Adventures of a Coffee Trainer by Emma Haines
Not Another Blog!’ I hear you cry. ‘Someone else jumping on the digital bandwagon and hoping to become Insta-famous from a few beautifully edited snaps and some clever wording?’
Well, not really. If you’re looking for gorgeous coffee photography and comments on how perfect life is as a travelling trainer, this probably isn’t the quick coffee-break read you’re after. No, this blog has essentially been a long time in the making and will aim to be an account of the highs and lows of being an independent coffee trainer. I mean, of course I’ll try my hand at some snazzy pictures, or witty hashtags, but to be honest, this is more about real life and the coffee industry in it’s raw, beautifully unfiltered form.
I’ve been a trainer for the last 10 years. Working in hospitality and catering for the first part, with a full transition over to coffee around five years ago.
My journey into coffee training was a bit of a random one, I’ll admit. What started as a ‘necessary evil’ (caffeine, caffeine and more caffeine to keep me going through long hours and sleepless nights as a working mother), slowly became more of a passion. Around 2013, when my youngest son was about a year old, I was running a training programme that helped young people who were not in education, employment or training gain a qualification (Level 2 Food Safety in Catering) and gain practical skills in order to help secure them a job, or apprenticeship. I’ve seen first-hand the positive effect that training has, especially when combined with soft skills (resilience and confidence building, the ability to work well in a team, leadership skills, etc) and have many a time stood in tears as someone has bounced over to me merrily to tell me that the employer they just met (often as part of our training programme) has complimented their newly learned cookery skills and has invited them in for a work trial or similar.
But cooking into coffee, how does that fit?
Well, the more courses I ran, the more I met with potential employers and the more I listened. I learned to listen to what employers wanted and what they struggled to get. It became apparent that they needed people to have some work experience, something which was often difficult with the groups of trainees I worked with, as many had never managed to secure a job before the programme. My answer? Well, open a café of course! I could then employ trainees, give them a year or so of real life work experience, before helping them spread their wings and gain employment in a job they really wanted. The idea seemed so simple to me. So simple in fact, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t happening everywhere…. We can sell ‘proper’ coffee and nice food, it will surely be straight forward?
Oh boy, how naïve was I!
Fast forward some long, agonising months and there I was. Running a café with a brilliant team, whom I nurtured and cherished, but who all had their own demons to battle. The commitment was there, but I soon realised that barriers to employment were tough to overcome and having a bit of tenacity wasn’t the only thing you needed. What a learning curve it was!
That said, whilst running that first café, I learned so much and that was where my real passion for coffee came from.
I remember meeting Richard and Ben of FandE coffee, who at the time were a start-up craft roastery based in a town not far from our café. They helped me realise what a huge world speciality coffee was and after tasting a naturally processed Ethiopian Rocko Mountain espresso they’d made me, there was no going back. I was totally hooked on amazing coffee and I had found my true calling. I set about learning, listening, reading everything I could. I started talking to people in the speciality coffee industry and became a company member of the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), or SCAE as it was back then.
I remember talking with the education team at SCAE and telling them about my café, my training programmes and how I wanted/needed to deliver SCA training to my trainees, and from then, my love for coffee reached a whole new level.
One of the highlights of my training journey, was attending my Professional Barista Skills course with the amazing Laura Lumsden of Small Batch in Brighton. Up until then, I hadn’t really met or spoken to anyone in the coffee world that had a similar mindset to me. When I informed the other attendees on any of the courses I was on, that I was becoming an AST to help others get a job, I think they regularly questioned whether I’d just had one too many espressos. Who in their right mind would spend all that time/effort/money becoming an AST just to help others? What on earth did I mean I hadn’t been slinging ‘spros as a barista in a speciality shop for the last five years? I worked with the unemployed? WHAT?!
But Laura was a complete beacon of hope. I spent three days as her trainee and I still maintain they were some of the best days’ in coffee I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few!) She taught me so much as a trainer and not just about coffee. I remember leaving the course, having passed saying ‘if I can become half the trainer you are, I’ve done my job’ - and to this day, I still hope I am inspiring and empowering people like she does.
So that was that, I attended my SCAE AST ‘train the trainer’ course in London a few months later and was then released into the wild as a certified coffee trainer. Excited, nervous and a little over caffeinated…
Since then, I have gone on to train hundreds of individuals, both as certified SCA students and also with ‘in-house’ training and I can genuinely say I really do love my job, with every week bringing new challenges and tasks, new people to encourage and support and new things to learn and grow my knowledge on and long may it last!
Emma has worked in hospitality and catering training for the last 10 years. For the last five years, she has focused on coffee training, in particular specialty coffee training and how to incorporate specialty elements into commercial environments. She works all over Europe and beyond, and is a resident trainer at London School of Coffee.