Like many of my real-life coffee friends, I first met Bethany on social media. Her sassy, brutally honest tweets were a refreshing escape from the carefully curated streams many of us (myself included) have adopted.
I met Bethany in real life this year at USCC sectionals in Kansas City. She qualified for nationals & I was fortunate enough to run into her in Atlanta. I took a quick snap and sent over some interview questions.
At the time of the competition and the interview, Bethany was a barista and educator at Portland’s well-known cafe, Barista. A few months ago, she announced her new position – Production & Roasting Apprentice at Wrecking Ball Coffee – and her impending move to San Francisco. (I am very excited about this!)
She began her journey in coffee at 18 years old, working as a barista at her local coffee shop & has been “chasing sweetness in espresso” ever since. Some of our “aha” moments don’t happen until years into being a barista. For Bethany, it happened on Day 1 of her new job.
She described her first shot of espresso (real espresso), “My boss told me to taste it (which I was nervous to do, I assumed espresso was gross,) — and by some miracle, I hadn’t messed it up and the shot was sweet. I laughed out loud over my first shot of espresso because I was so surprised and delighted. That was the first and most important moment.”
I haven’t published a Q&A format for this series yet, but Bethany’s answers were so poignant that I felt they deserved this format.
Me: You recently wrote about your experiences on the blurring boundaries between being a barista and the customers you serve. What propelled you to speak out and what are your hopes for bringing light on this conversation?
Bethany: To be honest, Jenn, you inspired me. (I promise I did not set her up for this – Jenn) You published your piece about intersectionality and being an Asian-American woman in the coffee and tech industries– publishing a piece like that is scary. From what I saw, most of the responses you got were respectful of your experiences. But I saw one or two people respond to you who I disagreed with– and strongly. I had been mulling over those ideas; about microaggressions in the workplace, and how women, trans people, and people of color in the service industry shrug things off every single day in a way that men, and white men in particular, rarely have to (if ever.)
Conveniently, I was approached by my friend who’s the managing editor of the Portland Odyssey community, so I had a platform for my thoughts around the same time as they were finally fully formed. All I can hope is that the more women (and other marginalized people) who stand up and say “Yeah, that happens to me too,” the more we can slowly affect a large-scale social change. It starts with people standing up for themselves and continues with people standing up for each other. Maybe someday we won’t have to keep having conversations about gender and race and the service industry, but today the conversations are essential.
What motivates you to do your day-to-day work? aka What gets you out of bed?
People. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately– it’s even less the hospitality aspect of it (which I do enjoy, don’t get me wrong,) and much more the teamwork. I’m lucky enough to work with a really solid group of people in a cafe that functions well, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of crushing a high-volume day with my colleagues. Plus, in my role as educator, I’m fortunate to work with people who are interested– I live for those moments when a light bulb turns on and a trainee just GETS IT. Whether they’re dialing an espresso and it tastes amazing or they pour their first gorgeous monks head; those breakthroughs give me new life.
Where do you think the specialty coffee industry is headed? What’s the next big thing that the industry needs to address?
The coffee industry is fascinating in that it’s a hugely traded and profitable commodity, and yet there’s still (in 2016!) so little research and actual studies that have been done with and regarding coffee. Specialty coffee will only continue to improve as we continue to learn about the plants, and the seeds, and the fermentation– and the fermentation, in particular, is an area where there are probably hundreds of scientists, brewers, and/or vintners who are interested in the coffee industry, and whose expertise could be drawn on. All we need is direction and funding (with funding being why I speculate that little research gets done.) I daydream sometimes about what coffee could be like if we had soil scientists, geneticists, and fermentation scientists working together with roasters to understand why coffee tastes the way that it tastes– and I daydream about what those research projects would look like.
Our only way forward is through understanding our product on a deeper level.
We’ve mastered the art– now let’s learn why the art works.
I’m honored to be industry colleagues with Bethany. Her honesty & desire for further coffee exploration makes her such an important member of our community.
Welcome to the Bay Area!