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What You Need To Know Before Starting a Career In Coffee

I get this question all the time, “how do I start a career in coffee?” Though I don’t have a one size fits all answer, there are certainly some things I wish I knew when I first began my journey. I’ve culled down my thoughts into just a few simple takeaways. 

1. Know the Pros and Cons of the Independent Coffee Shop

Man Making Coffee

This is a big one! I find many, including myself, are drawn to the smaller third wavecoffee shops with a cool factor that is often lost in some corporate-run coffee chains. Just remember, everything that glitters isn’t always gold and there are certainly pros and cons to each.

With independent coffee shops you may have a bit more leeway, however you can take on additional responsibilities that may overshadow your title and pay. If you work better in a trial by fire type of atmosphere and are okay going out of your comfort zone, this could be a good fit. On the other hand, larger well-established coffee companies are more likely to have well-structured training programs, roles and responsibilities and a clear career trajectory. When it comes to pay, you may have additional benefits that lend to higher compensation from the powerhouse coffee brands compared to the local mom and pops.

At the end of the day, you need to decide what sounds like more of a fit for you.

2. Are You Looking for A Job or Career?

I’ll start by saying there is a distinct difference between the two. If you’re just looking for a job, something to pay the bills until you lock down a different career path, I recommend pursuing the more carefree aspects of the coffee business. For example, become a barista where you can surround yourself with coffee, people and make some tips while having fun. If you’re looking for a career, I would pursue multiple opportunities that will allow you to maximize your experience though at times it will be far from glamorous.

3. The More You Know, the More Valuable You Are

Making Latte Art

This advice is really geared towards those interested in a long, fruitful career in the coffee industry. Whether it is crafting drinks as a barista, sourcing green beans, roasting coffee, customer service, fixing coffee equipment, or any other slew of coffee-related roles, never downplay the importance of each facet of the business, big or small. Those most successful and admired in the industry typically have a wide breadth of experience. Just like in any career, make yourself irreplaceable and you’ll always have a job.

Also, when all your experience adds up and you are ready to take the leap with your own coffee business, you will be far more likely to succeed with all those skills under your belt. 

4. Pick a Direction and Move Confidently

This advice is not exclusive to the coffee industry, but really all industries in general. Don’t sit and let all the possibilities keep you from doing anything at all. Remember, you can always pivot but make a decision and go for it! If you take a role and hate it, you are one step closer to finding an opportunity you’ll love. Whatever direction you pick, I recommend giving it a little time. Don’t let the first day or week be the reason you choose to leave, give it a few months to really evaluate the opportunity.

5. The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

Once you’re in the industry, be cognizant that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. If you are happy with your role and see a bright future, be careful about jumping to another opportunity just for a few more bucks or the promise of something great. I’m not suggesting becoming complacent whatsoever, but make sure you fully vet every opportunity to the fullest before potentially moving away from something special.

6. Life’s Short, Have Fun

At the end of the day, just like anything, there will be good days and bad ones. Try to have fun when you can and be a beam of positivity for everyone around you. Take opportunities to grow your knowledge, experience and broaden your horizon by meeting new people. If you have the ability to travel or experience coffee in different environments, always say yes! Do it all, learn along the way and think about how lucky you are to make a living doing something you love.

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