I always say I didn’t pick coffee, it picked me and we fell in love.
I work at a cafe in southeast Portland, Elevator Cafe and Commons, where I’m both barista and roaster.
I got my start 8 years ago in the small town where I grew up, at a cute place called The South Store Cafe. I was 19 years old and knew it all! What started as a summer job bussing tables quickly turned into me learning about coffee. Fast forward a few years—I started to compete. That landed me a spot at the American Barista and Coffee school. The connections I made there were priceless.
In the beginning, I really had a hard time believing that I knew what I was doing, so I took every opportunity I could to work events. I learned that working with other professionals really helps expand your education. And hearing their stories, what the coffee business has enabled them to do, is inspiring.
Being involved is incredibly important, so I volunteer at coffee events, I compete in different types of brew methods, and I even traveled to Australia for an internship.
Some of the most educational times I’ve had involved setting up event equipment. Making sure we have everything—water, cups, milk pitchers, electricity, cleaning equipment, and, of course, enough coffee to get through the event. There are tons of aspects to events, and it gets your mind rolling in a different way when you have to consider so many angles. I love the challenge.
One of my most fulfilling achievements so far is becoming a roaster. Being part of the whole process—from choosing the green bean, setting the flavor profile, to brewing and serving in the cafe—it’s so satisfying seeing the product from start to finish and controlling all the variables to ensure a quality coffee experience.
My lesson in roasting came while I was in Australia for my internship. I got to learn how the whole production of a roasting facility works and I took a class with my coffee idol, Anne Cooper—one of the best coffee roasters I know. I was so honored to learn from her.
Competing pushes me to give myself the time and motivation to perfect my brew and performance. Once I hit the stage, I just try to keep my mind like I would if I were behind my own bar. The judges are my customers and they deserve the best coffee I can make. In the end, it’s not about winning. It’s about knowing I did what I needed to serve up the most delicious coffee.
Being in the coffee industry for 8 years, I’ve made friends from all over the world. And it doesn’t stop with just the people in coffee, but also the people that drink coffee. Those I get to serve my coffee to have been some of the coolest people in my life.
I’ve made a lot of close friends by being the barista on the other side of the bar. You get to know people, you’re there for them, and sometimes they’re there for you. The support I receive from my customers, friends, family, and fellow coffee professionals seals the fact that I love what I do.
If you’re just starting out in coffee, I’d say don’t be afraid to speak up. When I first started, I was just a quiet kid in the back of a packed cafe during a latte art throwdown, dreaming of the day that I could be the one up there competing.
It took me 3 years of going to throwdowns as an observer, and finally, a friend who secretly signed me up, before I was ready to try it myself. I was terrified, but I didn’t back out. I didn’t win, but I didn’t give up. I found confidence I didn’t know I had.
I’ve used that confidence to push myself to try new things. If I can do it, you can do it. And if you need help along the way, I’m always here.
Your neighborhood barista
Watch Cole and others compete this Saturday at Buckman Coffee Factory for Portland Brewers Cup. She’ll be on stage at 12:40. There will be an after party at Elevator Cafe and Commons with beer for sale, food, a barista throwdown, and prizes. For more details, go to their site.
And for more of this awesome gal, follow Cole’s story on Facebook @TheRealCole.Earth , on Instagram @TheRealCole.Coffee , and check out this fun style shoot we did with her on Tom Priss last week. Her spunky look is one not easily rivaled, and I love that about her!
Next Friday, I’m super stoked to introduce you to local PDX artist, Helen Feild. See you then!
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Cheers, my friend ❤