Bristol ranks highly in the leaderboard of best coffee cities in England, joining Leeds, London and Manchester as towns with the most specialty coffee shops. In this interview, local Bristol barista Tereza Nekvasilova outlines her journey in specialty coffee and provides a curated list of resources for baristas looking to progress in the industry.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?About 10 years ago I needed a job, anything, that would bring some money in. I thought being a barista would be super cool - saw some of my friends doing it and they all seemed to enjoy it. Think about it, coffee is a very positive thing to give to customers. If you're a barista, people are happy to see you. You make their day with that cuppa.
Luckily I was given a chance in Caffe Nero here in Bristol where I stayed for only six months before moving back to working in hotels instead. However, within a few years, I missed making coffee and the interaction with customers so rejoined Caffe Nero in Cardiff where I stayed for almost three years before landing my first ever job in specialty coffee.
My passion for coffee grew almost every day and I started travelling a bit more, attending coffee festivals and coffee competitions, learning from some of the best people and eventually was able to pass my knowledge on in Barista courses that I helped to design for 200 Degrees Coffee Shop. When being behind the bar wasn't enough, I eventually got a job at Extract Coffee Roasters and moved to Bristol, where I still live. I gained some experience in roasting and overall run of a coffee production before I realised my place is indeed behind the coffee machine of a coffee shop. A few months back I became a Head Barista for Bristol Loaf and I could not be happier.
What's the status of specialty coffee in Bristol?
The Bristol coffee scene is definitely up and coming and has changed hugely in the past three years or so. Apart from being surrounded by great coffee roasters (Extract Coffee, Clifton Coffee, Colonna, Girls Who Grind, Roundhill to name a few) there's more and more independent coffee shops opening up pairing delicious coffee with local, sustainable and contemporary food. There's still room for improvement - I personally would love to see a comfy cafe with armchairs and perhaps a small roaster in, cafes like that are common in other places I visited, but there's nothing like that in Bristol (yet).
What types of people are suited to work in coffee?
First and foremost - you have to be resilient and never give up. If things are not working in your favour now, keep looking for other things that will. Keep pushing. You should also like to chat to people - it's a customer facing job after all. Lots of coffee shops are fast paced, so you need to have common sense, work effectively. And willingness to learn goes without saying.
There are lots of other coffee jobs than being a barista - work behind the scenes, roasters, roastery assistants, importers etc, but I strongly believe you should start from the bottom and work your way up. Each one of these jobs requires a different sort of person and personality too, so if one thing doesn't feel like you, maybe look somewhere else, think what you're good at and push through.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
Find your local coffee shop you feel good in and become a regular customer. Chat to the baristas, buy retail coffee from them and talk to them about what you like and don't like. Learn from them. You can do the same thing with your favourite roaster or other people in coffee. At the beginning of your journey you want to experience coffee, talk to people, learn and build relationships. They will be really valuable later on. You will also find that most people are more than happy to teach you what they know.
Also, make sure you brew coffee at home. Get yourself a V60, Aeropress, Chemex, whatever works for you, buy some coffee and experiment. Be curious and ask why do some coffees taste different than the others. Coffee is always just the beginning of the conversation, but it can also be a life journey.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
There are definitely a few things that are totally worth checking out. I normally go to Perfect Daily Grind and Barista Hustle to start with. Then I also follow the work of other coffee people - mainly James Hoffmann, Scott Rao. Good thing to check out also is the Speciality Coffee Association in your area where you can learn about upcoming coffee courses, competitions and training camps. And then of course it's good to keep in touch with various roasters and importers and see what they're doing too. I found Instagram being a great connecting tool in this instance.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
I recently stepped back from working behind the scenes - after working for Extract Coffee Roasters for three years I have returned to hospitality as a Head Barista for Bristol Loaf. We have opened a new shop in the iconic concert venue in Bristol Beacon, so currently I am planning to stay here for a couple of years and oversee all coffee things. The job itself is quite exciting - we have several espresso and filter options that rotate every two or three weeks and are constantly working with new roasters. My job role is to ensure the coffee's tasting as well as possible. I am also in charge of training and education and organising coffee line up.
My goal is to get more of my SCA education done in the next year or so and hopefully I can get my diploma within two years. I am more than half way there already and SCA courses really work for me as I need the threat of an exam to actually sit down and learn properly. After that I would love to do a bit of travelling and work closer with coffee farmers. I feel like there's a gap in recognition in our industry - we celebrate the coffee, the coffee roasters, but how often do we stop to think about the person who has grown this coffee? I am hoping that in the future I would be able to use my platform to highlight these extraordinary people, the farms and the practises that stand behind your cup of joe.
Outside of coffee I am also a passionate photographer and would love to work on my skills a bit more. My goal for the next year would be to get more paid product shoots - I really enjoy photographing everything in hospitality (and guess what, especially coffee shops). I will be getting new gear next year too to support this goal. And then hopefully in a few years time I will be able to bring you photos from coffee origins.
Find Tereza on Instagram via @czech_barista_tee