Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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IX YEARS AGO ON A MUGGY morning in Washington, D.C., I walked into a café on 14th and P Street and found Adam JacksonBey straightening retail coffee bags on the shelves while he waited for me. We were working at a lit- tle gelato mini-chain with locations in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (the DMV). I had just started as a barista trainer, and Adam was moving into a managerial role. I'd only ever seen him in passing because we worked in different cafés, and my impression of him up until then was that he was introverted—quiet and no-nonsense. Almost as soon as we stepped behind the bar, however, his snarky jokes started, and I realized how wrong I'd been. Once he's comfort- able, Adam is gregarious and funny, and can always be counted on for a clever observation or a bit of encouragement. It was behind bar those fi rst few days—exchanging sarcastic comments and terrible puns—where we fi rst became friends. Upon reading this, Adam may not appreciate my honesty, but he actually struggled with espresso and latte art at fi rst. Granted, this was 90 percent my fault—the way I was training espresso back then was too visual, and not precise and technical enough. As I met him for follow-up sessions though, I was taken with Adam's determination to not just be a good barista, but a great one. He had the kind of resolve, commitment, and follow-through trainers rarely see, even in an indus- try as noted for the passion of its members as is specialty coffee. He says he "enjoys chaos," but I think what he means is that he enjoys a challenge—a chance to implement well-defi ned systems. As far back as middle school, Adam was organizing game leagues with "divisions" that would play against each other, which makes a lot of sense when you witness the meticulousness with which he oversees latte art throwdowns and community gatherings. Today, he can—and does, watch out—talk at length about the importance he places on organization. For example, he follows a set schedule for engaging in email—no more, no less—which he reports has helped him to stream- line his work life. "Habits make dealing with uncertainty easier," he says. Adam might enjoy the chaos, but that's due to a desire to succeed in controlling it. Not long after I met him, Adam's doctor diagnosed a tumor on the right side of his neck. When it turned out to be malignant—stage 3— things changed. Before the diagnosis, Adam had been content existing within a small sphere of infl uence. After, though, his attitude and outlook changed. He began experimenting with his own personal rou- tines, adding things like a daily meditation practice, and cutting out others, such as drinking Diet Coke. Today, he describes the process as making himself "more whole," and he's continued to work to better himself ever since. Throughout his illness and the worst of his radiation therapy, Adam found strength in attending public cuppings, and visiting new shops and getting to know the staffs—and he still worked 40-plus-hour weeks. I was with him at the hospital when he got out of surgery, and even through his post-anesthesia haze, he tried to remind me to order coffee for his store, and assured me he'd be back at work on Friday. (I didn't laugh then, but I do laugh about that now. It's just a very Adam thing to worry about—coffee orders, in the midst of all that bedlam.) "Getting better physically was intertwined with getting better at coffee," he says. He'd been feeling despondent because of the illness, and needed something that he could still succeed in at a time when it felt like everything else was falling apart. Together, Adam and I started working on latte art, and when he felt more comfortable with his skills he began to compete in the monthly Thursday Night Throw- downs in D.C. Entering the competitions, then getting past the fi rst bracket, then past the second were goals he could focus on outside the hospital. At the time, the DMV Coffee group was casual. The group had been around since 2011 (founded by Counter Culture Coffee power couple Bryan Duggan and Christy Baugh) and was loosely organizing throw- downs, but cafés often had a lot of work to shoulder themselves. Adam began to see ways the group could do better. He volunteered to help and began systematizing the way the events were organized. Once that was squared away, the group expanded. DMV Coffee created an offi cial board, which doesn't have one single leader (at press time), and expanded to include, develop, and promote non-competition events. Today, DMV Coffee hosts multi-roaster cuppings, bystander training so baristas can de-escalate harassment and dangerous situations, and happy hours for baristas to hang out. "I was kind of lost, and I needed something to grab on to," he says. Getting involved in the industry gave him a sense of purpose, some- thing that would still be there after his treatment ended. Soon after he went into remission, Adam decided to give compet- ing in the United States Barista Championship (USBC) a try. A few months later, he saw an opportunity to get involved with the develop- ment of the United States Coffee In Good Spirits Championship (U.S. CIGS) via the U.S. Competitions Working Group, and a year after that he was voted onto the Barista Guild of America's (BGA) Executive Council. Between those activities, however, something quieter was hap- pening behind the scenes. Adam got involved with a group called Rethink Masculinity, and spent several months as part of a cohort of masculine-identifying people who were focusing on unlearning toxic behaviors and thinking seriously about what masculinity means today. Naturally, the personal refl ection led him to think more carefully about how competition is constructed, how the DMV Coffee board is assembled, and how representation happens—or traditionally hasn't happened—in the specialty-coffee industry. "There isn't a standard [human] experience," he says. Adam started seeking out people whose lives and identities differed from his in an effort to shape DMV Coffee. His interest in competing was partly infl uenced by his desire to add his experience to the conversation at a larger level. Adam uses athletic metaphors for just about everything, so it came as no surprise to me when he compared prepping for his fi rst go at the USBC to learning to swim: "It's like being near water, reading about how to swim, and then jumping straight into the ocean," he says. No amount of theoretical preparation gets you ready for the reality of actually doing it, basically. Competition, it turned out, wasn't just chal- lenging; he quickly discovered it was expensive. Adam had support going in, yet still he spent nearly $4,000 out of pocket just to attend regionals that fi rst year. To him, the consequences of the expenses inherent to the USBC model were clear: The high cost raises high barriers to entry, which has traditionally limited the voices that can be heard at competition to the individuals or companies who can afford it. Moreover, Adam noticed a distinct lack of diversity in competition, particularly a lack of people of color. Continuing to compete and increasing his involvement in the community have become a way for him to create a path, he says, "to show, basically, that black people can do it." Adam is happy to see there are some resources such as Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp now to help others compete—but he knows there's more work to do. He trea- sures his role in the development of the U.S. CIGS because it allows him to help shape what competition will look like moving forward. 56 barista magazine

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