Bad Batch: Emily Jackson
Emily Jackson has a ridiculous resumé. She has been a barista, cafe manager, roaster, roastery operations manager, coffee director, entrepreneur, and non-profit founder. She has lived all over the U.S. and currently resides in the UK. Since the Atlantic Ocean kept us apart, we face-timed and ate snacks during this interview. I might have had a beer. Despite the ocean, time difference, obnoxious pets and dying batteries, we covered a LOT of topics.
Tell us your coffee story: how did you get your start, how long have you been in the industry, and how are you involved now?
I had my first cup of coffee when I was 6 years old. Once I had it, you couldn’t keep it from me. I used to steal it from my dad. I got my very first coffee making job in Durham, NC in 1996. It was at Counter Culture Coffee’s first wholesale client: George’s Gourmet Garage. It was a massive Wholefoods/fine dining setup. It was the 90s, so we were pulling shots of espresso on non-automatic grinders. One click for a single, two clicks for a double. It was the only job I’ve ever been fired from. I couldn’t work opening shifts Monday through Friday because I was in high school.
I moved to Pittsburgh, PA. I had no money, no job, I was destitute. My housemate’s girlfriend worked at a cafe called Tazza d’oro. It was an Italian cafe in an Italian-American neighborhood. I went there the next day and met this lovely little Italian woman named Amy Enrico. She’s a big part of why I am...the way I am. She took a chance on me. She moved the cafe into third wave coffee. We re-wrote the entire menu. This was in 2006. I moved up the ranks and participated in roaster competitions. She gave me all the chances in the world. I became the lead trainer. I was in charge of quality control, buying, and training. We were the first coffee shop outside of California to serve Verve Coffee.
I left in 2009 to move to Olympia, WA. I got a roasting job at Batdorf & Bronson. When I started, I completed a year long apprenticeship. I did all of the grunt work. They put me through this to show me that roasting is not very glamorous and you have to do a lot of work. I helped with the green coffee buying a bit. It helped me understand the quality of coffee and green grading. I was the only woman on the training and roasting team. That was when I first really noticed how disparate gender equity in the coffee industry was.
I moved to North Carolina a year later to take care of my mother while she was ill. Then I moved to Austin, TX on a coin toss. My friend Lindsay put me up at her house. I printed resumes and canvased coffee shops for a job. I had read about this coffee shop called Frank. It was the first place I walked in. I was offered a job on the spot. I had a place to live and a job within 20 minutes of arriving in Austin. I felt immediately welcomed. The people I met at Frank ultimately led me to work at other coffee shops around Austin.
I flipped a coin again…and moved to England. Currently, I’m the roasting operations manager for Climpton & Sons roasting. My position involves a lot of organization, a bit of green coffee buying/evaluating. Green coffee buying is my favorite bit. It’s the least glamorous job in all of coffee because it is 90% spreadsheets, 5% tasting coffee, 2% talking to people, and 1% traveling. From 1996 to now….is that 22 years? I definitely took some hiatus’ here and there. I’ve never given up on coffee.
You’ve moved all over the US, and now the UK. How do you make these life-changing decisions?
When I was in my early 20s I began to think about how I make big decisions. I studied philosophy in school. I came to the realization that it does not matter what your action is, the result will always be the same. If you break it down to the nitty gritty it means: I’m going to end up as worm food. Why not let a coin decide where I go? People think I’m crazy when I tell them that! I really like everything that’s happened to me, it’s made me the person I am. If flipping a coin makes me grow as a person, leads me to become a better human being and understand humans more, then, why not? I do like to weigh out pros and cons. When I’ve narrowed it down to a few educated choices…I’ll flip a coin.
In 2016, you started a non-profit organization called SheBrews. Why did you start it?
I always see men taking opportunities for education and I always see women step back and let the loudest person in the room talk. I wanted to create an atmosphere where women and other female-identifying people could network and learn. Basically, I saw this situation where there was a lot happening with coffee and beer but I didn’t see any female brewers at the forefront nor was I seeing female fronted companies. All I saw were bros wearing snapbacks. I wanted to see a different demographic. I wanted different collaborations. I wanted to see women in the coffee industry talk to women in the beer industry and vice versa. Beer people and coffee people can educate one another and network amongst each-other. I also want people who are not as vocal to have a voice.
I’ve worked with mostly dudes my entire career. The only place I ever worked that was female dominant was Tazza d’oro. I was so happy to go to work because I had a voice and was respected by all of my colleagues. I want to have more of that. I want more women to have people like Amy Enrico in their life.
Talk to us about the 2018 UK Brewer’s Cup. I heard there was some exciting news?
I competed in UK brewers cup this year and made a stupid mistake so I didn’t advance. One of my colleagues at Climpson and Sons, Lisa-Laura Verhoest, advanced from the London heat and competed in the semi-finals in Glasgow. She won! I’ve been coaching her along with Matt Randall (who has been coaching her the majority of the time) on coffee knowledge. We’re going to Brazil!
Do you enjoy coaching?
Coaching might be the next thing that I throw myself into as a coffee professional. I really enjoy rules, which is something that I never thought I would say. I like to use the rules to my competitors advantage. For example, during the compulsory round of the UK Brewer’s Cup, there were two grinders: one for practice and one for the stage floor. There’s no guarantee that they are calibrated to one another. Lisa was the only one who took a grinder sample from the back to calibrate the grinder in the front. The rules allow it. It made a huge difference.
Would you recommend competition to other coffee professionals?
Only do it if you are a glutton for punishment and don’t mind reliving the same 15 minutes of your life over and over and over again. I started doing competitions in 2006. I competed in the US Mid-Atlantic Regionals from 2006-2009. I competed in the US Northwest Regionals in 2010 and 2011. I competed in the USBC in 2012. When I first started competing [in 2006] I was making fucking raspberry mochas on stage and everyone was doing drinks with orange and chocolate and cinnamon. They were very simple drinks. No on was doing latte art.
Competition encouraged me to look into food pairings, to learn about different cultivars, and develop flavor profiles. You can do anything. You can take a concept you know and love, and you have time on a stage to captivate an audience of four people. The last time I competed was in 2012 at the USBC. I used a Brazilian coffee and I was really into synesthesia (how you can taste color). My place setting was made up of primary colors. It was fucking epic. I learned how to make caramel during my roasting apprenticeship (to demonstrate the Maillard reaction). I made a caramel on stage. I turned into a foam. It was so good. My grinder malfunctioned. My knock box fell apart on stage. You can’t prepare for everything.
You have started multiple businesses and are notorious for your side hustles. What advice do you have for others who are itching to start their own hustles?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad has his own studio and is a touring musician. My uncle started an ice cream company that has been in the family for 32 years. My mom taught me at a very young age that nothing is handed to you. You have to work really hard for everything that you want in life. When I wanted to go to college, I worked every after school job I possibly could. I mowed every lawn to pay for my first year at university.
When I moved to Austin it was my first time— in a really long time— working multiple jobs. Side-hustle is so fucking real. I developed a whole new level of side-hustle because I wasn’t paid enough money for the job I was doing.
It’s important to listen to your friends and your community. Look at what your community needs and wants. Don’t open a coffee shop n a neighborhood that already has 20 coffee shops. Spin your ideas with originality. That is the key to being successful. If I walk in to anther coffee shop that has poured concrete counter tops and exposed Edison bulbs I might actually lose my mind.
Originality will lead you to success. If you’re living in a community that doesn’t have the basics, don’t try to jump the gun. A siphon bar in the middle of nowhere is not going to happen. Listen to your friends. They will be your biggest supporters, fans, and first customers. They will tell their friends what you’re doing. Also, you might have to get a side hustle on top of your dream job. Never be married to the fact that you are only going to do one thing forever. You’re going to do everything. You’re going to washing the dishes, making/receiving deliveries…everything. A person that is going to be in that role needs to be prepared. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. It’s going to be hard work. Be ready for long hours, no vacations (for a long time), arguments with your significant others and your family… but it will be worth it.
Want to be friends with Emily, too?