A coffee with … Lilla Valter

The Scottish AeroPress Champion and Habitat Cafe barista talks first times and pet peeves

Thanks to my grandfather, I was pretty much addicted to coffee by the age of 12. I was probably around six when I had my first ever cup, which was overly sweetened with sugar to disguise the taste. It wasn’t necessarily the coffee that I enjoyed but the social experience and the opportunity to sit down and spend time with my grandfather.

My first introduction to speciality coffee was at university in Budapest. My campus was next door to Tamp & Pull, one of the city’s first speciality shops, where I ended up spending a lot of time. The baristas were chatty, informative and we quickly became friends. When I graduated, I decided to give the barista life a go for a bit – and got hooked.

Due to rising rents I decided to leave Budapest in the summer of 2017 and set off for Scotland. A couple of friends who’d roasted at Steampunk in North Berwick told me about a speciality coffee shop in Aberfeldy, which wasn’t so far away from where I was living in Pitlochry. I got in touch with owner Mike Haggerton and started working at Habitat at the start of 2018.

Competing in the World AeroPress Championship was amazing but my most memorable experience was a visit to Ona Coffee when I was in Sydney. I’d always wanted to go and it didn’t disappoint. I tried a fantastic Colombian geisha and the Ethiopian beans which they had roasted for WBC 2018 winner Agnieszka Rojewska. It wasn’t just the taste of the coffee which made it an incredible experience but the care and passion that the baristas put into their craft – they were effortlessly professional and easygoing at the same time.

My all-time favourite is a Kieni Kenyan coffee from The Coffee Collective. I’ve got a subscription with the Copenhagen roasters so drink a lot of their beans. At Habitat we often use Has Bean and I really love their El Salvador Finca Las Brumas Wild Forest Project coffee, served as filter.

I get frustrated when customers order soya milk. There are so many good alternatives which don’t separate when combined with coffee and can actually stand up to latte art. If someone orders soya, I usually suggest oat milk instead.

My brunch order used to be avocado, but since I moved to Scotland I’ve become a big fan of the fry up. I’m talking eggs, haggis, black pudding – the full works. If I’m cooking brunch at home in the wee hamlet of Dull, I’ll make something like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or get creative – my boyfriend and I started the Dull Breakfast Club (@DullBreakfastClub) on Instagram.

Living in the Highlands makes it harder to predict where the speciality coffee scene will go next. It’s clear that the interest in speciality is continuing to grow in the cities but there are still stumbling blocks when you’re in a rural location. Habitat has proved that a speciality set-up can work outside of Edinburgh or Glasgow, but there are issues when it comes to staffing and seasonality.

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