What is the state of Brighton coffee? We'll soon find out ...

We sit in a fun, illuminating position within Brighton coffee — working with nearly all of the specialty companies, and some chains, gleaning insight into how they operate and what Brighton coffee standards are like. Sometimes, we’re pleasantly surprised by the way coffee businesses (including one or two newcomers on the scene) take care of their staff and focus rigorously on quality. Other times, we can be appalled at the way owners care more abut optics than quality and treat baristas as disposable items.

What is the state of Brighton coffee? The Brighton Coffee Festival next weekend should be a pretty good harbinger.

We’ll be there, of course, working with two of our awesome collaborators Victoria Arduino and Small Batch Coffee. Expect to have your brain bent by some really interesting side-by-side comparisons, and a bit of hands-on stuff too.

On the VA stand, we’re working with Square Mile on a super-special coffee from Guatemala called Red de Mujeres, or “network of women.” Where civil war and a coffee crisis have left widows and abandoned families, this project seeks to support them with organic farming methods and an international market for their coffees. This particular coffee is from 50 farmers in the Huehuetenango region, and Square Mile has just roasted some and shipped it to Brighton for us. You can even try it in advance at Florence Road Market Saturday.

What are we going to do with this coffee? Well, you can taste it via two radically different espresso approaches — we’ll save the details for our festival stall. And we’ll roast a bit live as well so you can get your hands on the process. Our trainees will be involved, and you can chat with them about their experiences.

Meanwhile, we’re also working on a fun, summery component to the Small Batch stand, with details to be revealed! Meanwhile, in other stalls, you’ll be able to taste what’s going on in the Brighton coffee scene, talk to the top tier of coffee businesses about what it’s like to work for them and even check out some talks on running a cafe or latte art wizardry. Tickets are here. See you there?

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Lots of ways forward

The Florence Road Market coffee scene, in shorts weather.

The Florence Road Market coffee scene, in shorts weather.

There are approximately three of us on the Pro Baristas team, and we worked with more than 250 potential baristas last year. That includes a wide spectrum of people, some serious about rapid employment in coffee, others with major support needs for whom coffee skills are a way of moving forward in life. Given the massive scope of this work, we can sometimes forget to pick our heads up and look around!

When we do, it looks a bit like this:

  • Brighton has a coffee festival coming up, which seems both long overdue and a bit mystifying. Brighton rarely does things like London does them, so what does the “Brighton” version of a big coffee industry bash look like? Will it grease the skids for a bit more collaboration on the local scene? Will we feature some very different coffee experiences on our stall? (Yes. Yes, we will.)

  • There’s a new Brighton Coffee Guide out. Fully one-fourth of the baristas pictured in it are people we trained. That’s fun!

  • That factoid shouldn’t be a surprise, I guess, because out of 75 people who went into formal, certified SCA training with us last year, 56 found employment — that we know of! (People sometimes get jobs and forget to tell us). Guys, there are a lot of coffee jobs out there …

  • The Jobcentre, the government, employment charities, special needs schools — everyone wants more barista training. But how to make sure this leads to more meaningful, durable jobs? Post-Brexit, how do we fight the urge to just rush the market with labour units, insisting instead on building satisfying careers?

  • Has anyone dropped into our pop-up coffee cart at Florence Road Market lately? It may easily feature the tastiest espresso around right now, served by a certain well-travelled barista competitor and coffee importer who is working with us on vital, compelling, hands-on new curriculum design. This happens every Saturday, even in arctic weather.

  • Is there room in Brighton for a training cafe with built-in support structures? A training roastery? A matchmaking service to put talent in the right shops? We’re exploring; stay tuned.

Don't hire your customers

We work with a lot of employers, and have been crunching some data recently. It might seem crazy, but many speciality coffee businesses regularly see staff turnover of 80 percent or more each year.

But what if a bit more investment into new kinds of employees -- people who normally wouldn't get the chance -- could increase the stability of a work force whilst opening new pathways to people who actually need the work?

Pro Baristas' Ben Szobody recently spoke on this subject at the request of the Speciality Coffee Association at one of their CoLab conferences in Belfast. Enjoy.

Entry level to seasoned pro

Among the funnest things we do is helping total newcomers to coffee (many without meaningful job prospects) become seasoned professionals with satisfying careers.

Some of them get into coffee waaay further than they thought possible. Lewis is one of them.

He was one of our first apprentices, and now leads others at Ground Coffeehouses in Kemptown and Lewes. You can also occasionally spot him on our pop-up bars and the Small Batch carts. 

Pro Baristas at World of Coffee

Our head trainer, Laura Lumsden, is in Dublin this week for the year's biggest coffee confab, including the World Barista Championships and Re;Co, a symposium of coffee research and collaboration.

Thus far, she seems to have tasted syrupy American blueberries from a tin (for sensory science!), swilled instant coffee that doesn't suck (for research!) and absorbed a little botany to boot (for posterity!). 

She's also repping Pro Baristas, as we move toward more collaborations that join up speciality training with social investment. Thanks to Re;Co for sponsoring Laura's attendance.

Meanwhile, follow along as she swerves amongst the stalls here.