Published by Tanya in Coffee Insurrection Hero · 18 September 2021
Tags: 1951Coffee, DougHewitt, EvelynSolis, Berkeley, Interview
Tags: 1951Coffee, DougHewitt, EvelynSolis, Berkeley, Interview
1- Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s your job.
E: My name is Evelyn Solis. I am from Guatemala. I work at 1951 Coffee Company as the Lead Barista.
D: My name is Doug Hewitt. I am originally from Tennessee and I work at 1951 Coffee as the Chief Executive Officer.
2- When and why did coffee become important to you?
E: Haha hard question. I don’t know. I grew up in a place with coffee around me. Everywhere I can see coffee. I didn’t know coffee was important outside of my country. It is important to me because I want coffee to be recognized around the world because the cultivators, as we call them in Guatemala, do such hard work. When I came to the United States, I saw many cafes and it was so expensive here. They even have coffee from Guatemala and they said it was good quality. I then understood that inside of Guatemala the coffee seemed to have little value, but here it was so expensive. Then I knew that growing coffee was important to people all around the world. In my country coffee was just everywhere, but it's not the same in other places.
D: After I completed grad school in 2011, I was looking for a job in refugee resettlement. Agencies weren’t hiring at the time so I got a volunteer gig working with the IRC. In the meantime I needed a job. I had a few friends working at a coffee consulting company called Boot Coffee Consulting. They had a project they were working on and needed someone to roast and begin a wholesale program for a coffee coming out of Ethiopia. They taught me how to roast coffee and I began to work finding distribution channels in the Bay Area. I would often roast coffee while many of the other consulting classes would be taking place. I had been a barista before, but this opened me up to the world of specialty coffee here in the Bay Area.
3- Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?
E: I had never in my life had an espresso drink. In my country we just have brewed coffee. When I tried espresso drinks… I didn’t even know iced drinks existed. Yeah so when I had my first espresso drinks, it was a latte in the 1951 Coffee training program. It was too bitter for me because I was used to drinking coffee with sugar. But then my life changed because I started taking my coffee drinks without sugar. I didn’t realize how good it could be. Well except for caramel lattes I still think those are the best.
D: I remember the first time I really enjoyed a cup of coffee wasn’t long after moving to the Bay Area in 2007. I was with some friends in San Francisco. I had been a coffee drinker for a while and was even working as a barista at Starbucks. That day we were exploring the Mission District and stepped into Ritual Coffee on Valencia. I got one of the single origin pour overs and loved it. It was probably the first time I had enjoyed a cup of coffee with no cream or sugar.
4- What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?
E: Everything! I don't know, every morning I wake up really excited to work because I love making coffee and interacting with customers but what I like the most is dialing in the espresso. I can see how the espresso changes even with just 1 second. It is important for me to have a good shot of espresso in the morning. Customers go to a cafe because of that taste, not just the customer service. If the coffee isn't good customers won't come back. This week when I was dialing the espresso, a customer came and ordered an espresso right away. She was watching me dial the espresso. I really wanted to be sure they got a good cup. She started asking me questions about what I was doing and was so surprised by the detailed process I was going through to make her an espresso. She was quite impressed and that made me so happy.
D: Each day when I open the cafe the first thing I do, even before turning on the lights, is prepare the batch brew. I walk in and begin grinding the coffee. The fragrance of the coffee from grinding and the aroma once the brew begins is almost as good as the first few tastes. It can feel hectic to get everything prepared on time, but the smell of coffee filling the cafe calms me down and helps me ease into the morning before the first rush of customers pours in around 9:00am.
5- What’s your favorite brewing method and why?
E: Making an espresso!
D: I really enjoy the siphon. It might seem pretentious as it certainly is not the most practical way of making a cup of coffee and it doesn’t necessarily make the best cup of coffee. However, when I brew with a siphon it brings out the kid in me that can imagine myself as a chemist in a lab creating some wonderful concoction. It's fun to share it with friends and family that are just as enamored with the process as I am.
6- Which is the best coffee you have ever tasted?
E: The best coffee? Of course 1951 Coffee haha. I once made a latte in the cafe. The espresso was not too bitter or sour. The milk was exactly right. And that perfect point was like an explosion for me.
7- Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?
E: Of course my country: Guatemala. The place where I lived, Huehuetenango, has the best quality of coffee. The climate is amazing. The altitude is perfect. My dad worked in coffee and was a taster there. So he had to do coffee cupping. He told me the best coffee in Guatemala was from where we live. It makes me feel so happy to be recognized in this way. Even here in the cafe the coffee we serve is from where I lived in Guatemala.
D: Learning to roast and spending a year roasting Ethiopian coffees has given me passion for coffees from that region of the world. Roasting a coffee and sampling it through the entire process, mapping out the changes, and then tasting it afterwards really engrains the flavor profile in you.
8- Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one you working at/you use at work).
E: Red Bay Coffee in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. They have really good coffee and the space is amazing.
9- What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?
E: Aye yai yai I don't know if I can answer that question. Working in coffee has opened doors for me. Knowing something about coffee can help me to get a job anywhere. Even if you are not from where coffee grows. You will be able to learn about the taste, the quality, where coffee comes from. Everyone can drink coffee but many people just taste “normal coffee”, but I have learned to taste the unique flavors.
D: If you supervise or manage baristas, empower them to succeed. Give them genuine say in how things are run. That doesn’t mean opening up every decision to the whole team, but allowing your team to have influence over how the cafe operates and especially as it pertains to efficiencies in their jobs or how they serve customers. I see my job in leading our cafe as a role in which I empower our team to serve the customers well. If I do that correctly then our team will be able to do that with joy and confidence knowing that I have their backs. This means I must continually create the opportunity for people to provide feedback and have the willingness to listen.
10- How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new challenges for hospitality?
E: Many customers don't feel comfortable enough for others to make their coffee. They don't know if we are vaccinated or not. Some customers expect things to be normal like putting milk in their coffee or sugar, but we have to do that for them to protect others. There are some people that dont want to come back to the cafes because of this.
D: The coffee industry is both individually vulnerable and collectively resilient. Individual cafes have struggled significantly during the pandemic and many smaller companies have closed. However, the need and desire for coffee has continued and will continue. Conveniences, often more easily created by larger companies, have become a part of the norm for consumers. Pre-ordering online, delivery, and selling beans for home brewing have become more endemic. Our diversity in cafes has always been our strength in the industry and I hope that both the consumers and even larger companies will strive to intentionally sustain the smaller companies through this time.
11- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
E: I want to be an important exporter of coffee--creating my own business. It is hard to think that far ahead. If I have an opportunity to be alive for that time, I want to create my own business. I have started my own coffee farm and I want to continue that work and become an exporter. In the future, if I can, I want to have my own cafe too.
D: I hope that 1951 Coffee will be able to inspire others to join us in this work in other cities in the United States. Currently refugees are resettled in cities across the country that also have thriving coffee scenes. It will only be possible through partnership both in the refugee resettlement sector and with companies that have a larger national footprint.