For me, it was 1986, working at an espresso cart using SBC (aka Seattle’s Best Coffee). Everyone in the coffee business seemed to be “proudly serving SBC” coffee. Yes, the red umbrellas were there too. Jim Stewart was the then-Founder, and from my view he was chasing this other coffee company … Star …. something. The coffee was amazing to me, and pulling shots from a two group “manual” espresso machine was nothing short of pure coffee nectar.
Today, while I miss the manual machine, both coffee and machines have become very fine tuned to balance the requirements of the coffee itself with the needs of the individual customer. I remember my first pour over (we called it Melitta then, and now it has evolved to just plain “pour over”), and I can assure you nothing is plain about it at all. Whether brewed by this or various other methods, coffee has improved in so many ways.
If you were to ask me in 1986 how many coffee-growing regions there were in Guatemala, I would have never been able to answer you. Today, though, I know of 8 regions and those 8 all have a different taste. Change altitudes within those 8 regions, you have a different taste; change in the soils…well, you get the picture. Today, our green coffees arrive in grain pro-bags to ensure moisture stability and quality, and it seemed like just yesterday that all the coffees were happy to be in burlap. Now they arrive in both.
Ahh, the travels of a coffee bean, which continue to amaze and impress. I’m so happy for today’s transparency of that journey, and I’m even happier that you have allowed me to share just a simple taste. For now.
Haha, to put it mildly, yes. Anyone who has done this job knows just how much work goes into this. It involves much more than simply teaching someone how to make coffee.
About a month ago, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever “Educators Summit” held in Seattle. Ben Jones put this summit together and it was quite enlightening. One of the key elements that kept popping up throughout the weekend was: “What is the role of the Barista Trainer?” It seemed all of us at the summit had very similar stories as to what we do in the day to day. Training, it turns out, is the easy part. So let’s start there.
Training: Who are you training? How do you train someone? What are you training?
Most of my day is spent training our wholesale partners, our internal barista staff, and working with the public to educate them about our coffees and how to properly brew for the best possible result.
If it was as simple as looking at a book and memorizing the steps, that would be one thing, but as barista trainers, we are teaching something that is organic, always changing. We are training people to think on their feet. Literally. Specialty Coffee is an ever-evolving industry. One day, we think we know something to be fact; we train that way, everyone jumps on board and we’re off! Then tomorrow comes, and we learn that what we are training is no longer fact; it has been disproven.
Really, when you look at specialty coffee, we aren’t training facts, we’re training theories.
Every day we learn something new. The power of technology has changed so many things in our industry. Have you ever wondered why it’s possible to get great coffee in more and more places every year? It’s primarily due to the ability to share information, in real time. It’s not because there are more smart people out there (although we’d like to think so…). It’s because we can share ideas, thoughts, and theories. It’s because we can debate in real time, across the globe.
So what happens when we train a certain way, and learn that something we were training for so long is incorrect? We change our ways. We admit that there is new information, and we modify our approach. We adjust our curriculum accordingly. It’s awesome. It keeps us on our toes, and it makes us better baristas.
New Equipment: Always changing, for better or worse.
Do we stay with the older, dependable equipment because that is what we know? It does a fine job, so why not? The simple answer to this is yes and no. Again, technology infiltrates our every day experience, and attempts to make it better. This is when we as trainers need to research new brewing methods and practices. I have to say that this is one of my favorite aspects of this job. I get to play around with new equipment all the time. Some of it is better, some of it makes no discernible difference, and some of it is all hype. It’s our job as trainers to wade through these countless new inventions and figure out what works for us, for our coffee, and for our customers.
Equipment Issues: Who is responsible?
Ideally, all of our equipment is top notch. But just like anything, it needs tuning, and occasionally it will fail. The easiest thing to do is call a service tech. There are countless companies out there who work on equipment. However, most of the time a cafe cannot afford to be down a crucial piece of equipment for more than a few hours. That is often where a barista trainer comes in handy. We can be there in a moments notice, and most of us have a background in equipment service. This is also one of the most contested roles trainers have. Personally, I love equipment. I have no issue working on equipment to get a cafe back up and running. I accept this as a necessity, and in my opinion, makes for a more smoothly running operation.
Our roles as barista trainers are always changing, and always exciting. I hope that this brief explanation of what a “barista trainer” does has helped to explain our role in the industry, and has given you an insiders view of what our everyday looks like! I encourage you as a consumer of specialty coffee to ask questions, (lots and lots of questions!) be informed, and enjoy exploring the wonderful world of coffee and everything it entails. It makes everything we do more fun!
I want to share with you a little about a really exciting experience we had recently here at Victrola. One of our primary tasks here in the roastery is to source coffees. Typically, after choosing a coffee, we rely on the farmer or an importer to actually import the coffee. Recently, however, we imported a coffee ourselves for the very first time, the Burundi Lot 19 Maridadi.
This coffee was grown in the Kayanza Province by over 300 families farming small parcels of land surrounding the Mpanga washing station. Jean Clément Birabereye runs SEGEC, and started operations at the washing station in Mpanga in 2008.
Victrola became aware of this beautiful coffee thanks to Jean Clément’s cousin; Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, who brought us some samples. We cupped multiple lots and decided on Lot 19. The easy part was determining that we had to have a coffee from Mpanga on our menu; the challenge was how to get the coffee from Burundi to Seattle.
Working out the logistics of importing coffee was a completely new experience for us. We first had to determine whether to transport the coffee to the Port of Mombasa in Kenya or the Port of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania and next, how would we get the coffee on the water to begin its nearly two month journey to Seattle by ship. Working closely with SEGEC and Jeanine, we began to formulate a plan. In the course of determining the best route for transporting the coffee, we all decided that the most important consideration was getting the coffee here to Seattle as quickly as possible. This was a more expensive option, but we all agreed that it was worth the extra cost to both Victrola and SEGEC to bring in the coffee as quickly as possible. This was a challenging and rewarding process for us to go through. It was such a wonderful experience to work in direct partnership with the producer of the coffee to determine pricing and terms of selling and transporting the coffee. We also could not have made this happen without the creativity and tireless efforts of Jeanine, who acted as the bridge between SEGEC and Victrola. For us, this coffee represents the type of collaboration and transparency we strive for in sourcing coffee and we are so pleased to be able to share this wonderful coffee from Burundi with you all.
Seven years ago I walked into a cafe on 15th Avenue. I had been told by several friends, whom I regarded as reliable sources, that this was where the best coffee in Seattle was served. I had never tasted anything like it. I had been working in coffee for quite a while with much larger companies but this was different. There was so much care put into each individual drink and the baristas made authentic connections with their regular customers- I wanted to be a part of what this place was doing. I attended a cupping and the rest is history.
I think about my first Victrola experience and I am excited about the customer who will walk into one of our cafes for the first time today. Every day we have the opportunity to share something new, be creative and interact with our community over an amazing cup of coffee. I am very proud of the progress we have made, where we are going and the people who contribute to and share in our vision.
Developing people within our organization is a process that is both humbling and rewarding for me. I take great pride in being involved with the growth of individuals who are passionate and want to share that passion. Availing myself as a resource to my team and striving to make good use of everything I have learned in order to constantly improve what we do is what keeps me motivated and inspired.
– Jeremy McDermott – Director of Retail Operations
In specialty coffee there is a requirement to take care of the product you are serving to some degree. We focus our attentions on brew ratios, water temperature, ground size, and many other specific details in making sure the quality in the cup shines through. While coffee preparation is paramount in telling the quality story of all those who touched the product with intention, I believe there has been a long overlooked element in truly sharing the depth of care with the final consumer.
What I am talking about is customer service. In my career in the coffee industry I have noticed a somewhat interesting trend in some retail establishments. A trend where the more you know about your coffee the higher the wall between you and the novice coffee drinker. I know most times it is not the intention of the barista who is investing massive time to make sure drinks TASTE good, but how much time is invested in making sure it is received by the guest on the other side of the counter? What good is all this knowledge if we don’t form enough relationship with the recipient to share it with them?
Customer service for decades has been seen as the way YOU serve customers. Period. It is the show you put on in your cafe to entertain and engage customers with your dazzling product and personality. Those things are not bad, but I believe there is more opportunity for servers who can shift the spotlight from themselves to those who walk through the door and pay to be there.
The shift has to happen in the way we engage people at a heart level. We need to commit not only to bring something good to people, but to draw good out of people! Everyone loves to spend time with that friend that draws out the best in them, wouldn’t your customers feel the same way?
At the core you may not change anything you do on a daily basis but this minor shift of perspective could make for massive impact to your relationships, customer loyalty, and as a natural byproduct your profitability. This of course requires more effort than just hiding behind an espresso machine and making good drinks. That being said, your customers and community are worth it. Your coffee is worth it. Your industry is worth it.
Coffee is love, love is life, and life is good!
Director of Sales and Marketing, Victrola Coffee Roasters
In 2008, Jean Clement Birabereye, took his 15 years experience and started SEGEC, which built and currently operates the Mpanga washing station in north Burundi. The station receives and processes coffee from over 300 farms in the surrounding area. We are pleased and excited to offer this lot which was washed using double fermentation, a method commonly used in the processing of coffee from Kenya. It is sun dried on raised beds. The cup exhibits layers of stone fruit, brown sugar and coriander seed.
This is the first coffee Victrola has directly purchased and imported. We strive for transparency in our coffee sourcing and have developed strong relationships with the importers, co-ops and farmers from whom we buy coffee. Even in our most direct relationships, we traditionally rely on another party to actually import the coffee. With this special lot, we bought the coffee directly from SEGEC and worked together to import the coffee to the US. We couldn’t be happier to offer this Reserve Coffee directly from Burundi to you for the first time!
Facts Region: Kayanza Washing Station: Mpanga Elevation: 6496 ft Process: Washed Varietals: Bourbon Producer: SEGEC
Harvesting is a family affair
Sorting Coffee Cherries
Safely arrives in the Roastery
I can truly say that my last 13 years in Specialty Coffee have been life changing. I grew up in the small town of Wilkeson, Washington in the foothills of Mt. Rainier. By the time I was 20 I had only flown on an airplane once and had a very limited view of the world outside of the Northwest.
Fast-forward to today and I have traveled all around the world through coffee and coffee education. I have visited amazing places like Australia, Hong Kong and Costa Rica! Not only has coffee fueled the fire of refining my perspective of the world, but my perspective of myself. The more I have gotten to see outside the easier it has been to look inside and to understand my own heart.
YOUR heart is what I would like to talk about today. The greatest truth that has proven itself to me in business is that I work in a business of the heart. Specialty coffee is an industry of people, who happen to be passionate about one amazing product.
I would like to offer 12 keys that I have discovered to be invaluable tools in finding personal fulfillment and quality life in the coffee industry. Maybe you are just starting a business and would like to open a cafe. Maybe you have been in business for years and are looking to find your focus again. Whatever your circumstance, I hope these keys will motivate you to a more balanced and fruitful career in coffee.
1) Explore with Intention- The beginning of the process starts with not just opening your eyes and ears, but also you heart! Engage life experience with purpose and don’t take things at face value. Dig in!
2) Know Yourself- Take time to get quiet with your thoughts. Think about your past and what has made you who you are. Many times the best way to set your trajectory for the future is by looking back at where you have been.
3) Define your personal life mission- Don’t just know what you do that makes you feel alive, know why! There should be a thread of truth that connects the motivation of your day. This is who you are! Should be short and sweet. Focus!
4) Develop your business/professional mission- How you operate in business should be an extension of who you are. Nobody is going to be successful changing hats from personal to professional mode. You need to know the rhythm of your own heart and let that tempo direct your entire life, even your business!
5) Commit to core values- These will be daily routines and processes that will help you reach your personal and professional mission. Define them and stick to them! Set goals and quantify your success. If you can measure it, you can manage it!
6) Craft your brand- Your brand is a graphic representation of your business mission. Now that you know the heart, it is time to craft the face. Your business is a living, breathing organism. The face (logo) is the part that initially attracts someone to your business so it should speak about the heart (mission) behind it. Don’t skimp on this step. Hire a professional to help refine your mission perfectly into a recognizable and memorable image.
7) Orchestrate your space- If you are building a retail concept, let it be consistent with your brand and mission. For example, if you open a shop called “Anchor Coffee” and you want to play off the nautical theme and the mission of being anchored to community, don’t dress out your space with rocket ships and hire standoffish baristas. Let your entire atmosphere tie your brand and mission together. Use texture, color, everything! Consistent message will breed massive confidence.
8) Define daily rhythms- Now that you have crafted a space that tells a story train your people to take customers on a journey. Tight operations are key when you are building a creative concept. If you don’t have a foundation of excellence in cleaning, maintenance, product presentation, etc. you are sunk. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of the norm after that, if you want to greet your customers and stay with them through their entire visit. Do it!
9) Invite others into the mission- The only way you will ever get staff that will come to work loving what they do every day is to have your mission be their own. Just as you began this process listening to your heart you have to speak to their hearts so they will join you within a common mission. That is where synergy happens! Let your people run portions of your business like it is their own. The best thing you can do for people with passion is to give them a purpose to walk out.
10) Cultivate leadership- Lead by example and give others the opportunity to rise up as leaders. The best leaders are those who make space for others to rise up. This also comes through our new definition of customer service. No longer is customer service the “show” or goods you bring but the good you draw out of your customers. Shouldn’t your employees experience the same?
11) Invitation without obligation- Try to be a library of knowledge with an open door, just don’t force everyone to be quiet and listen while you download all you know on them. Give them some breadcrumbs welcoming them into the bigger story of your life, your product, whatever! Just give them the option to engage or not. You will be surprised with the results, I promise!
12) Involvement equals ownership- This journey never ends. You will continue to find and discover more amazing things about yourself and the world around you if you commit to looking for it everyday. If your business (heck, your life for that matter!) is committed to bringing those around you along for the journey, it is no longer a story you are trying to sell it is everyone’s story. There is no need to sell something if people already buy in. They own it and it is as much a part of them as it is of you.
The best part about all of these keys is I have seen countless times that the natural byproduct of living by these values is often times the very reason people get into business: Financial freedom, identity, purpose, quality of life, etc. All of this can be achieved by doing business from your heart not just your head.
Coffee is love, love is life, and life is good!