I was 17 years old when I got my first job in the coffee industry, sweeping the floors for Corsair Coffee, a wholesale coffee roastery in Wichita, KS. I built the foundation of my coffee knowledge there; I learned to roast and cup, how to source green coffee, sales, and how to fix specialty coffee equipment. One day, the owner of the business, to my surprise, informed me he was moving to Florida. “I need you to continue running the day to day operations of the roastery,” he said. Then a mountain of what looked like technical manuals suddenly plopped on my desk. “And service all the equipment we sell. Good luck!”
The first service call I ever ran was on a sweltering summer day. A local chocolatier had called and said their super-automatic espresso machine was inoperable. I spent the next five hours on the phone with an extremely patient Jimmy Wardell, who was employed by the manufacturer at the time. Armed with a handful of mostly inadequate tools and Jimmy’s help, I did eventually fix it.
When I left that day, I let out a few expletives, mostly directed at my far-away boss, but something about what I had just accomplished stayed with me. I desperately started searching for learning opportunities, manuals and over-the-phone tech support was only getting me so far. To my grave disappointment, there weren’t any! I called manufacturers asking for advice, and some of them offered 3-5 day certification courses, but warned me they wouldn’t be that helpful if I didn’t have any experience. Infuriated, I kept at it, one job after another, struggling through what seemed like a hopeless endeavor of self-teaching. Eventually, I attended the certification training at Astoria General Espresso at their USA headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. As the mechanics of these complex machines started to come together in my mind, I knew there was value in this work and that I could succeed at it.
I spent the next few years pursuing some of my other coffee passions. I did some consulting and helped with the opening of several very successful cafes. In 2013, I opened my own roaster-retail. All the while, I was fixing espresso machines on the side. I started to understand the model of a service business and that the demand for repairs was too high to keep it as a hobby – I saw a need.
In May of 2014, I opened Heartland Tech, a company solely devoted to specialty coffee equipment and repair. It started as just myself and my younger sister, Christianna, who had been right by my side most of my career in coffee. The hardest part of opening my business was figuring out how to transfer the knowledge and technique I’d learned in my eight years of experience to other people. It proved much more difficult than I had anticipated. It was painstaking and completely consumed all of my time.
The Coffee Technicians Guild is an outlet for people like me to share our experiences with others, a place to learn and grow together as a community with the same goal; becoming the best technicians we can be. I’m very humbled and proud to have been able to attend the first Coffee Technicians Guild Summit in November of 2016 and ecstatic about being able to participate in the development of the training materials to come.
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has proved it relevancy in the global coffee industry because of their ability to bring people together through relationships and community. Their esteemed investments in the development of science, education, and humanitarian efforts in specialty coffee sets them apart from any other entity in my opinion. I believe the Coffee Technicians Guild will uphold that same integrity. I think it will quickly become one of the most valued credentials to achieve by the SCA in a global industry starved for qualified professionals in this field.
I owe a lot of my success to the SCA. I’ve been a participant and a member for about a decade now. I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of educational classes, seminars, and expos over the years that helped cultivate the passion inside me into tangible skills, introduced me to industry leaders, and helped me build lifelong friendships with people from all over the world.