The vitality of California’s Verve Coffee Roasters is well known on the West Coast of the U.S.. Originally from Santa Cruz, the roasters now have venues in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tokyo, and a constellation of coffee shops that unify the two surf breaks of its hometown. Barista Mou Shehadeh works in the West Hollywood venue, attending latte throw downs on a monthly basis. In this interview, Mou outlines the importance of knowing about origin given the crop’s colonial legacy, and provides advice to those looking to pursue a career in the industry.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I’ve been working in coffee for three years, but I’ve been aware of the industry for a while. Many of my relatives (primarily my sister) have worked in coffee, and a large portion of my friends are baristas as well. So applying for a job at Verve seemed like a good place to start.
What's the status of specialty coffee in Los Angeles?
Moving from Santa Cruz, I was pleasantly surprised by LA’s abundant industry. In Santa Cruz I was limited to just a handful of cafes, but here in LA, it seems like there’s such a wide range of coffee shops each uniquely approaching the craft. Not to mention there’s a throw down at least once a month! These diverse perspectives, coupled with a little friendly competition, create a perfect environment for pushing this art form forward.
What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
It’s honestly such a meaningful practice. Because of coffee’s colonial past, it’s crucial for baristas to act as liaisons for our farmers and producers, teaching our customers about why it’s impactful to buy coffee from Burundi, or why it’s harmful to say that coffee from Region A is better than coffee from Region B. It’s an uphill climb for sure. Most people care more about what kind of milk is in their coffee rather than the coffee itself. But I find that there is a rapidly growing customer base that is eager to learn as much as they can as quickly as possible. Those are the people I would push into this industry.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
Definitely grab a V60 to start. You’ll always find yourself going back to it. Also start doing research about varieties and cultivars and maybe order coffee online so you can try, for instance, a Pacas roasted by several different roasters. Also definitely start going on coffee crawls. Talk to your baristas. Ask them what they like and where they go on their days off.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
There’s such a wide array of sources. I know that James Hoffmann, Lance Hedrick, and Emilee Bryant have all been putting out some great content. I also recommend using worldcoffeeresearch.org for independent research. You also shouldn’t be afraid to use scholar.google.com for more academic information. The articles you’ll find may be dense but they will be well researched and answer relevant questions to the industry whether they be societal or chemical.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
I’d really love to win a latte art world championship. I competed for the first time this year and I’m proud to say I made it to the final day. I’m also pushing for a larger training role at Verve. I’d love to get a position as a regional trainer. Lastly, my partner and I always talk about eventually opening a roastery of our own along with several branches. We have big dreams!
Follow Mou on Instagram via @espressedout