I visited Ahmad at the Blue Bottle cafe on Webster Street on a sunny Wednesday morning. The tiny cafe had a line out the door, and the team of three baristas was busy welcoming customers and making drinks. Next door, I could see a coffee cupping in progress - beyond that, a roastery full of people at work.
Despite the non-stop workflow at Blue Bottle, Ahmad was full of energy and humor when we started talking. asked him what his favorite part of being a Lead Barista at Blue Bottle was, and he said with a cheeky smile, “The paycheck!” before musing out loud “Oh no, I should give you a better answer…” Despite his jokes, it became clear throughout our conversation how much he loves working in the coffee industry.
For context, Ahmad was part of one of our earlier training classes in March 2017. When I asked Ahmad about the barista training program, he explained, “I think there is nothing I didn’t like about it. It did not feel like training. I felt like I knew the other people for more than just 2 weeks. It’s very welcoming. My class became friends, and we talked a lot.”
After graduating from the program, Ahmad landed a barista position with Blue Bottle at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Easily one of Blue Bottle’s busiest locations, the Ferry Building cafe taught Ahmad how to optimize speed and efficiency behind the bar. Eventually, Ahmad transferred to an Oakland location on Webster Street, where he was promoted to Lead Barista. His responsibilities included leading coffee cuppings for customers, teaching classes for fellow employees, and helping with Blue Bottle’s quality control process. The Webster location is quieter, and gave Ahmad more time to learn about coffee quality and grow as a leader.
In terms of advice for future 1951 graduates, Ahmad offered some wise words regarding customer service. “My advice is to not take anything personally, If you have a bad experience with someone, remember that they might be having the worst day of their life...think about their morning. Maybe their dog died, or they got surgery, or lost money- a lot of scenarios. So that will make you… not only do a better job by trying to make their day better, but it will make you feel better.”
At the time of our interview in May 2019, Ahmad’s family was in the process of packing up to move to Pennsylvania in two weeks. I was lucky to catch Ahmad during one of his last shifts at Blue Bottle. Looking ahead to his move, Ahmad dreams of opening his own coffee shop and holding a 1951 training on the East Coast. He is grateful to Blue Bottle for the valuable work experience and insight into American coffee culture.
And by the way, his actual favorite part of the job, aside from the paycheck?
“It’s the people. I meet a lot of people and I enjoy joking with them!”