Bara is from the Czech Republic and has already worked in coffee all over the world - including Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Sao Paolo and Wellington. Currently, she is the head roaster at Tres Cabezas. Her passion for coffee is infectious and I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!
"The smell of freshly ground coffee in the morning – I wouldn’t trade it for anything!"
Bara, what triggered your career in coffee?
It’s actually very funny and very boring at the same time. I’ve been working in coffee for 10 years and started as a teenager. I loved the atmosphere in the coffee shops and to see the morning rituals of people, such as drinking espresso while reading the newspaper That was something that mesmerized me from when I was a kid. But when I had my first sip of coffee, I couldn’t understand why it was such a big part of people’s life - it tasted disgusting to me.
I gained my first work experience in Prague at a gorgeous coffee shop. The delicious menu, the beautiful cups and interior fascinated me. It was Italian inspired, offering freshly squeezed orange juice and strong espresso. I thought all the people working there were the coolest people on earth! There was no specialty coffee at the time but the café was so advanced with two grinders – meaning one for espresso and one for milk based drinks. I started to waitress but was really interested in the coffee side – so the owner decided to give me a shot behind the bar. One of the managers became my trainer, she was pretty hard on me and I was secretly afraid of her. We are still friends today.
What's your role at your place of work?
I started about a month ago so it is all pretty new. Mainly, I roast, I do the quality control but am very open to get involved with everything. I am still getting to know the people, trying to encourage colleagues to give feedback on my roasting.
How would you describe your journey towards roasting?
It is not an easy job to get, as there are not as many job openings in roasting as in serving. In my experience some people believe men are more suitable for this position because it is heavy, hands-on work that requires technical skills. But if you love what you do there is always a way to make it happen! Starting from the cup I went backwards in a way, constantly trying to dive deeper – from preparing beverages to calibrating espresso machines, roasting and farming at origins. When it comes to roasting coffee, I was challenged to put myself out there. I heard about a position available at Tim Wendelboe, applied and got invited to a Skype interview. Although I didn’t get the job this helped me to trust in myself and my skills and I was willing to do what it takes to get into roasting! It was patience, persistence and hard work what got me there. After some time, Five Elephant announced an open roasting position and I jumped on the opportunity. After a one-week trial, I finally stood next to a 25kg Diedrich.
What makes the coffee shop where you work now unique? What’s the philosophy?
I feel at Tres Cabezas people are very human in the way they take care of their staff and guests. It is a workplace where it is okay to say ‘I don’t know’. People listen, they are not afraid to ask for help and acknowledge there are things that need improvement. It’s a very nice and refreshing relationship where both parties grow and bloom. Appreciation is important and commitment is recognized!
Is there somebody in the coffee industry you look up to? If so, why?
I can get inspired by anyone, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a person working in coffee. I admire people who stand up for themselves and people who create something with their hands.
What about coffee competitions? Have you participated or plan to do so in the future?
Not yet. For two years I’ve been thinking about it but I actually really want to. Hopefully next year.
A topic that is often being discussed in the specialty coffee industry is the equal representation of gender in competitions. Any thoughts on why we see more men competing than women?
I think women can be more reserved when taking the stage. I'll leave it at that. :-)
In terms of creating an equal work environment in the specialty coffee industry, how could it be achieved?
In my perception there are more men visibly working in the coffee industry than women as they speak up louder. There needs to be a safe space for all members of the industry to voice concerns, have discussions and exchange knowledge. Sometimes I feel like there has been a lack of constructive criticism. Everyone’s opinion should be listened to. Making people feel incompetent does not help the industry to advance and it discourages people to perform their best. We should make people feel equally okay about saying: I don’t know’. Also, if during your daily work people constantly override you, it demotivates you from speaking up in the future.
What are your aspirations for the future?
The specialty coffee industry is young but also very competitive. I believe knowledge exchange is vital for making the industry advance and flourish. For myself, I see a future in coffee farming, because that’s where it all starts. I already spent half a year in Brazil during the harvest season and learned how complex coffee farming really is. In the future I would love to participate more in sustainable coffee farming projects at different places of origin. Standing in the coffee fields with mosquitos surrounding me in the heat made me realize, I love this! I want the dust!
What’s your favorite kind of coffee and brewing method?
I love espresso and the memory I associate with it from my early beginnings working as a barista. I’d almost go as far as saying I am addicted to it (my boyfriend would confirm this!). While working at the coffee farm in Brazil I was right at the source but with no espresso machine in sight. Torture, if you ask me! In my despair I turned to the Aeropress hoping to find satisfaction in an Aero-presso, but it didn’t quite do the job.