Amazing female baristas, roasters and entrepreneurs of Berlin - Nora Šmahelová

Nora is originally from the Czech Republic and has been residing in Berlin since 1999. In 2002 she won the second national barista championships in Germany and has since then opened Chapter One and Coffee Profilers in Berlin as co-owner and judged numerous competitions. Read about her experience as a judge and other insightful aspects from her career in coffee.

nora smahelova

Nora, what triggered your career in coffee?

When I started to work in coffee, I was a student looking for any kind of part time job where I could earn money. So I ended up working at Einstein in 1999. At that time they were super advanced, just using Arabica beans, doing latte art and having their own roaster. Today this is kind of normal but for those times it was something special. I didn’t give a shit about what I would do to finance my studies.  I actually quit my job as a barista after the German championships. I was 21 and as I come from a very intellectual family, everyone had plans for my future, and I didn’t want to stay in the gastronomy sector.  And even coffee is gastronomy. I was craving input for my brain.

But now you’re here, so what happened?

I don’t know. The advantage of winning the competition was that there was a lot of publicity surrounding it. It’s not like I enjoyed walking around saying I was a barista champion but winning made it easier for me to get jobs. Like in 2003, I was invited to judge my first competition.

What are your current roles in the coffee industry?

I am co-owner of two Berlin based specialty coffee shops, Chapter One and Coffee Profilers, where I also work as a barista. For La Marzocco Deutschland I am their brand ambassador and social media representative since February and I recently also started working with the green coffee company Ally Coffee. I am one of their company members for Europe. I am working at fairs for Hario and am also a WCE representative and AST trainer.

And how did the idea come up for Chapter One and Coffee Profilers?

My business partner and me used to work in a coffee shop together. I was studying at the University of Arts at that time, while he was into Herbalism. When I started a job in product design, I realized I didn’t like it. As I still had the dream to do my own design work, we were thinking about opening our own place while doing other things on the side. We opened Chapter One in 2011.

Coffee Profilers came later, in 2015. It is a project with different business partners and one of the results of me diving deeper into coffee without really planning on it.

nora smahelova chapter one

What is the philosophy behind Chapter One and Coffee Profilers?

When we started with Chapter One, I wouldn’t say we had a vision, but we wanted to focus just on coffee and especially filter. Therefore, we have many filter coffees on the menu and all kinds of different brewing methods. The most important aspect of it is our unique team. We try to do coffee seriously, but are unpretentious at the same time. For us personality is more important than experience, because you can teach everyone how to make coffee but you cannot teach the right mindset.

The most important for me is the customer service. We try to understand the needs of the customer, keep a low profile and cater to everyone. This means though, although we change the espresso every day, that some of our customers don’t ever notice a difference.

It is kind of the same for coffee profilers.  I did the design for both places and the idea was to create the design according to the available space, which is why they are very different from each other.

You’ve just participated in the event Barista Connect, a coffee event for women, and were also a speaker. How was it?

I felt stressed because I had to give a speech and I don’t know if I will ever feel well prepared for something like that. I was also doing cuppings for Ally Coffee and gave workshops for La Marzocco.  I like the idea behind Barista Connect and it was interesting to be a part of it and to contribute. I liked that there was a very mixed audience, including women from origin countries.

What do you think is the biggest difference between an event such as Barista Connect and coffee events where both men and women take part?

Honestly, I don’t know. It depends on your personality I guess. I would say it is exactly the same. For me, it is actually a big advantage to be a women in the coffee industry. I never had problems. Sure, some countries are more difficult than others. In some Mediterranean countries, for example, people may have a different mentality. If you know how to handle it, it’s not a problem.

You’ve won the German Barista Championships in 2002. Have you participated in other competitions?

No. I really didn’t care about coffee that much when I participated. I took part in the regional competition in Berlin out of fun, where I came in 2nd. The same goes for the national competition. I had fun and won an espresso machine on top of that, which was wow! The other perk was a trip to Oslo to participate in the world barista championships.

What competitions do you judge and how do you experience competitions from a judge’s perspective?

In 2003 I started judging national competitions in German speaking countries. At some point I wanted to improve and the obvious next step was the international judges certification. I became a WBC certified judge in 2011. I was almost more nervous than the competitors because there’s such pressure to decide if something is good or bad. It took a long time to get used to having to judge and decide. Often when I am sitting in the judges’ panel I am thinking: “Why am I not competing?”.

I was a technical judge first, moved on to sensory and then became a WCE representative. In order for a country to organize a legal competition, they have to invite a representative who makes sure it is all going according to the rules. It’s interesting when I get to go to countries I haven’t been to before. It`s broadening my own horizon by getting to know new people and different cultures. In September I am flying to Dubai to judge for example, a new experience for me.

chapter one specialty coffee berlin

Do you have any advice for baristas who want to compete?

It is mostly about reading the rules. I see many baristas who have the potential, but it is important to invest time and internalize the rules. If you want to win you have to stick to the rules and understand them and have a lot of discipline.

What are your aspirations for the future?

I want to do more of my own projects, like making ceramics or organizing an exhibition for my drawings. I’d also like to keep learning and improving. This is why I started working with Ally to learn more about green coffee. It is a totally new perspective and I am excited to dig into it.

Thank you Nora!

Read more interviews from the series 'Amazing female baristas, roasters and entrepreneurs of Berlin'

and check out my guide to Berlin specialty coffee shops here.