The high altitude town of Bozeman in southern Montana has been a gateway for outdoors people since John Bozeman wandered into the Valley of the Flowers in the 1860s, then meeting point for several indigenous groups. It has remained a frontier town since, with the Rockies and broad landscape attracting outdoors people from across the States.
Coffee offers another cornerstone, with the environmentally conscious Treeline Coffee calling it the 50,000-resident town home. Molly MacDonald is a barista and manager at Treeline, also taking on e-commerce responsibilities - broad foundations for thinking about what skills to tune to succeed in specialty coffee. This interview outlines Molly’s background into the sector, with guidance provided to other pathfinders.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I started working in coffee three years ago in 2019. My first shop was a chain, but I learned the basics about brewing. I started working at Treeline six months later, and that's where I became passionate about coffee. I have always been interested in the industry and was immediately pulled in by the complexity of each coffee.
What's the status of specialty coffee in Bozeman?
Specialty coffee is appreciated in Bozeman. We have quite a few roasters and high demand for a quality cup. Here at Treeline, we specialize in light roast single-origin coffees. I'm partial to a light roast, and Treeline has always been my favorite Montana coffee roaster. Despite having a high volume of roasters in Bozeman, there is a market for each one, especially since they all have different techniques and roast styles.
What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
I have seen many different personalities in the industry and it really comes down to being passionate about making an excellent cup of coffee. If you're passionate about what you do, everything else will fall into place. That being said, the coffee industry is extremely customer-oriented. Anyone looking to start a career in coffee should be prepared to answer lots of questions. Working in coffee means being comfortable educating your customer about the ins and outs of roasting and specialty beans. It comes down to wanting to educate the consumer, as well as expand your own knowledge.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
I would recommend finding a local coffee roaster you love and applying to work as a barista. I learned the most when I was on bar, explaining coffee to customers all day. In order to really educate your customer, you have to know what you're talking about. Make sure you choose a cafe that cares about its training. Good training will make or break your coffee experience.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to to gain more knowledge, and develop further skills?
Sprudge has great coffee content. They do a wonderful job of explaining niche coffee processes and breaking them down for the consumer to understand. My boss Natalie is my main source of information. She is great about forwarding emails and interesting information on our coffees + the industry.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
Coffee is an interesting industry because you can really find yourself in many different positions. One of the biggest complaints I have heard from people in coffee is the limited upward mobility. Luckily, that hasn't been the case for me. I think it's all about finding a shop with big goals and owners you connect with. Currently, I manage the cafes and some of our e-commerce. In the next few years, I expect I'll be more focused on e-commerce.
Although I love being behind the bar, I have found myself pivoting towards the business aspect of coffee. I love working for a small business that cares about its employees and the ethics of coffee. Moving forward, my goal is to help maintain those core values, while helping to grow the business in a sustainable way. It's fun for me to learn as I go and become more knowledgeable about the industry! I've also been able to gain skills in social media, website management, and e-commerce, which I would love to expand on in the future.