Alexander Gable is an American barista educator, the co-founder of Coffee District coffee events, and a freelance wine and coffee journalist for Sprudge. He lives in Milan, Italy, and is an advocate of coffee education.
I met Alexander at Milan Design Week in April. He was my guest at “Brewing a Strong Work Culture,” the conversation I moderated on coffee culture in the workplace at Workplace & Coffee, a series of events I hosted at La Marzocco Temporary Cafe.
I was struck by Alexander’s dedication to promoting coffee education while maintaining such a calm and comforting demeanor. We were planning to record and stream live the chat but, unfortunately, we didn’t manage to have the technology going. So, later I caught up with Alexander to share with you part of the conversation we had in Milan. This is what he shared with me, as this week’s new Workplace Wisdom interview.
What is specialty coffee from a technical standpoint?
Specialty coffee is an umbrella term that encompasses high-quality production from the harvest to the grinding and brewing of coffee. At this point, it even includes an experience, aesthetic, and style. All the steps from picking to separating, pulping, fermenting, washing, drying, packing, and storage are factors that can affect a score given to coffee to represent its quality. If the score is higher than 80, then it fits the technical definition of specialty coffee.
Why is coffee education important?
Coffee education is a very multifaceted idea as it can pertain to years of study in many complex aspects of the coffee industry. There is education related to subjects like how to build or work on coffee equipment, green coffee buying and production, coffee roasting, and even the chef and server hospitality position of a barista, which happens to be the final link in the chain.
Besides the more blatant reasons why education in one’s craft is vital, I believe the importance of coffee education lies in its complex chain of processes and participants. If any link in the chain is improperly executed, it automatically devalues each step and all the work that preceded it.
This is especially important to baristas and consumers as they are the final participants in this process. It’s like getting to the last level of a game and having to restart from the beginning. Consumer education is predominantly reliant on the coffee education of the barista, which lies heavily in their education and experience in hospitality and sales. If baristas are able to provide the right type and especially the amount of information to their guests, they are capable of getting more coffee and information into the customers’ hands.
“If baristas are able to provide the right type and especially the amount of information to their guests, they are capable of getting more coffee and information into the customers’ hands.”
You trained Googlers in Washington DC on how to make a great cup of coffee. What are the main differences and similarities in training people on coffee education in cafés vs workplaces?
There are more similarities than differences when you dive deep into the idea of coffee education. The main difference is that baristas have to make coffee all day long over and over again, and the Googlers that I worked with only had to make a few beverages. When a barista works a 6+ hour shift, it’s more difficult at times to convince them to buy a book about and study it from home or on their unpaid break.
To the office employees, the complexities of the coffee process and preparation were more exotic and opportunistic, inspiring them to attend coffee tastings, classes, and to self-study. For example, a lot of the employees in tech offices are technical information types with an academic background. Hence, they had little trouble researching and memorizing all of the info involved. However, that didn’t always translate to mobilizing those ideas in the craft.
A profound similarity is that all it takes is one or two employees in the café or office to get everyone else excited about the idea of learning more and finding value in developing their coffee craft together.
What are your 5 tips for a great cup of coffee?
Time and patience, which are important in the following four tips.
1. Properly mineralized water. If you don’t have a filtration system at home, use bottled water like Levissima. Tap water can work depending on your geographical location.
2. A decent burr grinder (hand or electronic). The main goal of coffee grinding is to pulverize coffee into approximately sized particles. Hence, if you can, avoid blade grinders.
3. Enough information and education to calibrate your equipment and coffee to water ratio.
4. The secret to making any coffee taste good is to know your coffee well. Hence, make sure to have enough coffee to run a few trial rounds to find your favorite cup profile.
Learn more about Alexander’s work.
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