Here's another installment of our At the Bar series, where we interview Coffeebar's bold, bad ass baristas, chefs and Hospitalians to learn about their journey and passions, both in front of and away from the espresso machine. We hope these conversations inspire and demystify the people and process behind your cup of coffee. These are the hands, hearts and minds you'll find at the bar.
Coffeebar Coffee Leads are baristas that have made a commitment to furthering their coffee education, training and experiences at origin. Many of them work at the Roastery where they get hands-on experience with green coffee, coffee tasting, and crafting coffee-forward specialty drinks. This week, we're talking to one of these Coffee Leads, Shelby. Enjoy!
In addition to working as a barista and Coffee Lead, you are also studying at UNR. What is your major (if you have one) and what motivated you to choose that path?
I’m finishing up my last semester studying Business Management with a minor in Economics. My career path has changed more times than I can count from high school to freshman year of college (I wanted to be a brain surgeon until I was 16, and I started my college career as an Interior Design major!).
During my freshman year of college at Sacramento State, my best friend and I made it a priority to get coffee to catch up once a week. I wasn’t a coffee drinker at the time, but I fell in love with coffee shops and the way it allowed my best friend and me to connect—that evolved into a passion for community and relationship, and I realized that coffee shops were the perfect catalyst for both of those things!
Later on in my freshman year, I was getting lunch with my cousin and took a tiny sip of her black coffee. I was so blown away that it didn’t taste disgusting that she bought me my very own. ;)
With a newfound love for coffee, and a realization of my desire to be a part of fostering community (along with realizing that I didn’t love working for other people and pictured myself as my own boss one day), all the puzzle pieces aligned and I decided I wanted to open my own coffee shop one day. So, midway through freshman year, I changed my major to Business Management. I transferred up to Nevada the following year, and the rest is history!
How do you see coffee fitting in to your future (if at all)?
I love this question, and it’s one that I’ve gotten a lot, especially as I get ready to graduate. As cliche as it sounds, I like to say that coffee isn’t just a part of my future, coffee is my future. Between wanting to own my own shop and trying to figure out how to be more involved in relationships at origin, my whole future plan revolves around the coffee industry in some way. I don’t have a precise direction yet, but I think that’s the most exciting part.
You recently went to Guatemala with our coffee team. What were some of your biggest takeaways from your first trip to origin?
Honestly, I get so fired up about my experience in Guatemala that I oftentimes have a hard time actually getting the words out of my mouth! I think the biggest takeaway was just understanding and actively thinking about people’s lives around the world. We really have it so good here. To not have to worry about where we’re getting our clean water, or whether or not the climate is going to allow for us to make enough money to get by this year... things like that are so easily overlooked but are such a reality for a lot of people. The trip got me really fired up about social sustainability and brought the idea of vertical sourcing into a whole new light.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of vertical coffee sourcing?
The people on the ground! It’s so easy to get lost in a cup of coffee or shot of espresso, in the taste or the experience of it—and I think that’s a really beautiful thing, but it’s easy to forget that coffee comes from people who work day in and day out to grow, harvest, and process it to perfection so that we can get lost in it.
The coffee industry is an interesting one, because there is downward pressure on the price of coffee despite the upward trend in quality, and it’s really hard on the farmers who make their living off of it. That was one of the most important things I learned in Guatemala, that coffee farmers put so much care and work into coffee just to oftentimes not get compensated enough to make it worth their time.
That’s my favorite part about vertical sourcing: We make it a priority to learn about who the farmers are and what they need to make their coffees even better; do our best to help them get there; and pay a price usually significantly above the industry average, which allows the farmer to put that extra money back into their coffee to improve the quality and sell it to more buyers at a higher price. It’s a really rad circle of things, and I think it’s important that more coffee buyers get involved in taking care of the people who provide us with the most essential product in our business.
What is your favorite Vertical Reserve coffee and why?
I wish I had a definitive answer here! I feel like every time I try a Vertical Reserve coffee and think “oh yeah, this is definitely my favorite,” we bring in something new and exciting and it all changes again. I think the Manuel Gomez washed process we had will probably be my all-time favorite, because it reminds me of hanging out with Manuel Gomez and his family in Guatemala, all of us trying to make conversation in our broken Spanish and laughing over local beer and some Giuseppe Rosso wine we brought down to share. I also love the Naia Bombe, though; it hits me with some new, fun fruit flavor every time I take a sip! I’m excited to see which new coffees we bring in and which ones take turns being my favorite.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of coffee?
I used to be really involved with martial arts, but going to school and working full time have caused that to fall by the wayside. So I’m planning on picking that back up after I graduate, and I’m really excited! I also lead a women’s community group through my church. With going to school, I don’t really have time for much else right now; that’ll be changing here in a few months, though!
If you could have coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
As cliche as it sounds, probably Abraham Lincoln. He overcame so much adversity on his road to presidency (and even after), and he stayed so firm in his values. I’m always thirsty to learn more about effective and ethical leadership, and Lincoln was focused on social sustainability, too! I’d want to know how he persevered through all of his hardships and how he led a country in the middle of a civil war. I am so inspired by his hard work and grit, and I’d love some insider knowledge on his crazy life. I’d want to know how he took his coffee, too. ;)