On the hottest September 15th in SoCal history, Barista Nation LA drew well over a hundred attendees from throughout the Southwest to the Beyond The Grind warehouse in the tech canyons of industrial Anaheim. Here’s some highlights from our afternoon at #BNLA!
Beyond The Label: Insights Into Fair Trade Innovation (Richard Sandlin, Fair Trade USA)
Richard Sandlin’s official position with Fair Trade USA is “Coffee Business Development”, but in many ways he’s a kind of liason between FTUSA and the specialty coffee industry, traveling and hanging out at a wide variety of industry events around the country. We know Mr. Sandlin pretty well at this point – he was part of our traveling crew in Rwanda last summer – so we were excited to see him speak in the afternoon at #BNLA.
Mr. Sandlin’s speech to the crowd was on Fair Trade USA’s mission, which he described as “Strengthening farming communities, engaging consumers.” He covered a wide variety of FTUSA Co-Op link programs, and how they’ve helped improve quality, increase productivity, make it easier for producers to access capital cost-effectively, and create stronger business patners – all stuff we saw in action during our trip to Rwanda, where FTUSA works with 10,000 total farmers at cooperatives like Abakundakawa, Dukunde Kawa, and COOPAC.
Richard Sandlin also talked about FTUSA’s recently launched “Small Grant”, working with farmers and producers in Indonesia, Peru, and Colombia. More than $225,000 has already been invested in Indonesia’s war-and-tsunami ravaged Aceh state to help create quality coffee, provide cupper training, advise in financial risk management and contract negotiation, and provide a kind of Fair Trade 101 to the producers there.
October is Fair Trade Month, so expect to hear lots more from us about the Fair Trade For All model this coming October.
Beyond Cafe and Allied Product (Sterling Houghton, Candle Light Bakery / Erik Scott, Beyond The Grind)
While Mr. Sandlin spoke on the main floor, Erik Scott and Sterling Houghton led an informal chat on how you can make the cafe experience considerably more delicious (and more profitable) by offering fantastic pastries. Mr. Houghton owns a bakery in Orange County called Candle Light – the baked goods they brought along to Barista Nation were a huge hit.
Beyond Espresso Round Table Discussion (Mike Phillips, Handsome Coffee Roasters / Heather Perry, Klatch Coffee)
With two USBC Champions on-stage, you can bet this was a well-attended panel. But beyond their competition histories, Heather Perry and Michael Phillips both help run highly respected cafes and roasting companies in southern California – Klatch Coffee and Handsome Coffee Roasters, respectively.
Lots of questions from the audience on this one, and here’s some highlight quotes from Michael and Heather:
Heather on Blends:
“One of the advantages of a blend is that you can create a consistent profile throughout the year. Finding coffees that partner with each other, that bring out the best in each other – it takes a lot of work and continued involvement. It’s like creating a symphony in your mouth, is the cheesy analogy I like to use. You need the flutes and the trumpets and the drums ( you can probably tell how many symphonies I have been to)…”
Mike Phillips on Single Origin Espresso:
“I come from a much younger roaster, in its infancy, and part of our identity is single origin espressos. I like the quote from Geoff Watts, of my former home, Intelligentsia – ‘single origin is coffee with a taste of place’ – coffee that has quality and traceability. When you’re only working with one bean, you only have one story to tell, and you can tell it more fully.
Michael Phillips on pressure profiling:
“Personally, I really don’t understand it. There’s a nuclear arms race going on right now with machines who try to outdo each other with pressure profiling, and I think our technology now outstrips our understanding. I mean, these machines are amazing…they can practically ‘do the worm‘ for us…I hope to someday be able to figure them out. We’re given all these tools to play with, but there isn’t a lot of information to back it up.”
Awesome lecture, but for those driven mad by the mid-day heat and humidity, the best recourse was to step aside and attend…
Beyond Filter Coffee (Brant Curtis, Wilbur Curtis Co.)
Away from the blazing heat of the packed main hall, Wilbur Curtis Co’s very own Brant Curtis led an air conditioned, informal one cup brewing lab, featuring Chemex, Clever, V60, and the Curtis Gold Cup batch brewer. Was there iced coffee? Yes, they made some single-cup iced coffees. Were people nerding out with brew ratios? Yes, absolutely. Was the air conditioning nice? Duh.
Beyond Being A Barista (hosted by Ken Olsen, Barista Magazine)
Well, this was a real hoot. The last panel of the day was this loose affair, with the guests on stage mostly just fielding questions from the audience. Let’s look in, shall we?
Heather Perry (2-time USBC champion, 2nd place at 2007 WBC, trainer at Klatch Coffee Inc.)
Alexandra Littlejohn (interned at Counter Culture, worked for Keane, Portola, and Cafecito Organico, and she’s now the wholesale account manager for Verve Coffee Roasters)
Jason (last name melted in heat) – (16 years at Starbucks, a district manager for SBUX handling 10 separate outlets)
Michael Phillips (WBC champ, USBC 2-time champ, started with Intelli Chicago working in the production facility – “beans in bags, bags in boxes, boxes in trucks” – now co-owns Handsome Coffee Roasters)
Bobby Roshan (the owner of Cafe Demitasse, Mr. Roshan has a background in law, but decided to get into coffee after falling in love with specialty coffee culture. Demitasse just celebrated their 1 year anniversary)
Zachary Carlsen (Sprudge.com co-founder, started at Starbucks as a Junior in high school, and has worked as a barista a wide variety of specialty coffee companies all over the world.
Sal Salzer (founder and owner of City Bean, a wholesale roaster that’s been open for 21 years – 150 accounts total, predominantly SoCal based)
Here’s some of the questions fielded by the group:
How did you get into coffee?
Heather – “Klatch is a family business, but neither me or my sister ever planned on staying in coffee – I was applying for law school, and then I won a barista competition and got a chance to go to Costa Rica – and now I never want to do anything else.”
Mike – “You can work in a factory, you can work as a roaster, you can travel, you can work in hospitality – there’s so many avenues that coffee can provide – there’s so many things in specialty coffee that can pull you down different paths, while keeping you in the industry.”
Jason – “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. ”
Bobby – “The reason I left law was because I was completely bored out of my mind.”
What are the most important skills you learned as a barista?
Heather – “Multi-tasking and customer service”
Alexandra – “Be nice to people. Just because someone isn’t a coffee person, doesn’t mean you can’t be nice to them – that person might be your boss some day.”
Jason – “Constant problem solving. We get so tunnel-visioned on trying to perfect things that we forget who we’re trying to serve out there.”
Mike – “There can’t be a job that’s beneath you…and as you move on, it’s very important to stay grounded, be able to know where you came from, and set that example.”
Zachary – “I learned how to be patient. At Four Barrel coffee i worked at the front bar – you interface one on one with someone, they order coffee, and you have like 5 minutes with them. You can listen to what their idea of a good cup of coffee is. And that’s something I try and keep in mind writing Sprudge – there’s so many different kinds of coffee that people love.”
Sol – “If you have that sort of fearless personality and are in tune with customer service, I encourage you to consider sales.”
What’s your passion? What makes you want to move forward?
Sol – “My passion is to start something – make it move forward – and end it. Then start a new project. Turn it over to someone else in the company. I love building.”
Zachary – “People are what I’m most passionate about.”
Bobby – “there’s always something to learn. I’m never bored. ”
Mike – “How do I get better? The thing that pulls me in that are all these wonderful areas that I have so much to learn about. Learning how to execute within coffee.”
Alexandra – “I’m extremely competitive. I want to be the best. I want to know it all. I want to be able to answer any of your questions – and for me, that’s what motivates me. I don’t know it all – it’s a community full of free information.”
Heather – “Everyday when I wake up it’s totally different. Wholesale training Monday, saving 10 cents a cup on tuesday, trip to origin on Wednesday. I love how many different things that coffee has given me a chance to do.”
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
Sol – ‘Debt free!”
Zachary – “I hope our niche gets bigger! I hope Sprudge.com becomes more accessible to readers outside the industry. I hope we’re still making photoshops of people’s faces and writing funny headlines. ”
Bobby – “I also want to photoshop faces. In 10 years I hope I’m not living at home…people still walk into our shop every day and they still want a “regular cup of coffee” – and concurrent to that, there’s a greater awareness of the food we’re eating across the country, so I hope that continues in our country and spills over into coffee.”
Mike – “It’s hard for me to project that far out. I hope for coffee, and the world, I want to see a wider adoption – you can have a $3 burger and a $16 burger in the same town – I want there to be a coffee bar where people won’t bat an eye at a $20 cup of coffee that would be among the best in the world as ranked by professionals. I want to open a coffee bar and have people hand in resumes with 4 years of fine dining on it. I want to see the industry move into an era of credibility.”
Alexandra – “Personally in the coffee industry, I’d like to see baristas get paid more. It’s one of the hardest workin’ jobs…and you gotta pay more for coffee in order to pay us more. Plus I want to know why there aren’t more women in coffee – why is it always a brodeo at these events – I want to spearhead more things like that. ”
Heather – “I don’t know what I want to do in another 5 years!”
As Barista Nation came to a close, Sprudge.com took over DJ duties, the food truck carts rolled out in force, and a lively latte art throwdown turned friends into foes for cash. The temperature finally started to drop…and before we knew it, the night had ended.
Thanks to everyone who put on this remarkable event, especially our partners at Barista Nation and UNIC / Stella di Caffe, and our hosts at Beyond The Grind. Next Barista Nation event is being held in Paris, and then it’ll be back to the USA for Barista Nation Dallas – look for an exciting Barista Nation Dallas announcement from us in the coming weeks. Yeeha!