Q&A: Phil Carter, Anonymous Coffee

Phil Carter has lived in and around Reading all his life and worked in the hospitality industry for the best part of thirty years. After a twelve year stint at hospitality giant Baxter Storey, he left to pursue his dream of a job in the coffee industry in 2013. He spent four years at Tamp Culture before setting up Anonymous Coffee in 2018 and is now one of the most recognisable faces (and beards!) of Reading’s coffee scene.

During lockdown Anonymous has delivered coffee and coffee-making equipment on a weekly basis – it reopens for takeaway on Chain Street from today.

What are you missing most while we’re all in lockdown?
People! I miss seeing our customers. I love entertaining – my mum always used to have friends round and entertained a lot, which must be where I get it from. While I love drinking coffee, I really enjoy making it and sharing it with other people more. It’s the whole ceremony and experience.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
When I was really young our neighbour used to bake tiny little individual Hovis loaves and we used to sit on their doorstep eating them fresh out of the oven with little jars of strawberry jam. That and baking cakes with my mum (mainly so I could clean out the mixing bowl!)

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
It’s pretty hard to describe, but blasting lime deposits out of the chimney silo in a municipal waste incinerator filtration system. It was hot, sweaty work in a dark, confined, awkward space and it stank to high hell. Luckily I only had to do it once (and we did get to blow stuff up at the end of it!).

When did your love affair with coffee begin, and what triggered it?
In 2002 I had my first real barista training, and first decent coffee. I was working for BaxterStorey at the Oracle campus on Thames Valley Park. We changed coffee suppliers, and the new suppliers gave us proper barista training. The coffee tasted amazing. Shortly after that I tried a Kenyan coffee at Monmouth Coffee in London. It tasted like Ribena, blew my mind and showed just how varied the taste of coffee could be: from that moment on I was hooked.

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
There are so many things I love about this town. First and foremost the people – there’s such an eclectic mix of characters and backgrounds. We also have a strong community of independent businesses who support each other and work together which is really cool: from breweries and restaurants to arts and culture, there’s a lot going on in town.

I love the irony of one of Reading’s most high profile cafés being called Anonymous: where did the name come from?
There are several reasons, but first and foremost exactly that, the irony. When I was younger my best friend’s dad had a boat called Anonymous; I just thought it was a really fun play on words. I also want the focus to be on great quality coffee and hospitality, not the ‘brand’ so I wanted the brand to be anonymous. It’s also a nod to all of the people before us in the supply chain such as the farmers, producers, roasters etc. who remain anonymous to most of the people who drink their coffee. It just works for a lot of reasons. Everybody asks ‘why Anonymous?’ so I guess in hindsight it’s been quite a good choice.

What one film can you watch over and over again?
The World’s Fastest Indian. It’s set in the early 60s – Anthony Hopkins plays Burt Munro, a New Zealander who puts everything on the line to take his home-built motor cycle to Bonville to set a world speed record. It’s an intriguing and endearing film. A bit of a contrast, but I also really love Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley, among others.

If you had to give up coffee or alcohol, which would it be?
Alcohol.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
That’s a tough one! I think the best meal was at XO in Sydney when I was visiting my sister. There was a several month waiting list, but we somehow managed to blag a table. The food was sublime and we ate to a backdrop of the harbour bridge. The food wasn’t quite as good but the most amazing dining experience I’ve had was in New York: I was lucky enough to eat at Windows On The World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Centre. That was definitely the most memorable dining experience I’ve had.

You must have one of Reading’s most famous beards. Do you ever suffer from beard envy?
I’m not entirely sure that’s true. And yes I do, but I won’t say of whom!

Where will you go for your first meal after lockdown?
Hopefully a BBQ with the rest of my family.

What’s your most treasured possession?
A letter that my mum wrote to me and my sister before we said goodbye. I have part of it tattooed on me.

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)? 
You’ll probably lament me here, but I’m a sucker for prawn cocktail – and I was born in Henley – so Tyrrell’s Posh Prawn Cocktail.

Where is your happy place?
As much as I love being around people and coffee machines, nothing is quite as relaxing as flying my kite and lounging around in the sun on a nice quiet beach (which is becoming increasingly difficult to do). I love the sea.

Do you secretly judge people who have sugar in their coffee?
Not at all, but I’ll always encourage them to try it without. Everybody is different and we all taste things differently, that’s human nature. That said, a lot of people only put sugar in their coffee because it needs it – that can be the case with lower quality and more robusta based drinks. We use coffee that has more natural sweetness and balance, so doesn’t necessarily need added sugar. That said, I’m very happy when we can help someone kick the habit.

What’s your most unappealing habit?
Probably talking over people. I don’t mean to, and I try not to, but I’m aware I do it sometimes and hate it when I do: I’m getting better at not doing it, though.

Who would play you in the film of your life? 
I don’t know who would be best suited to the role, but I know who I would like to. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it would have to be De Niro.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food? 
Dirty, slow-cooked, sticky, smoky barbecued meat. I also have a really sweet tooth – I can polish off an entire Victoria sandwich (no cream in the middle!). It’s not a good combination for my waistline.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Something my mum told me – ‘life is for living, we are here for a good time, we are not here for a long time’. Don’t put things off: if you want to do something just do it. It’s better to regret trying and failing than not trying at all.

Describe yourself in three words.
Outgoing, ambitious, considerate. Coffee!

3 thoughts on “Q&A: Phil Carter, Anonymous Coffee

  1. Marce Colicc

    Phil is a great host and makes some amazing coffees. I’m continually impressed with him and his shop every time I visit.

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