I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been slacking on my ‘Nomads. I’ve been out there meeting them, collecting their stories, and hording them like Pokemon. But it’s time to stop being selfish and share them with you guys again regularly! I can’t think of a better person to “relaunch” this series with than one of the inspirations behind it.
If this ‘Nomad had an Instagram (besides his coffee company’s) it would be pretty FOMO inducing. Since meeting Gabriel Shohet at a bar in Paris in 2009, I’ve vicariously lived through him and fan-girled out as he trekked the globe, pinning his locations to me on the way. Really, its so much fun to text him the simple question, “where are you?” From ski competitions in Afghanistan, mountain climbing through Russian borders to Rivas in the South of France, Gabe lives life on the ultimate #GOALS level. Since founding Black Sheep Coffee in 2013 with friends from university, some of his expeditions have a new purpose: the search for the perfect bean. Their mission? “To rid the world of boring, average-tasting coffee and [are] committed to rethink[ing] long-established traditions and always challenging the status quo by only sourcing unorthodox coffees that have a story to be told.” Coffee is one of those interesting things that drinkers often have such die-hard opinions on — with regards to taste — but not as many know the process, the beans, why they like what they like. These guys have set out to educate the masses.
Coming from Brooklyn, I definitely take coffee shop culture for granted. It’s been so dope watching them pave this way in what is commonly thought of as the land of tea.
It’s been a long time coming — really, he answered my questions ages ago and has probably lapped around the world twice over since — and I am so excited to share this ’Nomad with you.
‘N: Where did you grow up?
Gabe: Geneva, Switzerland / Sonora, Mexico
‘N: Where do you live now?
Gabe: London, UK
‘N: When I first met you, you asked me if I was American. I commented to a friend that I thought you were as well because of “kind of messed up mishmash of accents is so American” After knowing you for a little bit, I wasn’t spot on but I was close. Tell my readers about how that uniquely Gabe “twang” came to be.
Gabe: Yea, I started learning English as a teenager and I was dating a girl from Arkansas at the time. I guess the accent kind of rubbed off.
‘N: What are your favorite three places you’ve ever visited?
Gabe: I can’t really say. It wouldn’t be nice to all the other places. But I visited quite a few shit holes as well.
‘N: In the recent years you co-founded a coffee company, Black Sheep Coffee in the UK. What’s the coffee market like in a land known for high tea? Is there an artisanal coffee culture in London similar to that of NYC or Seattle?
Gabe: First off I didn’t start Black Sheep on my own, but with 3 very dear friends of mine. And yea, it’s been 3 years now. The specialty coffee scene in the UK is still lagging a bit behind Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Japan and parts of the US but is growing much faster than in mainland Europe. People are starting to ask “Where does the coffee come from?” ” How is it roasted?” and the average consumer is becoming a lot less forgiving with large chains that compromise on the quality of the beans. Every bean has a story and it’s important to travel to the plantations and meet the farmers in order to know what you’re buying and eventually serving your customers.
‘N: What is unique about the coffee at Black Sheep?
Gabe: Black Sheep is about doing things different and always challenging the status quo. Our saying “Leave The Herd Behind” means don’t follow trends blindly but instead always question why everyone does something a certain way and try to break the rules and break with tradition. We were the only coffee company in the world to serve a Specialty Grade 100% Robusta. This was at a time when everyone thought that Arabica was the only good coffee out there. We like to go completely against market trends, carefully listen to people’s advice and then do the exact opposite.
‘N: It’s been great seeing your passion for travel incorporated into your work. What has been your favorite business trip in recent years?
Gabe: Colombia and Ecuador are high up on the list – coffee hunting, surfing, and horse riding. Can’t go wrong with that.
‘N: 5 travel must-haves when trekking in the mountains of Colombia in search of the perfect bean?
Gabe: I always look for a reliable horse that I can connect with before embarking on a coffee journey. I also like to bring a machete with me. I don’t really need the machete to be honest. A small knife would probably do just fine but let’s face it machetes are great and you can’t really carry them around in London.
I would say:
An open mind
The right horse
The right hat
A bit of luck
(In that order)
‘N: Congrats on the Fitzrovia store opening!* I’m very excited to see my name engraved 😉 Can you tell me about Black Sheep’s unconventional latest initiative there embracing otherwise marginalized patrons?
The Free Coffee Board initiative allows us to help our local community in a way where we can fully involve ourselves and our staff. We don’t like the idea of paying for a stamp on our coffee bags and leave it at that or to donate to a large foundation that will do the work for us. We recognise that homeless people’s most pressing struggle is fighting the cold and not being able to afford food and shelter. That’s why we provide free coffees for them and a warm place to drink it in. However, we also recognise that the homeless suffer greatly from indifference and social exclusion. Sometimes, even in central London a homeless person can go several days without any human interaction, dialogue, or even eye contact. We like to bring them into our cafés and encourage them to order something and chat with our baristas who soon get to know them by their first names. It goes a really long way and sometimes that kind of small talk and just being able to sit down in a coffee shop like everybody else and being greeted by your first name is even more important than the coffee itself.
*As I said, I’m terribly late in putting this up. And while updated since asking this question, Black Sheep has opened 3 other outposts, bringing it to a total of 4; I was at the Goodge street location in June. I’m not thaaat late, that’s just pretty remarkable in terms of growth. And wanted to make you guys aware of this awesome initiative that Black Sheep is still doing.
Follow Gabe and Black Sheep in their search for the perfect bean via Facebook and Instagram — their latest trip to Ethiopia is pretty amazing! And in the meantime, here are some of my favorites throughout the years of Gabe’s adventures.
Have a suggestion for Gabe’s next adventure? Share in the comments below!