Interview: Robbie Georgiou of Espresso Mushroom Co

Fresh out of university and finding the graduate job market underwhelming, Robbie Georgiou took a punt and launched the Espresso Mushroom Company last January. He thought, quite rightly so it turns out, that Brighton-based foodies would enjoy eating oyster mushrooms grown locally on coffee grounds recycled from their neighbourhood cafe. Joined by his brother Alex and two others, Robbie’s business is now mushrooming with the help of Small Batch Coffee who donate an ever-increasing amount of their leftover coffee grounds. The Espresso Mushroom Company have recently won the support of Sussex Innovation Centre. They have a unit in Hassocks where they grow mushrooms to supply to good local greengrocers like Fiveways Fruits and restaurants such as L’Eglise and Moshimo. Espresso Mushroom Co also retail a line of grow-your-own kits, and have grand plans to grow and distribute sustainable fungi across the UK. Over coffee, Robbie talks to me enthusiastically about his business.

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I was writing about sustainable agricultural practises at university when I came across this livelihood scheme in coffee-producing regions of the world. Because farmers only sell the bean from the coffee bush, they take the rest of the bush and process it to create mushroom compost, which is basically what we’re doing. That’s been going on since the eighties, but most people don’t know about it. I had the idea that maybe you could use coffee grounds, so I did a bit of research and found that you can. At the time I started, there was one company in America that had been going about six months and one company in Germany that had just started so I just figured, this is a really new thing.

As a company we don’t talk about this much because we’re not scientists, but when coffee grounds decompose they release a huge amount of methane, a really potent greenhouse gas. As I understand it, when you grow mushrooms on coffee the fungi converts methane into carbohydrates that it uses as an energy source. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this, because I figured if it could become standard that used coffee gets processed in this way then it’s a small thing, but small things add up.

If you were to buy this type of mushroom in the supermarket they come from Holland mainly, or Poland. They’ve already had four days to travel before they hit supermarket shelves so they’re rubbish. They also pump them full of water. Espresso mushrooms are drier and have a more intense flavour.

I struggle to compare the taste with regular oyster mushrooms because there isn’t really a decent mushroom I can get hold of. The only ones that I know have been grown really well are the ones that we grow. You can grow shitake, and probably others. Frankly, oysters are the easiest. Shitakes are good but they take about three times as long to grow. We are actually looking into new species, but that’s a secret!

To start with we went to Small Batch Coffee by chance, we said this is what we want to do, and they said, ‘that’s so cool!’ I used to walk to the Small Batch cart outside Brighton Station every day, grab a big old box of coffee grounds and walk home with it. Now we collect from all of their cafes most days of the week, and I’ve got a van to do it in. They separate their coffee from their general waste for us and they’ve changed their practise because of our influence. Small Batch Coffee are really decent, really helpful, great in fact. They give us lots of coffee!

The hardest thing about starting a business from scratch is, just, it takes a lot. This time last year I was working all the time, spending more money than I’d ever spent before on something that I didn’t actually know would work. That was just ridiculously stressful, because you’re doing all this work and you’re not even sure if it’s worth doing. It’s a leap of faith.

If I’m cooking oyster mushrooms for myself I’ll just fry them up. I’ll heat up some oil in a pan until it’s smoking hot, add a bit of butter, kind of burn the butter and then throw in the mushrooms with some garlic for about two minutes, a bit of salt and pepper and done. That’s how I like them. Someone else I know dry fries them with nothing, adds some salt and pepper and then squeezes half a lemon into it. That’s delicious too.

Mushrooms are actually a better source of protein than beef. We’re far more able to digest and absorb the protein from mushrooms than we are from red meat. So, in that respect red meats are just a monumental waste of everything because so much goes into producing it, and we take so little out. It’s pretty crazy really.

I used to be a chef by trade. I’ve always been interested in cooking and I’m really interested in different stuff, for example, there are over 100 varieties of apple but you can only get four or five varieties in the supermarket. When I come across something I’ve never seen before I’m like ‘wow!’ Things that you don’t find often: that’s what I enjoy cooking with.

I have one Espresso Mushroom Co Kitchen Garden worth £16.50 to give to a reader who leaves a comment below. Winner will be picked at random on May 6th 2013, free postage to UK only. Get talking!

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Gannet & Parrot has been shortlisted for the BritMums BiB Fresh Voice Award 2013. Please, if you enjoy reading this blog, take a minute to vote for Gannet & Parrot to go through to the finals. You will make this hungry, chatty bird very happy indeed.

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

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7 comments on “Interview: Robbie Georgiou of Espresso Mushroom Co

  1. May 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Love oyster mushrooms- I would never have even thought to grow them myself – what a great idea!

  2. May 4, 2013 at 7:14 am

    I knew puffballs were called ‘poor man’s beefsteak’ but didn’t know how well the poor man was doing in terms of protein. Really interesting project – I wish it every success (and Gannet and Parrot every success too in the BritMum Blog Awards!)

    • May 7, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      Congratulations Marylin, you have won the Kitchen Garden! I hope you enjoy growing your oyster mushrooms.

  3. May 5, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    really enjoyed reading that post, very enterprising, so pleased it is all working out so well for them. Always wanted to grow my own mushrooms, other half is a veggie and eats them every day, must tell him about the protein!

  4. May 9, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I’ve just discovered that the boy will eat mushrooms, which brings his list of approved vegetables (ones I don’t have to disguise) to a grand total of… four! Hooray! These might be a bit too good to share with him, though…

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:13 pm

      Wait until your son sees the new ones they’re bringing out, bet he’ll love them!

  5. January 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Fantastic to see young entrepenuers going out and making it happen congratulations .Love the concept and hope it goes from strength to strength.
    I and a colleague are contemplating getting involved in the mushroom business and found the enthusiasm your company portrays is a definate kick starter.
    Well done

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