Im Kiez

Bara, coffee roaster. A Talk.

We talked to Bara from Tres Cabezas/19grams about roasting and what she associates with coffee, the indisputable wonderful sides and the equally undeniable negative aspects.

Bara, let’s start at the beginning. How did you find your ways into roasting?

I originally was studying politics and human rights, it was always something I was interested in. I really like history and war: Why people go into war, different types of war, what is behind the mentality of people favouring war…

But I realized that the whole politic thing is nothing for me, I don’t have the stomach for it. And then the coffee topic was occupying my desire.  

So you started thinking about coffee during your studies?
No not really. I’ve been working in the coffee business since I was 16. I always loved the feeling in coffee shops! And to have a coffee in the morning, reading your newspaper. I started casual as a part timer running on the floor like a lunatic and truly enjoyed doing it when I was 16. But the older I got, the more I knew that it is actually something I wanted to do. I thought about opening my own coffee shop cause I loved the culture of coffee shops, bringing people together.

»When I was a kid I saw my mom drinking coffee everyday. It was her first thing in the morning (still is) as much as it was a ritual of meeting friends for a coffee. I loved having a proper talk over coffee.«

But don't get me wrong, my 13 years old me was disgusted by this black liquid. When I got older, I started to see the bigger picture, not only the coffee shop part. I learnt that coffee farming isn't always a noble job for everyone and that people struggle through many different reasons such as for a payment, weather conditions or terrible living conditions. I wanted to be part of a change for a better world. Not only in terms of the coffee industry. But it is not as easy as people might think to get a job in this kind of field.

I went backwards in a way,  to basic jobs like waitressing and being a barista, constantly trying to dive deeper. But there is no real education for coffee. There are courses for tasting, roasting, barista, or latte art, but it’s not the same. It’s no real education.


And what kept you going?
Passion, also a desire for more knowledge. It’s not a carrier like “I’m gonna go and own the world”, it’s not like that. It’s more about the fervor. Lately, I have been thinking about going back to university and focusing more on tropical and subtropical farming. I see the future in farming, that's where it all starts and without farmers producing a speciality coffee while sustaining themselves there will be no speciality coffee for us to serve customers.
In Brazil I learnt so much about agriculture and forest agriculture, not only how to work with the soil itself and how to test the soil but also how and why to plant certain types of trees. But the question is: Do I need to go back to the university to have a paper for it or just do it? That’s something I struggle with.


Definitely A key struggle!
I went through serving people, making coffee, roasting coffee, but now also farming, planting  coffee. I am missing the logistic plan now. It’s just really a whole chain. There is so much more behind it and of course I wish to make people more aware of it.


Could you see yourself in a position of teaching others about exactly this, about your experiences?
I do think about it and people ask me to share my knowledge. But it's not a field I see my future in. I also question myself a lot in a way, do I know enough to teach? I would say I’m very skillful in tasting coffee but I don’t really care what’s the newest coffee trend out there. It’s not like I want to  talk coffee all day long, I want to be doing hands on work and that's where roasting comes in.

Which brings me to another topic: Sometimes when people asks me questions like “How is it like being a female roaster?”, it feeIs like people still trying to put me in a box. I mean, it’s so hard to explain that you want to drag the bags of the beans yourself, that you actually chose to do it although it is heavier than you and you are in dust and it is exhausting.

How does this make you feel?
I appreciate when people help me (and the boys in the roastery do it all the time) but it’s just the idea of putting women in general in more beautiful looking spots. It feels like it, sometimes. I believe I can do anything that I want and it does not matter if I am a woman or a man.

But it is still the old way to look at things. My grandma is a good example, she would be terrified if she knew that I drag the bean bags on my own. There is this sort of classification of women and what they are supposed to do. But that can be applied to lots of other industries, too. We are changing the view, slowly but surely.

[The business of quality coffee is slowly but steady developing in Germany. More and more quality coffee shops are opening, people seem to have found a newly sparked interest and appreciation of the coffee craft.]


How do you think the state of high quality coffee in Germany is developing? Is the acceptance and the interest on the rise?
I hope so because you cannot keep the industry growing and developing without the end consumers. It’s important that the whole public get involved. Coffee is something that almost everyone drinks, it’s a part of your daily life. But it does not end with coffee. We have things that are so normal that we don’t question them anymore. Coffee is a thing like that. It is so normal for people that they don’t really see why they should be interested in how it gets transferred here. Most of the people do not think about how their beans got transported here wile drinking a cappuccino.

It is hard to educate people because not everyone wants to be educated. We are ignorant to struggles of our own planet because we are immersed into our own problems.

Have you thought about ways to increase the awareness of people about the conditions in the coffee industry?
Of course. People do ask me a lot how do I make people understand, how do I make coffee more appreciated. People don’t want to pay more for a cup of coffee. On the other hand we need to make people aware of different pricing. When you decide to invest the money and support the farmer and you are bringing something that is different, or what you simply believe in,  people need to pay the price. And not everyone is going to pay the price, a lot of them actually are going to complain. But through complaints you raise awareness of a product. People start talking about the topic and wonder. It makes them curios. It makes them taste and question.


»Plus the whole relationship between end customers and baristas is still something that is working and not working at the same time.«

The thing is also, that a lot of people don’t exactly know, what a Barista does.
Yeah, that’s what I mean exactly. People don’t look at coffee as something that can be counted as a proper job. I have struggled with my own family about this for a really long time. Let me give you another example: I was applying for an apartment and I met with the owner and we had a proper chat then he asked me “What are you doing, you are working in coffee? What does that even mean?” I sat there and thought "I’m not even good enough, you know? I don't want to try finding excuses or making the job sound more beautiful or more profitable than it is. I work in an industry that has been here forever and people still don’t seem to get what’s behind is. It is so complex and it is beautiful… and they have no idea!

I was so impressed when I saw you cupping. You gave us so much input about the different beans, everything sounded rather complex. Yeah, it was super interesting!
I am happy about that. Once I start talking I’m unstoppable. But then the sad thing is that sometimes even people who work in the same industry lack the passion for it. It is something which I just lately started to think of and it brings me to earlier issues we have discussed about people being underpaid, people actually not having real interest in education of customers, education of themselves and not looking at the job as a proper job and one that they like. 

There are still so many places where they only pay minimum wages. I highly disagree with other people to being paid minimum. I struggle within myself but I also struggle for other people because I hate seeing it. It is not fair.


[We would like to give the reader some insider tips on where to find the best coffee shops in Berlin. Bara did not disappoint us.]


Do you have a favourite coffee shop in Berlin?
At home. (HAHA)

I can get disappointed quite a lot with people serving me coffee. That is another thing just to drop it off. I get emotional with coffee just to explain it to myself. I talk to the roaster while roasting. 


»But I really love “Isla”, it is just the whole concept. They are a little bit different than the others!«


And there is one place, I have truly loved for years now, but it is not in Berlin, it is in Dublin. It is called “Love Supreme”. That place has always been on my mind and there are no other places overtaking the love I have for that place. I used to go there every Sunday, I would take a book and I would read and drink a coffee. It was sort of my Sunday thing. Just the feeling you get there, it was something that touched my heart. I was feeling really comfortable there, I simply wanted to be and sit there every week.


Did it remind you on your experience from when you were a kid?
Yeah, the ritual of something magical, the atmosphere. Unfortunately I don’t really get it in Berlin. Not yet.


pictures: Viktor Strasse Photography


Together with Hannes and Ersin from Coffee Circle, Bara is responsible for creating selo roasted coffee. In a team they chose our roast coffee and developed the roast profile.

You can find our interview with Hannes and Ersin here.