The town of Greenville in South Carolina is home to Spill the Beans (Instagram) where barista Jason Wall works. Jason’s deep interest in latte art comes through in this interview, as well as concrete advice and resources for baristas joining the industry.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I started my coffee journey about three and a half years ago. I was in college and a new coffee shop was opening in my city, a place where my friend already had a job and encouraged me to apply. I was skeptical at first because up to this point in my life I did not know anything about specialty coffee at the time. Except the occasional Starbucks Frappuccino, which I now know is not specialty coffee. Once I started, I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere and the work. I started really getting into latte art about six months after starting. I consider myself to be very creative and latte art was a good way for me to express that. Recently I am having been learning all I can about the industry and the potential of roasting, as well as progressing my latte art skill.
What's the status of specialty coffee in South Carolina?
Coffee is rapidly growing industry in South Carolina, with high quality roasteries and shops opening frequently. There is a strong community of coffee professionals in the upstate of South Carolina that have set up successful businesses for the community to enjoy. Latte art is struggling in South Carolina, but it is a new movement that many people are working towards improving their skills. I would like to see coffee shops work together more and help each other succeed as well as compete. We had a recent latte art throwdown at my local coffee shop which I was lucky enough to take first place in. This was a great opportunity for all coffee shops around the area to come and see what is going on around them.
What types of people are suited to working in coffee?
Anyone can be successful in some capacity in the coffee industry. But I do believe it takes a person with patience, interpersonal skills, great short-term memory, poise under pressure, and a basic understanding of sales techniques to be a great barista. A barista’s role in a shop is more than simply making coffee. That’s the easy part, you will have customers on the best days when you might help celebrate an exciting time with them and you will also have customers on their worst days and they just need someone to talk too, a good barista can brighten someone’s day with a short conversation at the counter. A barista is not only an employee but also a friend to a large part of a city. One of my favorite parts of being a barista is getting to know all the regulars and the joy it brings them when we remember their order. I love keeping up with their lives and hearing about the exciting news they have to share or being a friend when they are going through a hard time.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
First starting in coffee can be intimidating because of the large learning curve. Some resources I use to progress my knowledge includes YouTube creators and talented baristas on Instagram. Early on I watched Wolff Coffee Roasters, Seattle Coffee Gear, RealChrisBaca and The Real Sprometheus on YouTube to learn the basics and further my coffee knowledge. They all helped me understand the process of coffee better as well learn the basics of latte art. Once I got into more advanced latte art pours, I learned a lot from following Edward Griffin (@milkyfinessee) on Instagram. I also was lucky enough to go and compete in the world latte art championship at Coffee Fest where I gained a lot of knowledge on new is going on in the industry.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
Most of my knowledge comes from the previous YouTube accounts I mentioned. I also enjoy reading the blogs from Ally Coffee to get a better understanding of the roasting process.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
What is next for my career is unclear. I would like to open my own shop and potential roast my own beans in the future. For now, I am looking to start doing latte art training classes for individuals and barista staffs at a coffee shop. I believe latte art is lacking in the local coffee industry and that makes me sad because I believe it is beautiful and adds something to the drink.
Follow Jason on Instagram via @Jbeansbarista