Ali - 1951 Coffee Graduate Series

Ali - 1951 Coffee Graduate Series
Person standing in 1951 Coffee shop

The first time I tasted coffee, it tasted like burnt bread. I wondered how people could drink this, but now I’m addicted! 

After taking the Barista Training Program, I got my start working at Dropbox as a Barista, then managed 1951’s Channing Cafe for a year, and now I’m back at Dropbox as their Production Manager. I do everything, from inventory, ordering, staff management, and brewing coffee for about 1,500 employees.  

As a kid, I used to go out with my friends playing soccer, every Friday we were out for about five or six hours. We just kept playing, playing, playing. We couldn’t afford to rent a field, so we’d just play in the street, swerving in between the cars. When I couldn’t play soccer, I’d make kites with bamboo sticks, plastic, and crushed glass, flying them and selling them to whoever else wanted to fly kites. On days when I wasn’t outside, I’d play soccer in video games. That was my childhood in was life! 

However, living in Iran wasn’t all perfect. As an immigrant from Afghanistan, opportunity was limited. I couldn’t really dream for the future, I just lived for the moment. I began university studying Economics, which I loved, but because of the situation, I was forced to leave.

I started my asylum process in Indonesia. Initially I thought about going to Australia, since it was so close. But after three or four years of just waiting, the UNHCR said the US had accepted my paperwork and that’s where I would restart my life. 

Latte art pour

The thing that surprised me when I moved to Berkeley was there were no people in the streets. I asked myself: where am I? Where are the people? Why is it so quiet?

Back home in Afghanistan and in Indonesia, people are always walking, day and night, hanging out and walking. So it was a little boring here at first, but now I like it. Being here, I felt like I could do something I wanted. Go to school. Study subjects that were interesting to me. Find a job easily, compared to Mashhad. There was a lot more opportunity here. And also nice people! 

Starting out though, I just needed a job quickly because I needed money to survive. My first interview in America was for a dishwasher position. It’s funny because in asylum orientation they taught me interview skills. If someone asks why I want the job, I have to say that I love to do it...

So when the guy asked me why I wanted to be a dishwasher, I told him, “Oh, I love to wash the dishes!” Haha!

Person standing in a lighted alcoveAfter about three or four weeks in America, the International Rescue Committee told me about 1951’s Barista Training Program and The Bread Project’s Bakery Bootcamp. I chose coffee because I wouldn’t have to wake up so early in the morning and I wouldn’t be melting with the oven heat. Plus I didn’t know much about coffee and it would be interesting to learn more about this drink that I now enjoy. 

My first day of the training program, we learned about the history of coffee. I was so surprised because I didn’t know that coffee has a big story behind it! The second and third day we started making coffee: drip, pourover, and french press. A cup of coffee costs $2-$3 so I thought “ooh, this is a good business!” Towards the end of the program, I found out that Dropbox’s coffee shop was hiring Baristas. Since I really needed a job, I went for it (and got it too)! 

I never really thought about latte art because I wasn’t good at art in school. In Iran, 20 is the highest, I was always getting about 14, 15, 13 points in art. But the first time they showed me how to make a heart, I thought “it’s easy!” I started watching YouTube videos, and found it very interesting and told myself I can do more! I started doing a little bit of lines to experiment with the tools that were available to me! I realized it’s easy actually, it’s not that difficult. Just like you need to know how to steam your milk, get the good milk, and then after that it’s easy!

One of the exciting parts of working at Dropbox is that I also get to learn about computers...which I wasn’t expecting to like. My new Dropbox friends are showing me some things that they get to work on and I’m like “oooh, this is cool!” Once I settle into my new role a bit, I’ll begin pursuing after work opportunities that will help me learn Python, Javascript, and C++, and eventually transition to programming.

I want our community to understand that when refugees come here, they’re forced to be here, they didn’t want to leave their countries, families, cultures, but they had to leave their country. They’re human beings and they need to have a life. So just understand them as a human being.

UPDATE: In February of 2022, Ali opened the Coffee Hut in Downtown Berkeley with his friend Imran. They are utilizing the 1951 Coffee kiosk to help get their business underway. Swing by and check out the space at 2170 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704 and enjoy some AMAZING COFFEE!