We’re kicking off the Sprudge Twenty interview series for 2021 by checking in with Erica Jackson, a member of the 2021 class and part of the team at Onyx Coffee Lab in Arkansas. Here’s Erica’s nominating essay:
“Erica Jackson is a great example of excellence in the industry. They have an excellent palate as evidenced on their Instagram, but they are also an incredible leader to other coffee pros. I admire all that Erica does and can say with certainty that I am not alone. They are an inspiration and I want them to be recognized for their talent, experience, and the special place they hold in the community.”
Nominated by Brittany Sims
Hey Erica—thanks for speaking with us. How have the challenges of this last year informed your work?
I was unemployed for four months in 2020. My best friend, Jessica Ly, and her fiancé, Matt LeJeune, helped me immensely during this time and I cannot thank them enough for taking care of me. While I was unemployed, I decided to continue my work in coffee by purchasing interesting coffees and brewing these coffees from Jessica’s home set up. I created an Instagram profile (@blkcoffee4life) to document my growth as barista and to share my experience of these wonderful coffees with other coffee people. These four months set the tone for 2021. During this period, I learned that it is vital to invest in my personal brand and to collaborate with others. As a direct result, I started investing in my personal brand this year and I have also expanded both my collaborative imagination and energy. As a person who embodies multiple marginalized identities myself, I quickly recognized that people who hold marginalized identities are particularly vulnerable to the challenges we are facing this year, so I am hyper focusing my work on women, queer identifying folx, and what is now popularly known as Black Coffee.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
The issue in coffee that I care about most is the issue of cultural erasure. The global consumption of coffee is founded on the erasure of the cultures that literally and figuratively cultivated it. The people who formed and designed the global coffee industry as we know it, are now invisible and are unable to access the resources that they should have free access to. I am deeply troubled by this erasure and will do whatever I am able to do to bring validation to those who are being intentionally ignored.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
An element in coffee that drives me is enjoyment. I wake up super hungry and very eager to brew coffee on most days. I crave coffee equity in the form of enjoyment, as there is clearly a disparity in this realm. I savor the enjoyment that I find in coffee and I want to extend this enjoyment to as many people as possible. Therefore, I do the work of quality control, research/development, and education so that coffee people can have the most enjoyable coffee experiences possible.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
The issue in coffee that I think is critically overlooked is gender equity. I am baffled by the fact that people who identify as men can make more money and have more opportunities in the coffee than people who identify as women. We have many, many receipts that clearly document that this issue exists and yet it does not seem that we are close to its resolution.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
The quality that I like best about coffee is its routine nature. Routines are a very helpful for organizing and bringing definition to life. Making coffee is a regular sequence of tasks that can result in an enchanting outcome. Somehow, I can become more knowledgeable and skilled in making coffee, despite it being a regular, everyday occurrence. This quality fascinates me a lot.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
Coffee is Black. This declaration was a life-changing coffee revelation for me. A former employer of mine told me that coffee culture is Black culture and that I have a rightful space in the coffee industry. This was a formative moment for me that allowed me to begin imagining that a long-term career in coffee was possible for me.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
My idea of coffee happiness is when I experience a comfortable and reciprocal level of social engagement with another person. I am very happy when the person I am making coffee for understands that making and drinking coffee is an experience that takes a significant amount of time and that we have chosen to enjoy this coffee and this time together.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
If I could have any job in the coffee industry it would be to be a Barista at a “true” slow bar. I would love to get paid to create a micro-environment for coffee preparation and enjoyment. I would like to have this job because I would have more opportunities to share a sensory experience with someone as they are living their normal life.
Who are your coffee heroes?
My coffee heroes are Michelle Johnson, Tymika Lawrence, Vava Angwenyi, Candice Madison, Anita Tam, Sahra Nguyen, Beth Beall, and Chris McAuley. There are others who I admire and follow, however, I draw consistent inspiration from these people.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would love to drink coffee with Dr. Angela Y. Davis. I find myself unable to sum up all of the reasons why.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
When I first started working in coffee, I wish that someone would have told me that I would make really great friends while working in coffee. I probably would have committed to my coffee career sooner than I did.
You’re the first barista on Mars. What’s on your brew bar?
If I were the first Barista on Mars, I wouldn’t have an open brew bar. There’s no telling what types of beings coffee would attract.
Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.
The best song to brew coffee to at the moment is “Shimmer” by Fuel.
Where do you see yourself in 2041?
In 2041, I see myself in a really good place to continue to contribute to coffee positivity.
What was the last cup of coffee you really enjoyed?
The last cup of coffee I really enjoyed was a washed process coffee from Burundi via JNP and Mother Tongue Coffee. It was at least 40 days off-roast and I brewed it as an espresso.
Welcome to The Sprudge Twenty Interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2021 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty and check back for more interviews right here on Sprudge.