So You Want to Work in Specialty Coffee?

By Erin Meister, Counter Culture Coffee

“When I retire, I want to open a coffee shop.”

For years, those words rankled me. As a coffee professional with a decade’s worth of experience culled from trial and error (lots of error), I found the suggestion that someone would enter into coffee as a secondary or “for-fun” career offensive. In my younger, obnoxious years, I might have responded with, “Yeah, and when I retire I’m going to go into finance.” I viewed sweat equity as the only way to break into specialty coffee, and scoffed at those on the outside looking in from so-called traditional careers, their faces pressed up against the proverbial glass of our fancy-free coffeesphere.

Now, thanks both to the wisdom of age and the whittling away of youthful hubris, I’m actually thrilled when folks want to switch gears and enter specialty coffee—excited to meet and nurture the totally green, hopeful barista, or to give advice to the longtime café manager who wants to make the leap into the wholesale world. Any entrepreneur or mid-life career changer who’s passionate enough about coffee and community to want to risk everything on opening a café has earned my respect and my assistance, even if we’ve never met. And if you’re crazy enough to want to fly around the world and ride in the back of pickup trucks down dirt roads in search of the best and most sustainable beans, I’ve got your back.

So do countless other professionals who have been there and done that.

The “rising tide” mentality of specialty coffee we always talk about isn’t just talk: It’s shown in our actions, collaborations, generosity, and, yes, to some reasonable degree, even in the challenge of our mostly friendly competition with each other. To whit, I tracked down three industry newcomers—a barista in training, a daydreaming café owner, and a hopeful green-bean buyer—and linked them up with old hands in each field (myself included) for some sage words and friendly advice.

What dreams, fears, fantasies and questions do the tenderfoots have? How can seasoned veterans such as ourselves help grow the next generation of arabica addicts, and what pearls of wisdom can we offer these recruits? Let’s see how this tide is a-risin’.

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