Rank #1: James Hoffmann on Capturing a Moment of Magic 
This was not the episode I intended to share.
My guest today is James Hoffmann, the 2007 World Barista Champion, co-founder of Square Mile Coffee in London, author of the book The World Atlas of Coffee, YouTuber, and overall one of coffee's most recognizable superstars. James has been on other shows. He's been interviewed a hundred times and honestly, I wasn't super interested in having the same conversation with him as I've heard on other platforms.
I almost didn't have him on the show, but when I started talking to James—we had emailed a few times before we recorded—something strange kind of happened. James talked to me like no other guest ever has. He kept asking for my opinions and I gave them to him. I sort of realized as folks making media in the coffee industry we have a lot in common—and share a lot of the same struggles.
This episode is an interesting dialogue exploring how you build on something like a particular moment. Maybe you make it into a career, maybe not. But there's also this tension with what you do with something that was so pivotal to your life—like winning the World Barista Championship—after over a decade of trying new things and finding what works and what doesn't. The struggle is never over, and we talk about ideas of perception versus reality, especially when you live a public life and folks have ideas already formed about you. We also talk like, a lot, about money and in general just kind of touch upon what it's like being human. So I'm going to keep it as is, without interruption. I hope you enjoy.
Feb 23 2020
Rank #2: Ellan Kline 
Feb 15 2017
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Rank #3: David Hu of The Peccary on Defining Value and Leadership 
Everyone has had a bad boss. Everyone has probably had multiple bad bosses. I had one boss tell me I was inauthentic and that he hated me, I had one tell me he couldn’t give me more money after he promoted me, I had two, a married couple, get a divorce in the middle of the cafe and put all the employees right in the center. And I too, have been that bad boss. I’ve been too overbearing, too nitpicky, too weird and mean.
I learned to be a better boss—not perfect, not great, probably not even good—but better, through reading countless articles, scouring the internet for anything I could find about how to manage better. Surprisingly, there’s not a lot on the internet about how to be a better leader. There’s tons of articles complaining about shitty employees, but there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the role of leaders and how they can improve and set examples for their staff. In a way, we don’t really expect leaders to be held accountable, and instead write off bad work environments as a result of terrible employees.
I know this is bullshit—but I have to say the only way I learned this lesson is because of my time as a middle school teacher. This is a story I tell all the time, but I’ll tell it again because it’s so vitally important to me and who I’ve become—I was trying to get my students to behave by lining them up outside my classroom, and it wasn’t working. So my principal calls me, and I’m immediately blaming the kids, blaming the fact that my class is right after lunch...and tells me probably the single-most important set of words I’ve ever heard. He told me their rowdiness—that’s my fault. I’m in control. But then he pauses, and says, “That’s meant to empower you. You’re always in control.”
So I noticed when I started seeing these amazing post on Instagram about leadership from a coffeeshop called The Peccary in New Jersey. These posts extolled the work of baristas, and talked about how it’s the job of leaders to make the work of being a barista easier. David Hu, the owner of The Peccary, does this in a number of ways. He pays his baristas more, they know their schedules ahead of time for a year, they were paid for months during training and onboarding before the shop opened, and I wanted to learn more about how David developed such an attuned sense of purpose and vision that focused on being a strong leader that put his staff first. It’s not without his ups and downs—The Peccary recently closed its doors, which we talk about, but it does force you consider what your values are, and what you do to live those values.
Nov 07 2019
Rank #4: Leticia Ramos-Pollock 
Feb 22 2017
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Rank #5: Briana Walker 
Mar 08 2017
Rank #6: Karla Boza on the Realities of Coffee Farming 
A few weeks ago, I was honored to attend Re:co, a coffee convention that invites speakers from all over the world to talk about these big ideas in coffee. This year's conversation was focused on coffee prices and the crisis that we face as the price of coffee dips lower and lower. I talked to the head of the Coffee Price Crisis Response Initiative a few weeks ago. If you want more context on that, listen to the Ric Rhinehart episode, a couple of episodes back.
But at one of the lunches during the conference I met Karla Boza, a third generation coffee farmer in El Salvador. And the way that she spoke about the coffee prices was in a way that nobody else was at this conference because it affected her everyday life. She was one of the handful of coffee farmers at this conference talking about coffee prices. Don't you think that maybe more of the players affected by the crisis should have been in that room talking about this crisis?
In this conversation that I recorded with Karla, which you'll hear in a moment, we talk about the flaws in coffee buying. We often applaud coffee roasters, the folks that are on the other end of the supply stream for being transparent with their prices, but are the prices that they're paying actually changing the lives of farmers? Mostly no. Being transparent doesn't make a price fair and oftentimes the business of paying a higher price comes with a demand from a coffee farmer to do something extra for their coffee to stand out or taste different, which ends up costing the producer even more money.
In this episode, I urge you to rethink the way that you consider quality, not just in coffee but in every realm. Karla's experiences with coffee buyers ranging from being tricked by an importer who told them that their coffee was shit to another noting that it was a standout from the samples that they were sent, question where quality really comes from and if we should be basing our price standards on arbitrary markers of quality.
This is easily one of the most informative and remarkable conversations I've ever had, and I promise we'll be hearing more from Karla in the near future. Before we begin, I should note that the term coffee stream comes from Keba Konte, owner of Red Bay Coffee in Oakland, California, who used this term during his talk at Re:co, which is the event that Karla and I met at. Without further ado, let's listen to our conversation with Karla Boza.
Jul 03 2019
Rank #7: Don't pretend like you don't have privilege! 
confront our own privileges in the coffee community. We occupy a lot of
different identities, and try to be as honest and upfront as we can. Sure,
we're both women, but we also have a lot of things that give us an unfair
advantage in a lot of ways, and we try to tackle our privileges one by
Mar 15 2017
Rank #8: My Barista Champion, Andrea Allen 
Jul 05 2018
Rank #9: The Boss Barista Roundup #2 - Reimagining The Minimum Wage With Oddly Correct 
In the U.S., the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. 29 states have set a higher minimum wage than that, HOWEVER all by 6 states have a tipped minimum, or an amount that’s lower than minimum wage that you can pay your staff if they also receive tips. Rules vary on how little an employer can pay state by state, but in general, when we think of minimum wage, we think of lowly paying jobs, and for many, minimum wage isn’t enough to support themselves or their families or make their lives work without picking up more work or sacrificing basic needs.
But what happens when we start to think about minimum wage differently? What if we could guarantee that people left work every day with MORE than what they need just to meet their basic human needs? And what sort of power structures would have to be reassessed, and flat out knocked down, for that to happen?
In this episode, we talk to Michael Schroeder of Oddly Correct in Kansas City, who, on November 4th, 2019, announced an incredibly ambitious new pay structure for the business. On Instagram, they announced that all employees would make at least $18 an hour—if they made that in tips plus their base wage, that was great, but if their tips didn’t get them up to that hourly wage, they would subsidize it, and ensure that every employee took home a guaranteed amount of money everyday. And Michael says it's because they wanted to flip the idea of minimum wage on its head.
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Nov 22 2019
Rank #10: Austin Qualifying Event Recap #rosewater 
Feb 19 2017
Rank #11: Bani Amor is Decolonizing Travel Culture 
Jun 28 2018
Rank #12: Alicia Adams on Building a Career in Coffee 
It can sometimes seem like our coffee heroes have always been successful—but nothing could be further from the truth. Alicia Adams is the Director of Coffee for Red Bay Coffee in Oakland, Calif., and she talks about her journey to this position. Alicia shares how she learned from others around her, how she stays focused, and shares her approach to tasting and evaluating coffee.
Alicia is also the kindest, most thoughtful person and one of the best sensory analysts I've ever met. If you want a carefully considered approach to coffee, this is the conversation to listen to.
Jan 25 2019
Rank #13: Nyambura Njee On Race and Wage Disparities 
Aug 16 2018
Rank #14: Jen Apodaca, Part Two 
Oct 11 2018
Rank #15: Ric Rhinehart Speaks On The Coffee Price Crisis 
This episode was made in collaboration with Good Beer Hunting. We originally aired this on their podcast on Saturday, May 18, 2019. This podcast was made in the style of a GBH podcast, so it might sound a little different than what you're used to!
There’s a big problem in coffee—we’re not paying enough for it. With every clickbait article talking about how much you can save by cutting out your daily latte habit, you might be wondering how that’s possible. But coffee, much like other agricultural products like sugar or bananas, has relied on colonialist structures to survive—meaning that while we can buy and sell coffee in consuming countries for $3.00 a cup, most of the folks who actually farm and grow coffee see less than a dollar per pound for the coffee they produce.
Coffee is in a crisis—because coffee is traded as a commodity, its price depends on the market, which means that, right now, many farmers are forced to sell their coffee for less than what it cost to produce. Farmers are actively losing money when they produce coffee, and many have been forced to lay off workers, sell their farms, and encourage their children to abandon the farm and look for more lucrative work elsewhere.
So what are we doing about this? Ric Rhinehart is the head of the Coffee Price Crisis Response Initiative, and the former head of the Specialty Coffee Association. In this episode, we talk about how the crisis began, and what his group is looking to do to change the trajectory of coffee farming and selling.
May 23 2019
Rank #16: How Busy Are You Really with Melissa Stinson 
How often do you say you’re busy? It’s pretty much an automatic response: “How are you?” “Oh, I’m good…busy!” But are you?
Melissa Stinson is the owner of Everybody’s Busy, a coffee pop up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. Melissa features coffees from some of the best roasters in the world, but Everybody’s Busy is much more than that.
In a way, Everybody’s Busy is a reflection of Melissa herself. She designed the logo and all the brand assets, the menu uses hip hop artists as names for common drinks, and even the name of the shop itself—Everybody’s Busy—reflects the dark, sarcastic humor that Melissa is drawn to. Because really, are you that busy? And why do we find comfort in hiding behind that response?
Instead, shouldn’t we be doing the things we like? The things we’re excited about? That’s one of the things that makes Melissa’s pop-up so compelling—it’s a reflection of her. In an age where every coffee shop looks and feels the same, Everybody’s Busy feels distinctly like Melissa—like no one else could have imagined it into being. Melissa is a visionary, she’s smarter about branding than anyone I’ve ever seen in coffee, and she’s truly one of a kind—and she’s the first to admit she’s not sure what she’s going to say from moment to moment, which is what makes this conversation with her so fascinating and fun.
Here’s my conversation with Melissa Stinson, owner and creator of Everybody’s Busy.
May 31 2019
Rank #17: Erica Escalante Is The Mother of All Baristas 
Dec 28 2018
Rank #18: Erna Baby 
Thanks to Sherri Johns, Kayd Whalen, Karen Cebreros, Ric Rhinehart, Kim Easson, and T. Ben Fischer. Our new music is from Lost in the Sun - you can check our their new single on Spotify.
Jan 10 2019
Rank #19: Vava Angwenyi on Decolonizing Empowerment 
Jul 27 2018
Rank #20: Mayra Hernandez of Back of the Yards Coffee 
May 05 2018