Posted by Layne Sheetz
At Rose City Coffee, there is a question that comes around a lot about our program. It’s a question that we sometimes ask ourselves.
Is coffee really a “good-enough” trade to train homeless youth in if we’re trying to give them sustainable futures?
Many baristas in the industry might tell you that they don’t make what they’re worth. Wages are usually above minimum, but certainly below maximum. Tips are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and always essential to make it, especially in LA.
I don’t have numbers, or data, or statistics. With research, I could probably show you how specialty coffee in the last few decades has carved itself out in American culture as more than a niche but a cultural necessity. The quality has gone up among the “third wave” of specialty coffee, driving up the price, expectations and wages. I could point to coffee driving the economies of countless countries from where we source our coffee, or the large expansion of professional-level jobs in the industry.
What I do have is a few years experience, and a lot of testimonials that all confirm:
Being in coffee means being part of a community containing the best people in the world.
The coffee-shop culture is unparalleled in society. The baristas, servants, professionals and artists in their field, interact with a generation of their peers, providing a novelty item that both serves to fuel their creative drive and ignite their taste buds in unrivaled ways. (Coffee is the most complex item we taste, 20 times more complex than wine. That one IS a statistic.)
And I can’t exactly explain why, but working in a coffee shop is one of the better things in this world. Baristas are welcomed in one another’s shops warmly, despite the Capitalist framework of our economy trying to tell us, “That is your enemy; that is your competition.”
Coffee has discovered a different truth about the way good business works. It’s a timeless truth.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
If one specialty coffee shop does well, it’s a victory for all of them. Customer loyalty is great, but converting a customer from a Folgers drinker to buying a coffee that was sourced ethically, roasted freshly, and prepared by someone who knowledge is only exceeded by their passion helps EVERYONE in the industry.
Rose City Coffee has experienced this firsthand since our inception. Handsome Coffee Roasters came alongside us with open arms and has partnered with us from our onset, and we couldn’t have done it without them. Their training, their coffee, and their support, despite DEFINITELY costing them more than we earn for them, demonstrates this fully.
But this week, another world-class coffee roaster, Stumptown, joined in on the action. Rose City Coffee has never purchased even one single coffee bean from Stumptown, but they jumped at the opportunity to teach our students about coffee. They asked nothing in return, and were begging for us to come back and spend more time with them. The students got to tour facilities, receive free drinks, brew hands-on with professionals, and watch videos of their sourcing trips. All out of sheer kindness and generosities.
So, to bring it all around, we think that coffee is worthwhile for lots of reasons. But, honestly, the biggest reason is that this industry contains the best and brightest and nicest and most lovely people we know. And we want our students to meet these people, and join them; whether they work in coffee for five years or fifty, specialty coffee is a culture worth entering in, and it shapes you. This third wave of coffee is a rising tide that will carry you with it. We may not know where it’s taking us, but frankly, we’d go anywhere with people like those behind Handsome and Stumptown. Thank you to all our partners and supporters, we couldn’t do it without you, and we can’t wait to send you a new crop of students.