Our next entry in the Sprudge Twenty interview series is Britain Brooks-Hall, a Texas-based professional barista, academic, and forward-looking coffee pro. Their take on barista work alongside academics, social theory, and coffee’s intersectionality makes this a thought-provoking, must-read interview, and a highlight in the 2021 Sprudge Twenty class.
“Britain is one of my favorite things in the coffee industry, a fantastic everyday barista. They are the person you want to see when you go out for your morning because of their customer service, skill in beverage preparation, and personal care they carry with them. Having worked with Britain before, I was always amazed at their patience and kindness especially being a queer person in the South. They deftly walked the tightrope of self-respect, empathy, and drawing boundaries in a way that I’ve always respected and admired. There are few things as refreshing in coffee as a great barista who takes pride in the impact they make on their guests day in and day out and Britain is a fantastic representation of that!” – Ben Lytle
How have the challenges of this last year informed your work?
There has been so much that has happened in the last year to inform my work in the coffee industry moving forward. I was laid off and then the coffee shop I worked at closed permanently. A few months later I was working part-time at my current shop and taking a full course load to finish my degree in English Literature. All during a pandemic. I have come to recognize time so differently. Described quite eloquently by Alexis Shotwell, “It is hard for us to examine our connection with unbearable pasts with which we might reckon better, our implication in impossibly complex presents through which we might craft different modes of response, and our aspirations for different futures toward which we might shape different worlds yet-to-come.” The past, present, and future are often discussed as separate measures of time, but this is an illusion. Deliberate choices made by those in positions of power (specifically white power) in our “unbearable pasts” have led to “impossibly complex presents,” and it is only in combining the two that a future can be created in which all beings are individually liberated and collectively care for one another.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
The intersection of climate change and racial justice. Environmental justice brings to the forefront the ways in which Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are disproportionately and deliberately affected by climate change. An equitable future is one that de-centers white environmentalism and prioritizes radical action and transformative justice working alongside communities that have been living the reality of climate change for years.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
Collective community care.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
The overwhelming whiteness of specialty coffee.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
That it is ever-changing. Just like us.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
I don’t really believe in the concept of the “god shot,” but early on in my career I splurged one year and bought the Panama Elida Estate from Onyx. The only way I know how to describe that experience was that it tasted like the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” magical and haunting.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
Cryptozoology Coffee. IYKYK.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
I have a real love for creating signature beverages. My dream job would be working alongside/ traveling to different shops and crafting menus that fit their communities. Somewhat of an independent contractor, but for signature beverages. I’ve created around ten seasons of barista specials/signature beverages and every time I feel like a little kid in a candy store. I love the entire process of creating and crafting a new menu. It always feels really special to see someone tasting a drink they’ve never had before and having them experience coffee in a variety of different forms. For me, it’s a way to break free from the traditional form of brewing coffee and craft something that exists in its own orbit.
Who are your coffee heroes?
My coffee hero is Jay Alexander Markley. The barista with the best heart. We love and miss you, friend.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I have a favorite writer and multispecies feminist theorist, Donna J. Haraway. I’m just completely obsessed and anyone who knows me has heard the phrase “tentacular thinking” at some point in interacting with me. Her book “Staying with the Trouble” reframes and challenges the ways that humans and nonhumans are undeniably linked in our current ecological moment. She articulates that learning to stay with the trouble of living and dying together on a damaged earth will prove more conducive to the kind of thinking that would provide the means to building more livable futures. Haraway says over and over again that “we are at stake to each other” and emphasizes the importance of multispecies kin-making. Her theory re-arranged my brain in the best way.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
I feel lucky that my coffee mentors are also four of my best friends. First up is undoubtedly Cody Fergusson at Apex Coffee Roasters/Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits. In 2015 Cody gave me my first job in specialty coffee. I had been working at Starbucks as a shift leader and practically begged him for a job. He taught me so much and there are very few people that have a work ethic like his. Cody opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in specialty coffee and is a caring friend and boss at the same time. I love you, Cody!
My second mentors are Ben and Haley Lytle at Cryptozoology Coffee. In my short time working at Crypto before COVID-19 happened, my experience can only be described as pure magic. Ben and Haley are incredible people and their connection with the community they served can only be described as love. Love for people and love for community. Working with them was also the first time I had ever heard the phrase “we’re not a family” in the workplace. There was no manipulation/exploitation of labor and always open and honest communication. They both continue to encourage my dream of opening a shop one day, and my experience at Cryptozoology changed my life.
Last but certainly not least is Nick Stevens, my favorite Green Coffee Buyer. I worked with him as a Barista Trainer and there’s no one in the world like Nick. I could write so much about what I’ve learned from Nick, but perhaps the most important is his unwavering commitment to quality, honesty, and political activism. He always encouraged me to do the right thing and never sugar-coated feedback. Working alongside Nick was so transformative as a Barista Trainer and I feel so lucky to have worked with him. His work in local and national politics combined with his dedication to ethical sourcing is just one example of the undeniable importance and interconnection between coffee and politics.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
That I would meet the love of my life working in this industry, and that they would be so much better than I could have ever imagined.
You’re the first barista on Mars. What’s on your brew bar?
Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.
“Pretty Please” by Dua Lipa
Where do you see yourself in 2041?
In 20 years, it’s hard to say, but I hope to have opened up my dream shop where Queer people feel loved, celebrated, and safe. We need more Queer-owned spaces everywhere. My other love is academics, so I hope to have a doctorate by 2041, too. Mainly, I hope that I am happy and have the best chosen family living alongside me. I low-key hope that I also have a Mercedes G-Class in Matte Black. A barista can dream.