Hello, and welcome to my blog.
Hi guys, my name is Nicole.
BEGINNINGS OF A BARISTA
I started working in coffee when I was 18 years old and what can I say? Coffee very quickle became a part of me. Since then, I’ve been working in specialty coffee and over the years, my perception of what it means to be a barista has changed drastically.
I’ve always been fascinated with food and drinks - handmade, real products that require a certain way of respect and understanding. After my first few years working in coffee I decided to start an apprenticeship as a chef and moved to Berlin (from my hometown of Görlitz). I learned what it meant to work insane hours, learned rules and respect, reached limits and broke them to go further.
For me, being a chef was everything but glamorous. We worked 13 to 14 hours per day and constantly smelled like food. My day was a big to do mis en place list and my smoking breaks, trying to not get yelled at.
I learned so much in this time and I started to understand that if there is something that I really want, I would have to work my ass off to get it. In 2015, I quit my job as a chef and started working again in specialty coffee, with a new drive to push myself to learn everything about the craft.
I was employed at Röststätte in Berlin - however, they didn’t actually need a barista at that point. I was ok with working minimum hours (I think it was 26 or so, which was insane after my 70 hour weeks) and worked in the kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning.
It was weird. I could barely pay my rent at that time and everyone said “You are crazy!”, but I felt as though I was doing the right thing for the first time in a very long time.
So, bear in mind that before my short career as a chef, I had already worked as a shop manager and barista before moving to Berlin. However, when I restarted my career in coffee, for the first year it was only washing dishes and working on the cash register (and asking many, many questions). I asked so many questions that everyone quickly realised that I was eager to do more and wasn’t going anywhere.
BACK BEHIND THE MACHINE
Soon, my hours went up to normal working hours and full shifts. My colleagues where insane - I’d never seen such a clean workspace, so much precision, so many details. They showed me how to dial in coffee properly and I thought to myself, ‘I will never get better if I don’t constantly try and stay curious’.
This is probably one oft he most challenging things in the life of a barista: to be your own source of motivation. Stay hungry. Learn more. Connect. It’s really hard to always push yourself.
But I wanted more. As I was learning more and more about working behind the bar and using the grinders and machines, I annoyed my boss to teach me how to roast their coffee (over a year, I asked every day). Eventually, he began to teach me and now we work together to roast all the coffee for the company.
At the same time, I began to work on my technical skills. As my workplace is also a distributor for equipment, as soon as we would receive a new product, I would read the complete manual. And, I would do the same with coffee; as soon as we’d receive a new coffee, I would try to read about the country, the farm and about the coffee itself. This way, I knew I always had stuff to tell the customer and could always tell a good story.
Gradually, I became more involved in the wider coffee community in Berlin and began to participate in events. I took part in some casual latte art events and seriously, I sucked. I always got kicked out in the first round and felt so bad. So one day, I decided to lock myself in at work, buy litres and litres of milk and train. Eventually, I got better and it started being really fun.
My first real barista competition was in 2016.
The idea grew after watching Erna Tosberg, one of the most inspiring women in the German coffee industry, compete on stage and i was so impressed. I wanted to be just as powerful and professional as she was.
The preparation for the championship was all over the place. When you are first beginning, you have no clue what to do, or how to start. One week before my first competition, a barista champion from another European country watched my routine and asked “So, how long until comp?” When I told them it was one week, their reply was “One week? Well, we cant change everything now…..” As you can imagine, I felt horrible.
During the championship everything was new and exciting (and terrifying)! I managed to advance to the second round and after performing my routine for the judges again, they announced me in second place overall - I was pretty overwhelmed!
I wanted more! I started experimenting with new ideas for the next championship. I trained for six months, four of which I was working seven days a week. I felt like I was going crazy, but I wanted to win it soooo badly.
It was time for the championship. My first run on stage was … well, a disaster. I made what felt like a million mistakes and thought, ‘Well, that’s it man…..’. But somehow, I managed to make it to the second round. And from that moment on I just said ‘F*ck it, I want the judges to have fun with me on stage.’ So, I went back on stage with nothing to lose, delivered what felt like a great performance and it felt great.
When it came time for the announcements, I expected my name to be called in last place. But they called 6th…..then 5th….then 4th…and still, my name hadn’t been announced. When they called 3rd place and it wasn’t my name, I thought ‘Oh my god, what is happening?!’. When 2nd place was called and it still wasn’t my name, I immediately began to cry (of happiness)! I couldn’t believe it - I had won!
AFTER THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Winning the German Barista Championship felt surreal. I had worked so long and so hard for it, but in some ways winning the trophy somehow didn’t really satisfy me. I was much happier talking about coffee and showing my skills than holing this award in my hands.
After I won, I fell hard. I felt overworked. Stressed. Lacked a social life. After the championship, I still worked over one month without a day off. Until my body gave up. And my mental health as well.
During this period, I wasn’t able to use my left arm at all due to the fact that I’d completely overworked it during training and working. I had an extremely hard decision to make - I decided to not take part at the 2018 World Barista Championship, as I felt this injury would impair me and maybe someone else would have a better chance to represent Germany.
I felt so ashamed. Ashamed that I couldn’t pull through and that I had reached my limit. I felt weak and depressed.
I still travelled to Amsterdam to watch my replacement compete in the World Barista Championship, to see the best baristas in the world performing their craft and to watch the first female barista champion, Agnieszka Rojewska win the world title.
Watching all of these amazing baristas, I knew that this was the only thing that I really wanted - to work in coffee. I love it! I didn’t want to give it up, I just had to learn to not be so hard on myself.
A NEW GOAL
Slowly I started working on a new concept for the next German Barista Championship. I travelled to Barcelona for a week to write my speech for a new performance and it came out pretty ok.
Then, I started working on my signature drink and I absolutely loved it. I loved every single part of my routine by the end. My favourite music, the drinks, the energy.
I took my time to think about everything. I still trained hard but nowhere near as hard as the year before. Or maybe I did, but it just felt more like me.
At the 2019 championship, I placed 3rd. It wasn’t the result I wanted, but I knew that this time I managed to show so many people my real passion. People kept writing to me, saying that the performance and my work is so inspiring for them.
I really want to share this passion, share knowledge and build a new generation of strong, driven baristas that love what they do with every heartbeat.
So, I’ve decided to share my experiences with all of you. If you have any questions or suggestions, do please message me. And now, I want you to enjoy my blog.
We can brew it!