I knew I had to talk to the girls at Black Sheep as soon as I stepped into their amazing coffee shop and my eye caught letters hanging from the walls spelling: the future is female! This strong message really spoke to me as it aligns with the purpose of my diversity project. So it happened that Audie, one of two co-owners, sat down with me for a chat and we spoke about Black Sheep's unique philosophy, the organisation of an all female latte art competition and more!
Audie, what triggered your career in coffee?
It is weird actually, I never thought I would love making coffee so much. In Australia it’s such a big scene and you always have access to beautiful cafes and great coffee. It’s a big part of life. In Berlin it was a lot more difficult to find that kind of coffee scene and environment. A few of my friends started working in specialty coffee, which is how I learned a bit more about it. I experienced the growth of the coffee scene in Berlin, was amazed by the history and finally started working as a barista in a specialty coffee shop. I really started to put myself out there, went to cuppings, learned a lot and fell in love with it.
Our own coffee journey started when we opened Black Sheep in January 2015. Actually, I was going to leave Berlin at some point but my friend Lucy came to Berlin from the US where she learned to make Kombucha. She convinced me to stay with the idea to be the first ones to sell home-made Kombucha to Cafés in Berlin. The first months we shared a kitchen space and were biking around berlin with Kombucha in our bags. When the space became too small we started talking about what sort of place we wanted to have and the idea for Black Sheep started to form. We are both crazy about vegan food and love to try new experiences together.
What's your role at Black Sheep?
I am co-owner of Black Sheep and also the main barista. Apart from that I still do Kombucha delivery, am the German liaison person as I speak the language, do paperwork and give training to our staff.
What makes Black Sheep unique? What’s the philosophy?
We are very strongly supportive of females, LGBTQIA friendly and 100% vegan. It is our focus to reduce waist, not overproduce food and create as little rubbish as possible. Our food is always fresh and different. We make a certain amount per day and when it’s finished it’s finished. Also, at Black Sheep we are very flexible with regards to customer service, especially if you come to us with food allergies. Whatever request you might have, we will go the extra mile. With this we are addressing the lack of good service in Berlin. Also, there are not a lot of places that have good coffee AND food for vegans, which is why we wanted to provide both. Our grinders hold two different roasts, one with light roast and one with dark roast and we have 6-7 plant based milks to accompany these. You can mix and match as you please. If you have any questions about our coffee we’ll explain and share our knowledge. Eventually, we are planning to organize workshops to teach about coffee.
Is there somebody in the coffee industry you look up to? If so, why?
Probably Masamichi Kaji, also known as Sammy, who was my trainer. He is incredibly gifted in terms of his coffee skills and has an amazing palette. He was so lovely, no ego, no arrogance, we had nice conversations about coffee and I never felt bad to ask him anything.
Have you ever competed in a coffee competition?
With Sarah from Home we created the first all female latte art competition in Berlin, which was held in February 2017. More than 65 people came and we had 12 participants. I was a judge then but next time I will compete too as we are planning to organize many more! The feedback we had from participants was that it was so nice to have a space to compete amongst only fellow female baristas. Everyone was amazingly supportive and cheered along every contender. So often In these industries we are faced with a room full of men, with judges who are mostly men and lots of ego in the atmosphere. It feels intimidating and proving yourself amongst your peers is kind of scary.
Any thoughts on why we see more men competing than women?
I think in general women are conditioned to support, not to compete. It comes from such a young age and without realizing it we encourage boys to try new things and tell them it is okay to fail while we tell girls it is better not to try and it is definitely not okay to fail. This creates the fear of not doing something right. Maybe women lack the confidence to compete or they prefer to fly under the radar to save face. As women we are so often taught to compromise rather than confront.
In terms of creating an equal work environment in the specialty coffee industry, how could it be achieved or what could be improved?
At Black Sheep we will continue to support the underdogs of the industry and organize events to help push this further. I think it is important to promote open-mindedness around equal opportunities for everyone and to create an environment where woman have a voice. We would like to create a space where we can work on changing the industry together. All too often women are fighting the battle alone, or worse against one another, but if we can build a network or society where our confidence can be boosted, our talents praised and our voices heard then we are heading in the right direction.
What are your aspirations for the future?
Hmm, not sure yet. Maybe some where down the track a larger place or the opportunity to roast, but I guess in general we just want to push the quality of vegan food and food in Berlin.
What’s your favorite kind of coffee and brewing method?
I love filter coffee brewed with a Chemex for a clean and bright coffee. It accentuates the base flavor of the coffee, which can really shine through if brewed well. My favourite countries of origin are Rwanda and Colombia.