At the 2015 SCAA Event, we tasked Sprudge contributor Emily McIntyre with a series of interviews, highlighting coffee professionals from across the United States making their own subtle marks on the nation’s coffee culture.
Stephanie Ratanas, Dogwood Coffee, Minneapolis, Minnesota
While it’s tempting to make generalizations about how coffee provides a home for all, approaching the topic of Stephanie Ratanas’s unique personality and success in the industry can’t be so easily categorized. Truth is, she admits, “I like coffee. It’s a relationship with Not-A-Person. Not that I don’t like people, but I don’t have a social job, and that suits me just fine.” As the original employee and current coffee buyer / etcetera for longtime Sprudge partners Dogwood Coffee, Ratanas has had her hands on every part of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based specialty coffee company over the past five years. She loves her job, from the strain and excitement of being at origin at least three months out of the year to the daily ritual of work in a warehouse with five other folks who also show up every day to source, cup, roast, package, and retail outstanding coffees.
Like many coffee professionals, Ratanas has a degree in the liberal arts—English specifically. Her journalism background stands her in good stead during her many origin trips. “When I first started traveling for coffee, I didn’t know what questions to ask, but the more I travel the more I learn. I’m always asking questions, writing down facts and info—I observe that many coffee pros miss the basic act of information gathering at origin, like people’s names and spellings.” Her writing ability also gives her an edge in the inevitable content creation and the ongoing education and communication with Dogwood’s customer base. She helps drive the brand, which she says she likes. “I think sometimes people think we’re just a bunch of jokers, but I don’t really worry about that, because, whatever, it’s just us. I like that we’re fun and we don’t take ourselves seriously, although we certainly do take what we do seriously—we try really fucking hard to get it right with the coffee.”
Ratanas winces when asked about high school, which was when she first decided she wanted to be a barista. (Not for the coffee, but we’ll get to that later.) “I think people thought I was a stoner, but I really wasn’t…I was just kind of grumpy and quiet and ate junk food. I read a lot. I wasn’t cool in high school, but I wasn’t un-cool, I was just sort of there and not really noticed, which is I guess how I am in the coffee industry. I don’t really care though. There are things I love about the industry but there are things that bother the shit out of me and they are the same as high school things—gossipy people, people forming attitudes about other people before they’ve even met them…but I think that’s inevitable because we are a group of people, and that’s what we do.” Reading in coffee shops during high school, Ratanas says she decided her best job would be barista—“But now I see that the things that appealed to me about being a barista are the things that make for bad customer service! I liked how the baristas were so surly, and they were all just like, ‘Whatever, I’m going to drink coffee and hang out and do dishes, and be cool.’ That was before I even cared about coffee.”
There’s not a single “god shot” moment in her catalog of coffee moments, but like many other coffee professionals, a gradual creep of interest which, in Ratanas’ case, coincides with her passion for dogs, books, and solitary walks in the woods. With an understated shrug, she concludes, “I like what I’m doing.”