Another barista, who has worked in specialty coffee in Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Olympia, Washington, echoed those sentiments, saying, “I worked at one place…that told me how enthused they were to have me there. They said that the specialty-coffee world needed more women. The problem was they never really let me in. I was never invited to hang out after work. I was the only woman working there, [and] the vibe was always just a boys’ club. The worst [came from] men who were higher up in the specialty-coffee industry. They would come in, I would be on bar as lead barista, and I was treated like the child butting into an adult conversation. I have been in the industry for my entire working life (12 years), and I am still in the same minimum-wage-plus-tips position.”
What sort of tests do you have to pass to become a master taster?
There’s no written test, because it’s all about your palate. That’s the thing that I think would surprise most people, that becoming a tasting expert is really about experience and focus. I mean, yes, you absolutely have to understand the production process, you have to understand how different things affect flavor, like wood and water and grain. Those are all very key, but really, the more you taste—and I think people will be happy about this—the more you taste, the better you do, the more you become aware.
If you understand your spice rack, if you understand the fruits that are in your refrigerator, if you understand what a good steak tastes like, then you’re going to understand the flavors that are behind bourbon. When you taste spice, you might think of specific memories you have of cinnamon, cardamom, pumpkin. You can taste pepper, and then you ask yourself if it’s black pepper, maybe white pepper. You taste something fruity, you might think of apple—but what kind of apple? Red, yellow, green? Or are you getting a flavor like orange or pomegranate? When you start to tap into the memories you’ve associated with different foods, that’s where the understanding of tasting begins. Does that make sense?
“Building on the existing network of small farmers is far preferable to throwing them off the land in favor of large-scale mechanized farming.”—
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a comprehensive interviewwith Modern Farmer, discusses the greatest challenges to our food systems (rapid population growth and unhealthy eating choices in countries where food is readily available), how sustainable agriculture can help reverse climate change, and the importance of investing in smallholders and rural agriculture. Regarding efforts on the latter, Clinton says there have been “extraordinarily outsized returns — not only for the individual farmers, but also for their national economies.”
Clinton goes into detail explaining how the foundations he’s involved in have helped smallholders by filling gaps in the supply chain and giving the farmers access to good, fairly priced seeds and fertilizer. He’s also pushing initiatives to empower female farmers (“women’s participation is a proven way to help an economy thrive”), and much more. It’s a vital read.
"The Great Language Game challenges you to distinguish between some eighty or so languages based on their sound alone. In each game you’re allowed three mistakes, which are kept for you to study at the end."