Coffee is a dead end job, but it doesn’t have to be. The boom in speciality coffee has created a crisis in employment in many parts of the world, but it has also created an opportunity that we must grasp if we want both growth and lasting success for the industry.
Recording interviews for the Coffee Jobs Podcast have brought to light a number of interesting, and interconnected themes: great employers value transferable skills. An applicant with knowledge and experience from outside of coffee can be more valuable than one who has had a more linear coffee career to date. Employers value the diversity of experience because it adds to their business, and often reveals hidden opportunities for improvement or growth.
The frustrating nature of this industry is that we are very interested in increasing someone’s skill and knowledge, but the skills we are teaching are not transferrable. Making coffee is often challenging, and the customer experience demands skilled people making coffee. However, this is really the only skill I see people being taught and it has very little use outside of the coffee industry. Making great coffee is a difficult skill to transfer, and this is a problem.
A lasting career in coffee is a difficult and unlikely thing. For every seven to ten barista positions, there is perhaps one position to move forward into as management. The funnel narrows very sharply, not only in the cafe but from the cafe to the roasting company, or from the roasting company to the green coffee company.
Most people hired into a position as a barista will leave the coffee industry. This is not a damning statement, this isn’t failure. This is just the nature of the opportunities and roles within the coffee industry in consuming countries. What I’ve learned from my guests on the podcast is that this isn’t a problem, this is an opportunity that should be embraced.
There are skills that can be taught to a barista that are transferrable. We often say there is more to being a barista than just making coffee, and this is true. However, we just don’t spend resources on developing these skills. Many coffee businesses lack the time, money or sometimes the ability to teach those skills. I believe that this is something we need to change.
What kind of skills? The most obvious ones that spring to mind are things like financial literacy, sales, customer service, empathy and understand resource allocation. Most cafe owners bear the burden of this work alone, especially aspects like P&L. Taking this single aspect, I believe sharing this information as well as the workload involved in monitoring and controlling it, would create a more engaged team as well as a more conscientious one. It would be important to be thoughtful about teaching, sharing and discussing the impact of actions in the cafe on operations. It would be necessary to keep everyone connected and engaged, even if ultimate responsibility for decisions would like with the owner. Anyone moving on from that business would have a valuable understanding of real world costings, wastage, staff cost and financial modelling. This is hugely valuable in their future careers, and independent of whatever career path they choose.
This is a single, basic example. I’m not here to argue that this is exactly what we ought to be training. I’m here to argue that we need to teach baristas about a lot more than coffee. If working for a year or two in speciality coffee becomes a genuine opportunity for personal development, rather than entry into a professional lottery.
Let’s face a difficult truth: In much of the world, there are very definite limits on what you can earn as a barista. Independent cafes aren’t making their owners wealthy, and most pay as much as they can to get the staff they need. Despite strong competition amongst cafes for staff, they simply aren’t able to just pay more to get what they want. I believe that a cafe that offered a living wage and a strong development program that broaden, rather than narrow, future opportunities would not struggle to find good people.
To do this, to change the way the industry views the potential of a barista. We need to look at building education programs that are about more than where coffee is from, how it is grown, and how to extract it. I am not saying these things don’t matter, they are fundamental to what we do. We just have to value other skills too.
We would need help to do this. It has taken speciality coffee a long time to develop the educational programs that we currently have, despite the subject matter being where our expertise lies. This kind of work is outside the industry’s scope and so we’ll need to engage with others industries and experts. None of this will happen unless there is demand. I want to start a discussion because I believe that this is where a potential future lies for our sustainability. It will require a change in mindset, but I believe certain businesses are already thinking this way and are reaping the benefits from it.
This is a problem that I want to work on, that I’m willing to put some resources into. I want to help create programs and practices to develop transferrable skills in coffee. However, this isn’t where my expertise lies and I need help. If you know anyone I should be speaking to then please get in touch. Drop me a line through the blog, or via twitter.
This is a project I’ve been working on for a quite a long time, and I want to share it now. This is the process to turn cascara into something like chocolate. It’s fun, delicious and I hope that someone else can take it and do amazing things with it.
On that front, I’m sharing the whole thing under Creative Commons. You can use this recipe freely, you can make money from it (I want you to make money from it). I don’t want credit, attribution or money. I just don’t want someone to try and stop other people using it too. Read more about the Creative Commons licence here.
Here’s a written version of the recipe:
400g cocoa butter
- Boil 2 litres of water and steep the cascara for three minutes.
- Strain. You can use the brewed liquid for another product (soda etc) or discard.
- Dehydrate cascara for 12 hours at 60C
- Melt the cocoa butter gently
- Add the melted cocoa butter to the melangeur
- Add sugar
- Slowly add the dried cascara. (If you add it too quickly you can jam the rollers)
- Conch for 48 hours, up to 96 hours depending on desired results.
- Temper and set into bars
- Don’t temper, spread on hot, buttered (slightly salty) toast. Have a great time.
- Something else… (You tell me!)
Different cascaras definitely taste different as chocolate too, so experiment. I’ve also not completely worked out tempering. It doesn’t temper quite like chocolate – but if you work it out then please share!
Thank you to ChefSteps, their Dark Matter recipe started me off on this project. Thank you to the team at Square Mile Coffee for patiently testing and tasting the iterations over the last year or so. Thank you to Spencer at Cocoa Runners for letting me inside the fascinating world of bean to bar chocolate and for the feedback.
At some point soon I’ll put another video up that has a bit more explanation and back story for this whole thing. If you make the recipe – do please let me know!
This is themelanger/wet grinder I used. This little thing pretty much enabled the boom in bean-to-bar chocolate we’re seeing around the world, but that’s another story…
Cascara Chocolate is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
- It took me a long time to work out that the best way to make this taste good was to brew it, to extract some astringent and acidic compounds. ↩︎
I love restaurants. I love sitting in them, especially at the bar, and watching. I love a very, very long lunch. I also love food, which is one of the reasons I go to restaurants.
It isn’t the only reason, though from time to time it seems like the world thinks it is. The rise of the philosophical, expressive, and thoughtful chef using food as a medium in which to craft a message has led to some astonishing experiences and important plates of food. The downside is that the seriousness with which we culturally criticise and dissect food has turned some restaurants into shrines to culinary composition. This isn’t always fun for the diner and, while I know that art isn’t always fun, it has begun to feel a little confining.
I see that reflected in coffee, but not in coffee alone. It is common in a variety of areas of food and drink, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
While some restaurant reviewing has gone the way of terrible artistic review (the review is written to celebrate the reviewer’s intellect and taste, and the subject of the review is merely the vehicle for the self-congratulation), there are still reviews about what it is like to sit in a restaurant, what it is like to take your seat and be part of that temporary community, dining together.
I like, from time to time, to eat alone. I’m fortunate to have this trait, considering that travel makes this a semi-regular occurrence. In those moments, as someone who loves flavour and who would be comfortable describing a dish as both elegant and clever, it would seem prudent to take the time to hunt for gustatory indulgence. With no dining companion I would be free to indulge myself, and the chef’s edible communication, completely. However, that is rarely what I crave. Instead, I want to sit in a beautiful room or an interesting one. I want to see movement, creation, and food’s artistic pinnacle reached in the moment of its destruction. I want to read a review that tells me about all of this. I love reviews that describe the experience, not merely the food. Great restaurants sell memories, and they’re very good at that. We’d be wise to remember, before our arrival at such an occasion, that we all have terrible taste memories and recall. It would be far wiser to pay attention to everything else, all at once. The gestalt, combined experience is what makes for the greatest, most treasured memories.
I love to sit in a cafe, to linger over a coffee. Perhaps to read, perhaps not. I don’t want to be head down, hunting like a truffle-pig for the aromas prophesied on a small chalk menu board. I don’t want to tune out the noise around me, to focus on the coffee. I want that cup to be entwined in what I see, and hear, and feel.
As such, these are the kinds of reviews I want to read. I want to read about cafes that make you feel something, let you be comfortable and a part of their otherworldliness for a moment. I will always find time to visit those places. I also want to read about the places that don’t welcome you in, that treat you like an outsider, that have a secret code you instantly feel like you don’t know but should. There are certain memories that I’d rather not have.
The second episode of the podcast is now up, and I think it is well worth a listen. Doing these has been challenging and interesting, and I’m grateful for the positive feedback so far.
You can listen here or check Coffee Jobs Podcast, for this and other episodes. You should also subscribe at iTunes.
Today is the start of a new podcast I’ve been working on. It’s called the Coffee Jobs Podcast and is a weekly show that will run for the next three months or so. Each episode is an interview with a leader in the coffee industry. The podcast is there to serve two different audiences: those working in coffee, and those running businesses, hiring and building teams.
If you’re working in coffee, and looking to progress, then we cover things like:
- Mistakes to avoid
- How to approach applying and being interviewed
- What they’re looking for in a CV or application
- How to get the job you want
- How to keep the job you love, and move forward in your career
If you’re hiring or building a team then you’ll be interested in:
- Where they look for staff
- How they approach trial shifts and interviews
- Their favourite interview questions and techniques
- Mistakes they’ve made in their careers and their businesses
- How they approach development and retention of their teams.
While the second half may not seem obviously appealing to those wanting to progress – I think it is hugely useful to understand the way employers are thinking about this stuff.
Honestly, the work I’ve done on Coffee Jobs Board is what started this – but the time I’ve already put in has been hugely rewarding for me. There are themes that come through the interviews that I didn’t expect to see. It has changed how I view a lot about a career in coffee, what is means, what is possible and what is valuable. To me personally, this project is already a success.
The first episode with Colin Harmon is now live, and I’d recommend checking it out. There are some great interviews recorded and more lined up, with guests from around the world. If there’s someone you’d love to hear on the show then drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best.
To keep up to date:
Subscribe in iTunes
Coffee Jobs Podcast
If you’re on iOS then I’d strongly recommend the Overcast app.
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