From Entry-Level Barista To Certified Coffee Educator
Do you suspect, beneath the surface of your everyday life, there brews a latent desire to know everything there is about coffee but you don’t know where to start? Keep reading, cause that’s what happened to me. I always want to know more about anything I’m involved with, so when I started working at a coffee shop, my interest lead me on a journey through the supply chain of coffee across the United States and all over the world. There is much still to learn, see and experience, and so many people to meet.
I hope all you potential coffee magicians will be inspired by the end of this post with an idea for your own plan of action, though honestly, this post will be less of a step-by-step guide for becoming an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST) and more of a how-I-ended-up-here story of how my journey impacted me; why I, along with Café Campesino, decided to invest a significant amount of time and effort into taking part in a standard of education outside of our own customers and employees.
An AST uses their knowledge to deliver SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) training at all levels, and anyone can sign up for my classes at Cafe Campesino’s Training Campus in Americus, GA.
So the short answer of how to become an AST would be to fill out the SCA’s interest form and then work with the SCA to establish a path towards being a part of this fantastic network. Everyone you might work with is bound to be both helpful and friendly.
In my case, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but would never in a million years have thought I would teach coffee. When I was 18 I started a degree in Art Education. At 22, I decided I didn’t want to be a struggling artist, swapped to the English department and set my sights on one day becoming Associate Professor at some liberal college far away from my tiny town in south Georgia. Then one day my side job turned into a full-time position and grew into a life-consuming passion. I jokingly say I skipped my Bachelor’s and got an M.B.A. – Master of Brewing Accessories, which I find to be way more useful than the approximately 5 college degrees I didn’t finish (but will one day, Mom, I promise!!).
Happy People And Free Sundays
When I first started working at Cafe Campesino I had few goals other than “work around happy people” and “having Sundays off” (you think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I’d worked weekends since I was 16, and the fact that Cafe Campesino wasn’t open on Sunday was a HUGE plus for me). I actually got a pay increase going from my very respectable weekend desk job to slinging coffee, so all the advantages of working for a fair trade company really outweighed those early mornings that define barista life.
Then, our amazing manager left us and I found myself sitting in the manager’s role—Okay… not really found. I applied and interviewed. But now I was the manager of a coffee shop! And while I knew a lot about making schedules, washing dishes, and being in a foodservice establishment—I didn’t know a lot at all about coffee beyond liking it and having used an espresso machine before.
One of my inherited responsibilities was to train employees both in-house and for our wholesale customers. While I was really good at breaking down information for people, I just didn’t know tons about coffee. Nor did I really understand the minutiae, which comes only through experience, to confidently teach people the ins-and-outs of the finicky mistress that is espresso.
Like any person who wants to do well at the job they are really starting to love—I decided I’d better really figure out what the heck I was doing. I went to my first Barista Camp in 2015, and it was incredible to be surrounded by people who had the same goals and desires as me, as well as seeing people get up and say they were Directors of Education for their respective companies. I didn’t know it at that moment, but my journey to becoming an AST started there.
At Barista Camp I took my Level 1 Pathway courses. And while my very first coffee mentor—and former Café Campesino coffee house manager Alyssa Bell had done an amazing job of teaching me industry-best practices, I also realized that there was so much more. I was surrounded by passionate (and happy!) people who were awesome at breaking down concepts and I found what I had always wanted: a field that embraced education, celebrated our differences, and strove toward quality, without forsaking the human element of the industry we were in. At that camp, I got a Level 1 Barista certificate. When I came back I was able to improve the quality of drinks in our shop and was backed by an industry-recognized standard of quality. I knew that it would be beneficial for me to attend, but I didn’t imagine how addictive it would be, or how quickly my drink presentation, preparation, bar efficiency, customer service skills, and tasting abilities would all improve.
In 2016 there happened to be another Barista Camp outside of Atlanta, so I jumped at the chance to take my Level 2 coursework, as well as the Instructor Development Program that was part of the path towards becoming an instructor with the SCA. After working to train our staff and wholesale customers, I figured I might be able to volunteer with the SCA as a station instructor. There I met Kim Ta – and immediately after coming home from camp filled out my application to be a Premier Training Campus. I still had a training space that needed an overhaul and what felt a little bit like a pie-in-the-sky dream. After two years of plotting, planning, waiting, re-planning, lots of pep talks from my bosses and coworkers and a few false starts, Café Campesino opened its Premier Training Campus in Americus, Georgia.
Sharing My Love of Coffee
While this was happening, I pursued my Licensed Specialized Instructor (LSI) license. I was required to hold the right certificates for what I wanted to teach, attend shadow events, and become an examiner for the SCA. Each time I left feeling proud of myself and the Specialty Coffee Community as a whole. I received my LSI license in April 2017, and cut the ribbon on our Premier Training Campus in November 2017, almost two years after I had started this whole process. I knew that training opportunities for baristas like myself were few and far between, and I was (and am!) incredibly excited to make a global standard of training more easily available to baristas and coffee professionals around me.
When the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) and SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) merged to form the SCA, I attended peer-to-peer calibration events to transfer my LSI to an AST license. Now I get to help spread knowledge and passion to baristas and coffee lovers I’m privileged to meet every day. As an AST I’ve met people from around the world – all brought together by coffee. Most importantly I get to continue on this path, learning from the network of trainers, baristas, roasters, importers, exporters, producers, and every part of the lovely, complex supply chain that is coffee.
The process of becoming an SCA trainer has changed since I got my license, so I encourage those interested in becoming an AST to visit the SCA’s education site. Though the steps might be different, I am confident that the same support network of happy, passionate and skilled professionals will be there to guide the next group of trainers to their new roles.