I'm a barista in Portland, Oregon. I've been in the industry for four or five years now and am curious to hear how some of you began furthering your knowledge and skill as baristas or industry professionals. I love coffee and want to learn as much as I can! I know my city has a wealth of resources, but I don't currently have the cash to throw down for an ABC class or something similar. I try to read up on things, and frequent good shops and talk to people. It just seems like slow going at times. I am curious how many of you developed from standard barista-folk to more educated, serious coffee industry professionals.
Thoughts, anecdotes, advice?
This is an interesting question, and one that I've found to be really thought provoking.
As I think about some former baristas that I'd consider "educated, serious coffee industry professionals", the pathway that each has followed is different. There are a couple of common elements that I see in those that have found their own path though:
They are present (and probably working hard) at the marquee regional and national events. The BGA, SCAA, and other large organizations depend on volunteers being willing to show up and work their butts off. Depending on the skillset of the volunteer and the availability of qualified help, these opportunities can vary. In any case, these represent opportunities to network and get to know other people in the industry. Those that can be counted on to do a good job will be noticed and remembered at future events, and will get to do progressively cooler things. Besides - interacting with people from other areas of the country and world gives you a perspective that you just can't get at home. Plus, it's incredibly fun.
They are involved with community-wide things happening in their own cities. They work beyond shop their, roaster, and neighborhood circles, and know/are known by most of the coffee people in their area. They organize and go to open cuppings, throwdowns, and events. They think about coffee in ways that are larger than their own circles, and work to make their communities better.
When given the chance to meet and interact with people at local, regional, and national events, they do. Some people stick with their own safe friends and groups when they venture out. It's really hard to network when you do this. Talk with people, go to the party, the after party, wherever there are groups of coffee people. If you can remember people's names, that's even better.
They have good fundamental knowledge and skills, in many cases very good. Even more importantly though, they have a love for and fascination with coffee and the coffee industry. Passion and enthusiasm are worth quite a lot. This passion may lead one to take a weekend off from your bar even when they can't really afford to, crashing on a friendly-sounding person's couch in a city that's 8 hours from home, just because that's where the big coffee thing is going on.
There are plenty of opportunities to do things in coffee for those that take the time to show up. That's step 1 - show up.
Hope that helps!
What's up Joseph. I'm also in Portland and have been in the industry for about eight year. I have struggled with this (a lot) at some points, and for a couple years felt like I had hit a wall. It seemed at first that the next step I could take would be to compete as a barista, though that's not what I want to advance in at this point. Don't get me wrong, I love the barista comps, watch them closely, and would actually like to compete one day. But what I want to do is source.
If we look at Bx as an example, the community globally with access to resources we're used to (internet, Stradas, PIDs, commercial roasters, even purified water, etc.) the community is quite small. Bx has nearly 15,000 members of some seven billion people on the planet. While this is true, and it can sometimes feel like you have to crowbar your way into things, be patient and make connections. Like Brady said, the most important thing is showing up. In my opinion, this is coupled with my life philosophy of not being a jerk, which is really knowing how to filter yourself for any given situation. Communication, patience, and commitment are key. If you're wondering, no, I am not where I want to be yet either, not even close, so perhaps I'm not ideal for giving advice. I wanted to contribute here partially because I found myself struggling for a long time. That being said, I have moved closer to my career goal in the Specialty Coffee industry and it happened sort of by luck. Even when some of my favorite roasters and cafes in town were hiring, whom I know entire staffs in some cases personally, I wasn't able to land the job for whatever reason, though now I'm working in a position that plays directly into the sourcing goals that I have and I didn't even see it coming. I don't know, I guess I'm kind of rambling at this point, but all in all, Portland can be a tough nut to crack, and it can perhaps even put out a skewed view of the Specialty Coffee industry, but I think that if you keep showing up, keep learning, and keep expanding your contacts it is bound to work out. The community is small but it's loving. Also, as Brady mentioned... Open cuppings. I frequent a few here in town, and they are often poorly attended. Check roasters and cafes schedules and check some out if you're free. Also, I'm wanting lately to set up some roaster vs. roaster casual and sometimes blind cuppings here in town. If you're interested, find me on some social media thing (I'm on most of them), and let me know. See you around town, and good luck.
Thanks for the replies, guys.
Brady, excellent points on the powers of networking and being a decent human being. Haha. Passion and patience can go a long way. I think I've got enough of both, so I'll keep working toward learning, and humility. I love talking, and listening, so I suppose it's a matter of "showing up", as you put it, and being humble enough to actually learn things. I'm stoked to make some connections!
Alex- good points also on the relative niche we occupy in regards to resources. Also good to be reminded there is far more opportunity to do something awesome in coffee physically removed from the cafe scene. Sourcing would be a pretty cool field to get into. I try to get to the cuppings at the Annex whenever possible (which has been rare, unfortunately, since they moved). Are there any others you'd recommend? Of course, I can do some quick typing and check out schedules, just wondered if there were any you find particularly awesome.
Funny you should mention it, I've been talking with our owner about trying to set up some sort of jam/cupping. I'm shooting for something casual as well, just a chat and some coffee, opportunities for networking and learning. I'll hit you up on the Internets somehow.
Once again, I really appreciate your feedback. It's greatly encouraging to hear a little from peeps further down the coffee road than myself. I'll be showing up at it all. Maybe I'll see y'all around.
To take a slightly different approach to answering your question, I will ask yet another question. Where do you want to end up? You can be a serious coffee industry professional in many different positions. Do you want to continue being a barista and hone your skills there? Do you want to own your own shop? Be a roaster? Own a roastery? Source greens? Barista educator? There is some fantastic advice above, and hopefully if you can focus where you want to be you can put that advice to even better use. Best of luck!
I guess that's sort of part of what I'd like to figure out. I've really only seen the barista/shop-owner/roaster side of things on a regular basis, but I'd love to explore other options. In the meantime, though, I'm hoping to progress as a barista first and foremost. Thanks for your reply, you are wise in recommending a focused approach. For me, the focus is broad at the moment, but will hopefully narrow down with time and experience :)
I don't sign on to BX as often as I should. I know some crazy passionate barista's, cafe owners and other coffee professionals in the PDX metro area and at least one that has a policy of making a position for the exceptionally passionate coffee person. If you are still looking for connections shoot me an email. email@example.com