like? What do you wish you had more free time to do?
AM: The perfect day off probably involves being by the ocean somewhere warm and peaceful, just sitting and watching the waves. But I live in Hackney so that’s not always possible! When the weather allows me to do work in the garden, with a cup of tea, and the cat running around, that helps me regroup and reconnect with myself. Eating good food and enjoying good friends is always time well spent. Going to any of my favorite restaurants or having a quiet glass of wine in front of the fireplace also makes for a lovely evening. I wish I had more time to maintain hobbies, and for travel that isn’t for work, but I’m so lucky to get to do what I do that it’s impossible to complain!
AR: What does the future look like for you? What do you predict the future of coffee looks like?
AM: Who knows, but hopefully there are still adventures to be had and new things to learn! The future of coffee will be interesting, we’re up against challenges we haven’t seen before and navigating them under the pressures of globalization and climate change will come at a price. Ensuring a fairer distribution of resources and finances has to be on everyone’s agenda, and more research into the biology and agronomy side of the industry is key at this stage.
AR: You were roasting award-winning coffee in a time I imagine there weren’t many female roasters. Did you face adversity at all because of your gender? Do you have advice for other female baristas looking to advance and be leaders?
AM: I didn’t know of many other female roasters at the time, and there were plenty of occasions where people just assumed there had to be a male doing that job. There still is! I’ve definitely come up against sexist attitudes, from straight up comments about the size of my breasts or smirks about the way I would sometimes wear a dress while roasting coffee, to being propositioned about essentially being someone’s mistress when they were in town. I never knew if the correct retort was to ignore it or to pull people up on it, I’ve done both depending on how amused, shocked, frustrated or bored it’s made me. I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I’ve tried to do well at everything I’ve done and allowed my work to speak for itself, and I hoped that over time respect would be earned. I think that’s all anyone can do, male or female. Try not to bite when baited, stand up for yourself, and go after what you want.