– Can you please introduce yourself in a few words.
BW: Hi! My name is Becca Woodard and I am the Wholesale Account Manager/Head Trainer at George Howell coffee as well as the current United States Brewers Cup Champion.
DC: Hi! My name is David Castillo, I am a barista trainer at Joe Coffee Company and competed in this year’s USBC.
– What’s your story in the coffee industry?
BW: I’ve been working in coffee for 4 years. My first cafe was a George Howell account, and I was originally trained by the man who’s job I have today! I decided to start competing last year, and have fallen in love with the competitions, specifically the people who I’ve met through getting involved in them.
DC: I’ve been working in the industry for six years, all at Joe. I started as a barback, and have worked as a barista, manager, educator, and trainer. I originally got into coffee just because I needed a day job! I used to play music much more regularly, and wanted a job that offered a flexible schedule and the ability to take time off whenever I needed. I had been a casual coffee drinker before that, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with coffee, the industry, and the people. I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to grow within the company and the industry, and to have the chance to do a lot of amazing things that are interesting and challenging and that I never thought would be possible within the coffee industry, such as competing and traveling to origin.
– What’s your specialty and what makes you different?
BW: Believe it or not espresso is more my forte! When I started in coffee I wasn’t a big coffee drinker and actually was more into the technical aspect of being on bar, getting through a rush and feeling accomplished at the end of a busy shift. I perfected my techniques and learned how to taste for extraction. I’m still working on my drip coffee pallet and working for George has definitely been a big help with that. As far as what makes me different, I have very strong feelings about the community that surrounds specialty coffee, and I’m doing what I can to make those feelings heard.
DC: At Joe, I manage the training and education department, which includes training both our own staff as well as teaching classes to the public. I love the balance between the two, and having the chance to teach people who both want to pursue coffee as a career as well as those who just want to make better coffee at home. This has given me a chance to work with people who have different interests, backgrounds, and learning styles. For me, finding different ways to help people learn a new skill is endlessly fun and rewarding.
– What was your first coffee experience?
BW: That’s a though one – my mom actually works for a mid-sized commodity coffee roaster so I grew up around the stuff. I do remember when I was a kid that every year in the fall they would roast pumpkin spice flavored coffee and for a few months every year my moms car would reek of spicy coffee. My brothers and I hated it!
DC: I’ll give you my first experience drinking coffee, and my first experience drinking really good coffee! I grew up overseas and would travel back to the US to visit family every summer, and I first drank coffee in high school to help get over jetlag. It was not good coffee — the kind that you needed to drink with milk and sugar — but I continued to drink coffee for the caffeine throughout college, slowly easing off of the milk and sugar even though I kept drinking commodity-grade coffee.
My « a-ha » moment came when I first started working at Joe. It was the first time I was surrounded by people who approached and spoke about coffee in the way that I now do every day, but I remember drinking an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe and having my mind blown. I think a lot of people have a similar experience, drinking a coffee that tastes nothing like anything they have ever tried.
– How/when have you discovered about specialty coffee?
BW: I found specialty coffee when I got a job at a cafe as the assistant manager. I wasn’t looking for a coffee job, but happened into one and love it.
DC: I really only discovered specialty coffee when I started working in the industry. I was not one of those people who started working in coffee because I was passionate about it and wanted to pursue it professionally. I actually had no intention of having any sort of long-term career in coffee! But, like many people who have remained in coffee, the more I learn, the more I find there is to learn, especially as the industry continues to grow and develop.
– What was your best coffee experience?
BW: Well now it would have to be winning the United Sates Brewers Cup! I never thought this would happen and I feel so honored. The best part about it too is being able to use this platform I’ve been given to speak up about the in-equality and lack of representation for women and people of color in the coffee industry.
DC: My best experience working in coffee was definitely at this year’s US Barista Championship. I did not expect to do that well, let alone make it to the final round, and I ended up placing 4th. I was very fortunate to travel to Seattle with several coworkers who also competed and judged, and it was an amazing experience all around to have people who I work with and have learned so much from work together, support each other, and also succeed in their competitions. I also love how events like competition and the SCA Expo are a rare chance to see, meet, talk to, and learn from the most influential people in the industry, and to be a part of that event was very humbling.
– Do you prepare coffee at home ? If yes, what method do you use?
BW: I pretty much only make coffee at home on the weekends, and I use a bonavita auto drip coffee maker. Every once in a while I’ll geek out on an aero press or V60, but I do those things during the week enough.
DC: Yes! I use a Kalita Wave and a Baratza Virtuoso grinder. I find that an electric burr grinder and a flat-bottom brewer make it much easier to dial in different coffees that I take home from one week to the next.
– How do you like your coffee? Black, sugar and milk, iced, vietnamese style,…?
BW: If its drip coffee I’m definitely drinking it black (unless I’m drinking Dunkin’ at the airport). I can almost always get down with an espresso tonic though!
DC: I typically drink black filter coffee, whether it’s at home or at a cafe. I may also get a shot of espresso, depending on the day and the shop!
– How would you qualify yourself as coffee drinker (occasional, heavy, addict…)?
BW: I definitely can’t go more than a day without any coffee. During the week though I’m not drink for caffeine but for QC or training purposes, so its hard to say.
DC: I am fortunate that our office and training lab are in the same location as our Pro Shop multiroaster cafe, so I have the opportunity to drink coffee from roasters all over the country (and the world!). Between getting to taste different coffees and doing QC work in our shops, I would say I drink a lot of coffee, whether it’s intentional or not!
– Have you always been into the coffee industry? If not, what was your previous job?
BW: I worked at various ice cream and pizza places before landing in a cafe. I’ve also worked at an elementary school, a grilled cheese shop and a cafeteria. I’ve worn a couple of different hats, but I’m glad coffee is the one that stuck!
DC: I haven’t always worked in the coffee industry. Before working in coffee, I lived in Nashville and worked as a bike messenger. Before that, I had worked a handful of internships and part-time jobs in the music industry — I studied music in college and had entertained the idea of working in some capacity in music until having the chance to pursue coffee professionally.
– Do you have another passion or a hobby besides coffee?
BW: I’ve been getting into making cocktails a lot lately, I’ve been able to build up a pretty nice home bar. There are a lot of aspects of cocktails that remind me of coffee in finding the right balance of sweet/salty/sour/bitter. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, although I do still make some gross things accidentally while experimenting from time to time.
DC: I have a dog and love spending free time with him! Over the past few years, I’ve gotten more into hiking and camping, and having my dog as an outdoors companion gives me a great outlet when I need to step away from work and coffee. I also still play music and ride bikes when I can!
– What other place would you recommend, anywhere in the world (coffee or not)?
BW: I have yet to be able to do much traveling (I just got my passport this week). I will say though I love the Pacific North West. Seattle and Portland are some really awesome citys for coffee, food and cocktails!
DC: I lived in Singapore when I was in high school, and would recommend a visit to anybody who might be thinking of traveling to Southeast Asia! The food is amazing, and while I haven’t been back recently, I’ve heard great things about the coffee community there. It’s also very easy to travel around the region once you get to Singapore, which everyone should do if they have already made it that far.
– What is/are your favorite website(s) to get information about coffee?
BW: Barista Hustle is an amazing resource for coffee info and I go to them for most of my educational needs.
DC: Barista Hustle is probably my favorite. It has grown into an amazing resource for all things coffee related, but I use it often when teaching. All of the original posts are in the « education » page on the website, and Matt Perger and the team do a great job of breaking down very complicated and confusing topics in a way that make them more understandable, especially for people just getting started in coffee. As the site has grown, it also has a forum and a lot of resources for coffee professionals who have worked in the industry for years, and I think it’s hard for one website to cater to everybody looking to learn about coffee.
– What would you say to people who don’t know much about coffee?
BW: I would say keep an open mind, and try to understand that coffee is much more than just a bitter beverage to wake you up in the morning. The amount of work that it takes to get a cup of coffee from the farm to your table is absolutely insane and we should all be paying much more for good quality coffee. Also keep in mind that your favorite barista is probably making barely more than minimum wage, and yet they’ve spent countless hours perfecting their craft. They probably don’t get much for benefits and are always working odd hours. If they are a woman of a barista of color they are working 10 times harder then their white male co-workers just to get the same pay/respect. I’ve had many encounters with customers who don’t quite understand that this is more than just a job for us, this is our career and we take immense pride in our work.
DC: Don’t let anyone dictate your preferences! Coffee can be a really intimidating thing to get into, and a lot of times we have customers come to our shops or students sign up for our classes who are looking for experts to tell them what is good and what is bad. But, like with most things, coffee can be subjective, and a lot of people might not be into the coffees that I love. I can tell you about coffees that objectively score well and that are more expensive, but that doesn’t mean that you have to like them. I think it’s important to keep in mind that coffee can be prepared and enjoyed in a lot of different ways. That said, there is also a lot of coffee out there that isn’t widely accessible, so I would suggest that people visit specialty shops, taste something off the menu that they’ve never seen before, and ask their barista for recommendations. You might just discover that you love a coffee that you never would have tried otherwise!