How I Got Here: Lynsey Harley

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with Lynsey Harley founder and CEO of speciality coffee roaster Modern Standard Coffee

Related tags: Coffee

The founder and CEO of speciality coffee roaster Modern Standard Coffee on building her career, holidays in Japan, and the importance of being visible to customers.

Why coffee?
Whilst I was studying at university, I had a part time job as a barista, and once I finished uni, I moved to London and I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I got a job in Fernandez & Wells in Soho, it was Timeout London’s Best Coffee Bar, and it was a great place to work. We had the first Synesso Cyncra in the UK, we were serving 28g triple ristrettos and the team were really focused on quality. The customers were all really interesting, and I decided then that I wanted to make a career out of drinking coffee and talking to interesting people.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
Everyone has different experiences, and I think if I were to give advice to others, it wouldn’t be of much use because I’m not living their experience. But all I would say to myself 10 years ago, is not to be so hard on yourself. Entrepreneurs are great at saying what's wrong, but never saying to themselves ‘well done, great job’, so I would say be kinder to yourself and remember that mistakes are just learning experiences.

What’s your favourite coffee roaster or cafe (besides your own)?
My favourite cafe is Browns of Brockley in South London, Ross the owner is a good friend, his cafe has such a nice vibe; friendly staff and focused on small details that people don’t often notice, that combined make it pretty flawless. And my favourite coffee roaster is Monmouth Coffee in London for a few reasons; it was the first speciality coffee that I worked with, AJ Kinnell who is their head of coffee was very welcoming to me in my early years in coffee and they’re also a female founded coffee roastery, which is a pretty rare thing.

What motivates you?
My family, 100%.

What keeps you up at night?
At the moment it’ll be my four month old baby girl Rosalind, but in business, just wanting to keep my team happy and positive. Having a happy team is evident to customers, and our focus is delivering great coffee and even greater customer service, so I’m often thinking of ways to make things easier and more fun.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the coffee business?
I was lucky early on in my career that I got involved in the specialty coffee scene globally, so there were a few people who helped to shape my direction. Tracy Allen (former Specialty Coffee Association president) who I worked with doing my Q Instructor training way back in 2011 was fundamentally the person to whom I look up to, and also, learned so much from, and his approach to quality first and doing good, has ultimately shaped who I am now in coffee and how I run my coffee business.

What time do you wake up?
Normally around 5:30am as my children wake up then.

Coffee or tea?

How often do you check your email?
Probably all the time, I’m a workaholic but that’s what running a business means, you need to be contactable.

How do you let off steam?
Cycling my Brompton around. I have one in London and one in Scotland, I think I might be the only person in Glenrothes with a folding bike, but I love it and cycling between meetings and commuting on the bike, allows me some time to switch off.

Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
Both, depending on the occasion, but there’s nothing better than a spontaneous night out.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
I love making fresh pasta, so probably that. 

Typical Sunday?
Make the kids pancakes, do a little run, spend time with my better half Hannah. We’re spending the summer in Devon, so it often involves walks in the woods, or beaches around Dartmouth, and maybe a cheeky Sunday roast. When in London, we’d swap the beaches and woods for a museum, looking forward to getting to enjoy all the things London has to offer once restrictions are lifted.

Favourite holiday destination?
Japan, my other half Hannah grew up there and speaks Japanese fluently, so that helps. We’ve been there once on holiday and it was just amazing, I loved it so much and desperately want to go back.

What are you currently reading?
I don’t read books, I’m more into podcasts and Radio 4.

What was your dream job growing up?
A dentist. I spent two years studying to be one at Newcastle University and then decided it was a little boring and switched courses. I only chose that option as my guidance teacher Mr Kirkhope told me his daughter was one and she drove a Porsche. I was sold.

Best business decision?
Relocating the roastery to Scotland in December 2019. We had completely outgrown our original roastery in Essex, and we were needing much more space, and all the warehouses between London and Essex were snapped up with all the companies stockpiling for Brexit and most deals were happening offline, so it was challenging to find what we needed. My mum suggested the idea of moving back to Scotland, and to my hometown of Glenrothes, and it has been absolutely fantastic for the business. All the roastery staff moved and they love it here, I get to see my family more and we’re winning many new customers in the area.

Worst business decision?
Probably not trusting my gut instincts on two occasions, lessons learnt and I’ve happily moved on not too scathed.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Stay close to your customers even as your business grows, don’t hide away in your office, stay on the floor and stay visible, your customers are everything.


Born in Kirkcaldy in 1985, Harley first studied dentistry for two years at Newcastle University, before switching back to study at the University of Edinburgh. Upon graduation in 2008, she moved to London and started working at Fernandez and Wells as a senior barista. Within 18 months, she was working with United Coffee (now known as UCC Coffee) as their coffee development manager, it was during her time there that she qualified as a Q Grader and Q Instructor, chaired the UK Speciality Coffee Association and also won the UK Cup Tasting Championships representing the UK at the World Cup Tasting Championships in Maastricht in 2012. Prior to founding Modern Standard Coffee, Lynsey worked for Falcon Coffees as a coffee specialitist, working with roaster clients in Russia, Germany, the UK and the west coast of the US. Harley has judged in barista competitions in Europe and the USA, and has been a qualified World Barista Championship and World Brewers Cup Championship judge since 2014 and she has served on the international jury for the Cup of Excellence coffee auction.

Related topics: People, Profiles

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