Sometime in the next few weeks, I'll be back behind a coffee bar.
It won't be at my own shop. I'll be working for someone else. The job won't pay well.
The espresso machines will not have pressure-profiling or any other new features/technologies developed over the past few years. I'm not even sure what, if any, pourover methods will be utilized.
The owners are not known baristas. Or really have much coffee bar knowledge at all.
So why do it?
It's a somewhat complicated answer. Pittsburgh's momentum as a coffee destination city has stalled. There have been a number (one may argue, too many) of "neighborhood" cafes to open over the past couple of years, but none stand out for coffee quality. The last significant cafe to open was Espresso a Mano back in July 2010. Aldo sold to Orbis Caffe last November. Now Voluto is closing, to be taken over by Commonplace.
The coffee scene is treading water.
Later this Spring, two new cafes will open, with a third hopefully coming online in summer. In each case, the decisions relating to coffee are being taken far more seriously than at the typical neighborhood cafe. I personally want them all to succeed.
In the latter case, I've been helping the owner with his business plan in order to set realistic goals and help get bank financing. My fee has been an occasional beer. The training will be done by one of the top five coffeehouses in Pittsburgh. The coffee will be from a well-known "third wave" roaster. The shop will be an adjunct to a tattoo gallery owned by one of the city's best artists. They'll be fine, assuming they can get the startup money.
In one of the other two, the owners are not just opening a cafe, they are already sourcing their own green coffee with a direct trade model. There's an opportunity to do much more with them. The cafe will be using locally roasted coffee. It's a great space in a popular neighborhood with one coffeehouse that's been coasting for years.
The third cafe offers upscale light food in one of the busiest areas downtown where there are already five national coffee brands/local coffee institutions within a stone's throw. They will also be using coffee from a nationally-known third wave roaster.
What I've proposed to the latter two is coming on board for three months to develop the systems, do training, help establish service standards, while also making adjustments and recommendations as needed based results. Ideally during this time I'll also be able to recruit and hire someone to replace me after those three months are over.
It seems sort of silly to be "a barista" for someone else's cafe at my age. A more mature, rational adult of 56 would be spending their time making as much money as possible before retirement. And while there is money coming in from other sources, working from my home office full time has been a bit isolating. I miss coffee. I miss working with baristas. I miss turning customers on to delicious coffees.
Melanie and I have talked about a 'formal' barista training business numerous times. But we're the types who get emotionally invested in projects. It's "not us" to charge a four figure fee for a week of intense training and then walk away. We're sort of stupid that way. Getting more involved in the day-to-day of the business as both a barista/manager and advisor for the owner seems like a more sensible approach to help a new shop succeed.
Maybe it's a dumb idea. But good coffee matters. We wished someone was around to help us the first year - much of the training we received made little sense until we were actually up and running. So I'm going to do this. The more difficult part will be deciding which coffeehouse. I wish I could do both.
The above does not affect the Trier Coffee project. That's still on schedule to debut at Farmers@Firehouse in May. I was going to do that anyway.