A Job in Coffee - Where to Start
Where to start
This is not about me, but by retelling my own experience with coffee training I hope to show how it made it possible to jumpstart a career in coffee.
Like most people in the coffee industry, I never set out to have a career in coffee. It’s not that I disliked coffee, it was just never presented to me as a valid career choice. I had no idea that there were so many different areas of expertise, or that long-term careers could be forged in the coffee industry.
Black coffee, please. No sugar or milk.
This is not a story that’s about me in-a-round-about kind of way, but a bit of context will help. I have been lucky enough to have lived all over the world, partly by happenstance, partly by my own restless nature. Growing up, coffee at home was always something that was there, the darker the better, more sugar yes, please.
It didn’t taste very good; it wasn’t exciting to drink. In other words, it was just something to end a nice meal on. Like most people in the 2000s, 2nd wave coffee chains cropped up everywhere, and it provided a third space between home, university, etc. The coffee drinks had added flavours, although added artificially, they were exciting and tasty to drink. I actively looked forward to grabbing a large-upsized-coffee-flavoured-something. This continued for years, and I now look back and realise that I had no idea what I was drinking, there was a disconnect between my experience and the coffee that went into my cup. Coffee was just another uniform static flavour, however, the second wave of coffee opened the doors to many of us.
It wasn’t until many years later, when I was spending a lot of my work day working on my laptop out of coffee shops that I started to strip back the add-ons, the sugar, the milk. And soon, black coffee was my go-to. I wanted to taste the actual coffee, and since I wasn’t a wine or beer person (I’m still not, no matter how hard I try) I wanted to be knowledgeable about something, anything, and to be able to have an educated conversation about it.
Getting (coffee) educated
I knew I wanted to take some kind of course or workshop in coffee, but the truth is that I had no idea where to start. There are a lot of sources of information out there on the internet, but no authoritative source. And in addition to reading about coffee, what I desperately wanted was to quite literally get my hands on the coffee beans, and the coffee equipment. I also wanted to some kind of structure to my coffee learning. Some structure to the learning that provided options and gave me a direction or end-goal to work towards to.
After much research, I decided on the SCA Coffee Skills Program. It was the only standard or certificate that was recognised industry wide, and internationally. The training program laid a clear path and structure to my learning. I signed-up for the SCA’s Introduction to Coffee and I haven’t looked back. The course was an eye-opening introduction to the world of speciality coffee. I’ve since done several SCA courses and each has been hugely beneficial. Having the certifications certainly helped open doors for me when I applied for my first speciality coffee job.
Even if you are familiar with speciality coffee, the SCA Introduction to Coffee is the best way to start. It is a half-day course, and uncovers some of the history of coffee, the general supply chain including growing, processing, roasting and brewing. The trainer or AST (Authorised SCA Trainer) will talk you through these topics and at 39 Steps Coffee, this class includes a coffee cupping so you will be able to observe and taste some of the things you have learnt about.
Having completed the Introduction to Coffee and passed the certification exam, the next natural step seemed to be the SCA Barista Skills module, starting with Foundation. Whereas the introduction to coffee was fascinating, this was very exciting and a little scary if I'm completely honest. It was the first time ever that I was allowed (under supervision) on a commercial espresso machine. It was messy, scary, but oh so much fun! This module truly is foundational as it will teach you the in and outs of using a coffee grinder, pulling espresso shots and basic latte art techniques. Many of these lessons I still rely on to this day.
One of the biggest and most important lesson, that I took from my SCA courses, is that coffee is fun! And where as, before taking the courses, I thought of coffee as a being this mysteriously complicated and an incredibly serious topic, I have learnt through the ASTs that coffee is best approached with playful curiosity and a degree of humility because our own understanding of coffee is evolving all the time.
After completing the Introduction to Coffee, there are a few SCA modules to branch into and specialise in: Barista Skills, Roasting, Sensory Skills, Brewing, Green Coffee each with 3 levels that progress from Foundation, Intermediate, to Professional levels.
Where to start with SCA coffee training
One of the things I love the most 39 Steps Coffee is the passion for sharing coffee knowledge, and that coffee training is at the core of the 39 Steps Coffee mission. The SCA Coffee Skills Program can be difficult to wrap one’s arms around at first, which is why we created this video providing an overview of the course structure and our training facilities and roastery in London.
We’ve tried to provide all the detail you could ever need on the SCA course pages, however If you have any questions, just send us email to email@example.com or DM us on instagram @39stepscoffee_