May 2, 2017

Coffee Mentorship: How to Inspire Passion in Specialty Baristas


Before specialty coffee and after specialty coffee: they’re different lives. And as a barista trainer, coffee shop owner, or community leader, there will come a time when you need to help a new recruit experience that.

How often you have to do this will depend on where you work: in a thriving third wave city, a small town with a developing specialty scene, or in a college or youth center… But no matter where you are, you have the potential to change someone’s life for good. A passion for the third wave can set someone on a fulfilling career path, lead them to in turn inspire others, and truly make a difference to this beautiful industry.

I’m a barista trainer, and I work with many teenagers new to specialty coffee. Here’s how I inspire passion in them.

Spanish Version: Cómo Inspirar Pasión en los Baristas de Especialidad

BaristasCoffee shops make for be excellent classrooms. Credit: Pedro Martínez

1. Take Advantage of Curiosity

Curiosity is a wonderful tool. I first discovered the third wave through exploring coffee shops. As I came into contact with names such as a Chemex, AeroPress, and V60, my curiosity grew. That’s what led me into a career in coffee – and that’s what I want my mentees to experience.

So I developed an introductory workshop on coffee brewing methods. I gathered the material from several YouTube channels and coffee websites (PDG among them). It covered essential brewing equipment, filters, grind sizes, and extraction phases.

But the aim wasn’t to teach them everything there is to know about coffee – it was to enable the revelation that there is an entire universe of possibilities waiting for them.

Did it work? Yes. Kevin de León, one of students, told me, “It motivated me to look beyond, knowing that there was a world to discover, more coffees to try, brewing methods, techniques and, the most important of them all, people passionate about coffee to get in touch with.”

Another student, Diego Figueroa, told me that it created in him “the desire to know what was beyond an Americano or a cappuccino. That drove me to study and comprehend a little bit more about coffee. I became interested in its chemistry, its effects on the body, what compounds produced which flavors and how to enhance them… that was the moment when I discovered the third wave”.

baristasWorkshops can introduce attendees to the potential of coffee. Credit: Pedro Martínez

2. Encourage Self-Learning

A lot of the information I shared with those teenagers came from research. If other people hadn’t already shared their knowledge, the workshop couldn’t have existed. And similarly, without research, your trainees won’t develop into third wave professionals.

Many of my students told me that learning was frustrating, and certain techniques are hard to master. This is true. However, my answer to that is perseverance, discipline, and self-learning. Now, more than ever, it is possible to learn a lot by ourselves.

Lis Muñoz, another student, told me, “I discovered the third wave the moment I realized that I was passionate about coffee. I didn’t wanted to keep myself from learning. So I began to try and experiment, in addition to doing research about important aspects.”

There are, however, two important caveats: one, also check the quality of the source. Who is writing it? How do they know this? Did they research it or just repeat what someone else told them?

The second one is that theory shouldn’t be substituted for experience. It’s important that newcomers to the third wave put into practice what they are learning, experiment, question principles, and form their own understandings of what makes good coffee.

baristasTrying new coffees and brewing methods is a great way to keep learning. Credit: Pedro Martínez

3. Help Mentees to See The Whole Supply Chain

Understanding your role as a third wave professional in the whole supply chain will inspire passion for the coffee you make and the impact you have. And so enabling this is my third piece of advice for training baristas (but by no means the last one to be done).

I’m based in Guatemala, which makes encouraging my mentees to see the whole supply chain much easier. But no matter where you are, it’s possible. Social media has made information exchange simple.

Just by going on Instagram, newcomers to specialty can learn about third wave coffee shops, different origins, a variety of techniques, and coffee brewing equipment. They can follow producers, cafes, roasteries, equipment manager, and, of course, media sources like PDG!

It’s easy to see the impact of this on your students. Marlon Rendón, one of the baristas I’ve trained, tells me, “Now there are more people with the desire to transmit information and knowledge, we have to try to be better.”


Coffee unites people across generations. Credit: Pedro Martínez

SEE ALSO: Baristas, Here Are 5 Ways to Stay Motivated About Coffee

The Future of Specialty Coffee

Seeing the people I’ve trained work at specialty coffee shops, participate in coffee throwdowns, and in turn teach others about coffee – it’s a satisfying experience.

And it’s only going to get better. The number of independent coffee shops working towards traceable third wave coffee is increasing. Even some second wave coffee chains now offer different brewing methods.

That is why our jobs, as trainees, mentors, and as baristas, are crucial. Inspiring passion for the third wave in others, whether at a young age or during a career change, means our industry will continue to grow. We’ll drink better coffee, see people ask more questions about how that coffee was produced, and work towards a sustainable future.

Miguel Peñate, another student, tells me, “We have enough energy and influence to mobilize and organize activities and events of any kind. These can introduce people to [third wave] culture and enrich their knowledge of it. We as young coffee people have a lot of work to do, but it’s nothing that we can’t do together.”

Film screenings: one way technology can be used to share information. Credit: Pedro Martínez

Have trust in your community. Help people to become curious about coffee. Encourage them to research, and in turn share their knowledge. Together we can build a positive coffee culture.

Perfect Daily Grind

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