Barista Magazine

DEC 2017-JAN 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Story by Tom Abraham • Illustration by Stephanie McLean LIKE MANY NEW VENTURES, my journey into technician life started with failure. I interviewed for a technician-apprentice position at a local craft-coffee roaster, thinking I had all the skills I could possibly need: the ability to troubleshoot, almost a decade of experi- ence in the coffee industry, and a lot of passion. I didn't get the job, but the opportunity made me realize that coffee technician was exactly the career path I was searching for. The failure centered my focus, and I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to improve, so that next time such a position opened I would get the job. The experience was a great lesson for a budding technician: If you try something and it doesn't work as expected, you've still learned what not to do next time, so count it as a success. I was lucky to enter the fi eld working under an experienced techni- cian at OZO Coffee Roasters in Boulder, Colo. Andrew Passell—who is now with Doctor Coffee technical services in Denver—went out of his way to share all the tools in his arsenal. This was helpful for me being new to the fi eld, as I didn't come into it with any background in a mechanical trade. I had been a café manager and barista, which meant I could clean grinders, install a hot-water tower, and carry out other small in-shop repairs, but I was far from a true handyman. Working under someone who could teach me how electrical switches work, how you can use the hardness of different materials to your advantage, and how various plumbing connections create watertight seals has helped me sidestep a few long nights. (Although, as it turns out, there are plenty of those to go around regardless. As Andrew once told me, "Sometimes you reach the point in a repair where you realize your plans for the night have changed.") Tim Cox of Communion Café in Richardson, Texas, also dove into the technician world without any background in mechanical trades. Tim was hired as a trainer for a coffee roaster, but because the compa- ny didn't have a full-time tech on staff, he picked up those responsibil- ities, too. "The learning curve was fairly intense for me due to the fact I was mostly left to my own devices in terms of learning," says Tim. "Walking into a job not really knowing what I was doing and having café managers and baristas looking over my shoulder waiting for the equipment to function properly again was very nerve-racking." Having a lead technician to learn from allowed me to reach a level of expertise fairly quickly. If I had been learning exclusively from online research, trial, and error, reaching that level would have taken much longer. Xan Houston from New Orleans Espresso also believes in the value of professional mentorship. "Be a sponge. No matter how good you get, someone knows a trick that can make your life easier," he says. "I'm also a big believer in learning from people who have the skills. I would recommend fi nding a good tech company, or tech department, and learning from them." On-site training at a few different manufacturers has also been invaluable for me. The manufacturers are truly the experts of the equipment. Their employees have been dealing with machine repair for decades, and they know the ins and outs of how their equipment should be operating. Having at least a few months of experience working on machines is incredibly helpful for making the most out of a training. "I did a few manufacturer trainings, but I kind of felt like I didn't know enough yet to really internalize the information I was given," says Tim. In addition to ride-alongs with experienced technicians, Shad Baiz, chair of the recently established Coffee Technician Guild of the Specialty Coffee Association, says, "the things that helped the most were the Nuova Ricambi USA parts catalog for visual reference, and factory manuals. You can learn a ton with a schematic and an exploded parts diagram." Using parts diagrams and schematics was a new skill for me to learn. Reading electrical and hydraulic schematics can be tricky at fi rst, but understanding them is imperative for technician work. I've learned that it's important to have all of the pertinent manuals and schematics pulled up on my phone or printed out, especially when working on equipment I'm not familiar with. Manuals are like any other tool: Just as you need your screwdrivers to take apart the physical machine and investigate, you need manuals to take apart the conceptual machine. That leads to one of the most helpful pieces of advice I've been given as a tech: Machines are fi rst and foremost concepts. You can defi nitely discover things from busting open the machine to gather information, but if you don't start out knowing where you should be directing your Story by Tom Abraham • Illustration by Stephanie McLean 88 barista magazine

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