Kiss the Hippo Coffee was founded in 2018 in Richmond, London and it was the first coffee company in the industry to be certified as a carbon negative company by a third-party organization. Joshua Tarlo, who has been working in the industry for about twenty years, manages the coffee division of the company, which aims to create a more sustainable and fair coffee industry. We interviewed Joshua who has once won the UK Barista Championship.
Striving to be carbon negative instead of simply being carbon neutral
The name of the company, Kiss the Hippo Coffee, might not ring a bell when you first hear it, but it hints at the founder Can Eren’s ambition to create an environmentally conscious coffee company.
Josh states, “The name ‘Kiss the Hippo Coffee’ is a playful expression of the company’s respect for nature. We use the hippopotamus as a symbol of nature, but no one understands our intentions without us saying anything. But that’s also why I often explain it to my customers, and it’s a good conversation starter.”
Kiss the Hippo Coffee engages in tree-planting activities in Nepal for the purpose of carbon offsetting. The company’s efforts to calculate the carbon footprint of its products, packaging, and transportation processes have been recognized and in 2021 a Swiss non-profit organization called ‘On A Mission’ awarded Kiss the Hippo Coffee with a carbon negative certification.
Joshua states, “Sustainability is the core spirit and aspiration of Kiss the Hippo Coffee. As we live in a world like this, it is clearly an important issue that we need to address.”
“I don’t understand why other companies aren’t doing the same. We are facing the crisis of climate change and many areas near the equator where coffee is grown will be uninhabitable in the next fifty to one hundred years. If we want to create a future with coffee, we need to fundamentally change the way we do business and the way we live.”
“It is our responsibility to keep sustainability in mind for our future in as many areas as possible, not just in the area of coffee. I believe that every company that exists in this world today should be working towards sustainability.
Many people misunderstand that it’s difficult to work on sustainability, but in the UK, it’s relatively easy to switch to 100% renewable energy. It’s also easy to buy recyclable packaging materials and use carbon offset transportations. And, the hurdles to work on sustainability are getting lower as time goes by.
What is important to us is to achieve carbon negativity instead of just achieving carbon neutrality. Countries and regions that have not benefited from fossil fuels in the past will be able to improve their people’s living standards and gain economic stability and development. To achieve this, I believe that countries like the UK, which has benefited greatly from fossil fuels in history, should work on achieving carbon negativity.
But it’s still a challenge. Even if people want to adopt carbon negative habits in their daily lives, it’s difficult for them to choose such an option. So, our goal is to create environments where people can access such coffee more easily.”
Our job is to create excitement
Needless to say, passion alone is not enough to fulfill Kiss Hippo Coffee’s philosophy and vision. In addition to Joshua, Kiss the Hippo Coffee has another former winner of the UK Barista Championship, and moreover, UK Barista champions in the last two years have been won using the coffee from Kiss the Hippo Coffee. This combination of philosophy and quality is why Kiss the Hippo Coffee has gained the support of the public.
Joshua states, “Nowadays, good coffee is all over the place. When I first came to the UK in 2014, there was already good coffee everywhere, even in Cornwall, which is about a five-hour drive from London. You can get good coffee even in rural areas.
In the UK, for the first time in forty years, the consumption of roasted coffee beans has surpassed that of instant coffee. The specialty coffee industry is the largest it has ever been in history. As a result, baristas are improving their skills and the quality of cafes is getting better.
Not only that, but coffee producers are also able to utilize their own roots and individuality and some of them are starting to have fans who support them. I think it’s positive and wonderful that coffee is becoming easier to break away from being just a commodity.”
However, with progress comes a cost. As the competition among roasters becomes fiercer, each roaster is expected to define its own identity.
“Our goal is to always offer exciting and unique coffees. We also sell ‘friendly coffees,’ but that’s what a lot of roasters are doing.
When people drink exciting and unique coffees, they trace their memories and describe the taste with fruits they have tasted before. When a certain flavor connects with a certain memory, the desire to talk about it and share the experience with others is aroused. I think it’s very valuable to be able to experience a new taste when they are an adult. Unique coffees that push the boundaries of what delicious means are a great way to connect with others.
One of the most important aspects of sourcing green coffee is tasting them as much as possible. We taste thousands of coffees every year, and the more coffees we are exposed to, the more we discover and the more we appreciate unique coffees.
In the roasting team, our goal is to focus on the individuality of the coffee, to capture what makes them unique and why they are worth drinking, and to communicate this to our customers. We work together to create a roasting profile, and we believe that the more opinions we exchange, the more we can create a coffee that people can relate to.”
Kiss the Hippo Coffee’s efforts doesn’t stop with only listening to the members of the company. Through the customer support department, the company tries to get in touch with customers as much as possible to learn about their interests and reflect them in product development.
“I personally exchange opinions with customers on a weekly basis about the coffee they enjoy and the brewing methods they use, but our ideal is to engage with them as collaborators in making good coffee.
What we want to make is not coffee that is typical of Kiss the Hippo Coffee. When we encounter a coffee that excites us, the baristas will naturally want to share it with others, and the customers who drink it will want to share it with others, too. Excitement is something that spreads from person to person. In fact, coffee that garners email responses from customers or coffee that the customers introduce to their friends are the true coffees with a statement.”
The infinite world of coffee
It’s been almost twenty years since Joshua started working at a coffee shop when he was fifteen years old. While he studied urban development and international relations in university, he has always remained involved with coffee.
Joshua states, “At first, I really liked cafes because they played a central role in the community. Since then, I have had my interest in coffee because it’s such an interesting medium.
From food science to trade, agriculture, running a cafe, HR to marketing, I can be involved in all sorts of fields in the coffee business. I started out working in cafes, went on to roasting, then to green coffee sourcing and now I am working in roastery management and such infiniteness is the appeal of coffee”
In his previous position at a coffee company, Joshua was in charge of green coffee sourcing and traveled overseas all year round. The joy of being in direct contact with the producers was great and his life was fulfilling, but one day, after four years of such a life, he suddenly realized that he was sleeping in a hotel half of the year.
He wanted to get away from that kind of lifestyle and have a better personal life. Then, the owner of Kiss the Hippo Coffee approached Joshua and asked him if he would like to work at his coffee shop.
“I decided to join Kiss the Hippo Coffee because I thought it was cool that they were focusing on sustainability within the framework of business. Almost three years have passed since I joined, and everyone at Kiss the Hippo Coffee is working with a common understanding and sharing similar beliefs. I think that’s what makes us strong as an organization.”
For Joshua, who has a strong sense of responsibility for sustainability, Kiss the Hippo Coffee is the perfect place to get closest to solving problems.
“In the U.K., where there is much less nature compared to Canada where I grew up, we rarely have the opportunity to see wild nature in our daily lives. This gives us a sense of responsibility to be more environmentally conscious and we have to face the reality of what the world will be like when nature disappears. Living in this country where urbanization is everywhere, I feel the unsustainability of the current situation, and my motivation to counter the climate change crisis is growing stronger.”
Today, Kiss the Hippo Coffee practices direct trade, where coffee is purchased at least twice the price of fair trade coffee striving to practice a ‘fairer trade.’ Joshua warns that the next twenty years will be tough for coffee farmers.
Joshua states, “The important thing is to build a system that is fairer for producers so that coffee can exist in the world beyond the climate change crisis. Producers should not be standing there without any support. We need to share the pain and find solutions together.”
“The best coffee is the one that you can taste with the producers at the farm, but in daily life, I really like the coffee I take time to drink at the balcony. At my home, it’s always filled with coffee from my friends’ roasters and it’s wonderful that I can get to experience not only the taste of coffee but also feel my friends’ efforts. I feel happy to know that there are many different roasters all over the world.”