company - education - coffee

Thursday, May 15, 2014



\ˌsim-bē-ˈō-səs, -ˌbī-\
: a relationship between two people or groups that work with and depend on each other
Keep it local Somerville, MA: barismo's roaster Chris Malarick steps up and delivers a little piece of why he feels keeping the talent local matters.

Symbiosis and Sustainability OR Why Local Coffee Matters - A Barista Origin Story

Several years ago, I was able to get a staging shift at Voltage Coffee and Art, a shop owned by Lucy Valena in Kendall Square. (I had been working in an organic market with a coffee program for the past couple of years where I unearthed the rabbit hole of specialty coffee and the world that it existed in, the world that existed in it, but my first day at Voltage was the start of something entirely new.)  Up until that day, I had experienced resistance from other managers/cafes to a lot of the ideas, theories, and methods that had captivated me when it came to curating a coffee program.  Here I was though, standing behind the bar of this place that was a coffee shop meets art gallery built upon and dedicated to some of those pretty unique values. I felt like a kid in a candy store for quite some time thereafter.  Every day was exciting to go into work and try new coffees, experiment with extractions, and develop a craft.  It also allowed me to truly bond with the customers over why we were both there and share with them what was exciting for me. 

At that time Voltage featured a guest program, bringing in coffees from different roasters to run alongside the offerings from Barismo, their primary local roaster. At first, as a barista, this got me excited as it allowed me the chance to try out lots of different coffees from different farms roasted by different people. While this was a resource to someone like myself, trying to take it all in and learn as much as I could, it soon became apparent that this was an unsustainable business model and deviated from the mission statement of almost every party involved.  I didn't know these people, neither did Lucy or anyone else at the shop, as there was a great disconnect in the relationship- the roasters knew the farmers and the baristas knew the customers, but the roasters and the baristas had little dialogue whatsoever, so I felt the chain was broken. This didn't turn me off the the particular companies I served while at Voltage but rather drew me closer to Barismo, a local relationship that proved to be more valuable going forward than I could have imagined.

I started spending more time at dwelltime, barismo's flagship coffee bar in mid-Cambridge before and after work on my days off getting to know the staff and talk about coffee. I would drop by the roastery from time to time to watch their hands work while I picked the brain of whoever was manning the roasters about green coffee, roasting, the whole of everything!  I got to engage in conversation whenever I could about what it was barismo was doing behind the curtains- I was fascinated.  Pretty soon, I was afforded the opportunity to pick up work at dwelltime, an offer I jumped at with haste as it brought me one step closer to my goal of starting a roasting apprenticeship.  It was bittersweet saying goodbye to Voltage, a shop that had taught me so much and brought me into a world I fell deeply in love with, but I felt strongly that the next phase of my journey could be as a roaster, and that I would not falter.  Fast forward over a year and a half later and I'm writing this post as the head roaster for Barismo. 

This post is about me, but my specific path isn't important, it's about the value of the symbiotic relationships within our local coffee scene. I'm here now because I worked for a local shop owner who helped me build my skill set and provided a relationship with our local roaster, which resulted in access to a job that broadened my skill sets. I still get to to support Voltage every week when I roast their coffee to order but the lesson was learned:  Support local, employ local, and keep the jobs, the knowledge, and the talent local.

There's a lot of exciting things going on in our industry right now (read: always) on the big scale, but often times there's a lot of noise and distractions, we have to remember to focus on what really matters to us vs the scene. What's important to me and why I'm here: to support our growing local coffee community and share with our neighbors what I've learned and what I'm excited about.

Evaluating for Quality: barismo's founder and GM, Jaime van Schyndel breaks down a recent trip to Guatemala.  Part one of three!

A couple of months ago, I took a group (Lucy of Voltage & Simon of Simon's tagged along) to tour farms in Guatemala.   Along the way, our host for the first leg of the trip, Gustavo Alfaro, arranged for us to visit artista Rudy Cotton in Guatemala City.  Rudy is an established painter with a large portfolio and prominent placement for his works.  Lucy Valena (Voltage Coffee) was particularly excited about seeing his gallery/workspace as she has a background in art.  Rudy has worked the last two years on a project to craft and create a new angle to the many relationships in coffee.  He took his time to interpret the land, the coffee, and crafted a massive mural on Hacienda Santa Rosa (you know it as Buena Esperanza).  We are hoping to arrange a follow up to this here in the states through barismo/Voltage and hopefully create multiple spaces to showcase both the coffees and art in unique ways to tell this story.

It was a really interesting experience where we had the relationship that Gustavo and Rudy were childhood friends, Gustavo is one of our relationship producers, and Lucy is one of our cafe partners.  We got to match up a farm that's owner has an interest in Rudy's art with a cafe owner (combo art gallery owner) who actually studied some of Rudy's mentors in grad school!

Lucy will have more to say on this in the next few weeks. You can see her most recent post on her blog about what she learned in Guatemala. Drop by Voltage as well if you are in Kendall Sq. and ask her about it while you have a cup from one of the farms she visited.