Our blog series on the specialty-coffee industry’s most innovative podcasts continues. This week: Coffee Awesome by BjÃ¶rg Brend Laird
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
One of the reasons I was drawn to the topic of coffee podcasts was because I’ve personally been able to learn so much information, coffee-related and otherwise, about the people in my industry that I admire by listening to them. And that’s what makes BjÃ¶rg Brend Laird’s podcast, Coffee Awesome, such an enjoyable listening experience. Originally from the Faroe Islands, BjÃ¶rg has been in the coffee industry for almost 20 years ”most notably as the Copenhagen-based organizer of the Nordic Barista Cup from 2005 through it’s final year, 2013 ”but has been in radio longer, and has combined her two passions in a simple, yet deeply interesting interview series through Coffee Awesome.
She chooses her interviewees carefully from a field of professionals she herself looks up to and wants to know more about, and has created a sort of oral history of notable and varied coffee stories and trajectories. When she’s not recording some of the most enticing interviews in coffee, BjÃ¶rg can be found presiding over operations for Supersonic Coffee in Berkeley, California.
Ashley: Tell us about how you got into coffee.
BjÃ¶rg: My background in coffee started in 1995 when I started working at Europa 1989 in Copenhagen. I worked there for five years and ended up being one of the day-to-day managers. But journalism was always my first calling, and in 2001 I started studying journalism. When I finished the degree, I realized that I didn’t wanna be a journalist! During my studies I stayed in contact with Jens NÃ¸rgaard, owner of Europa 1989. In 2005, after I finished [my] journalism degree, he offered me a job which ”along with other things ”[included organizing] the Nordic Barista Cup. I did that until , when I moved to the United States after marrying John Laird, who is the general manager of Supersonic.
Ashley: Why did you want to start a podcast?
BjÃ¶rg: Ever since I started in coffee, there was always the wish to explain to people fundamental ideas about the background of coffee ”all the underlying information in things that we talk about as if we are all on the same page. But there is so much implied in [terms like] “green coffee buyer” and “washed coffee,” or in the term “direct trade,” that most people ”even coffee professionals ”do not know or fully understand, myself included. I have a degree in journalism so I have a natural ability to ask (silly) questions.
Ashley: Where did the name ˜Coffee Awesome’ come from?
BjÃ¶rg: The name now seems silly ”it came from a talk with my friend and ex-colleague Jay Lijewski, while in Seattle in 2013 when I desperately needed a name for the podcast, because I had started recording for the podcast, but did not have a name.
Ashley: What were your initial thoughts or hurdles when you first started your podcast?
BjÃ¶rg: When I started thinking about making a podcast, I had just moved to the U.S. and wasn’t allowed to work because I didn’t have my green card yet. So it seemed easy to buy some recording equipment and download a program to my computer ”and boom, I was ready to go. At that time, I had all the time in the world, but as I came [to be] more involved with launching Supersonic, which was literally at the same time as I started Coffee Awesome, my free time was decreasing day by day, meaning that I had a lot of time in the initial stages of pre-podcast. But when Supersonic was fully launched, my days became filled, so I never envisioned the podcast as a career possibility. I just wanted to spend my time doing something meaningful.
So right now, I am working almost full-time at Supersonic and also doing the podcast in my spare time, which is becoming increasingly more valuable to me.
Ashley: What sort of planning went into the podcast? How is your podcast structured?
BjÃ¶rg: The planning of the podcast was relatively easy. Having a background in journalism simplified things: I just needed recording equipment and a list of people that I wanted to talk to. I researched each one of them and started contacting people. On the top of my list was Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee and Erna Knutsen of Knutsen Coffee. In my podcast I wanted to conduct one-on-one conversations with people that are experts in their field, or that have an interesting standpoint or amazing history. I want to be in the background and just put the microphone out for them to do the talking.
Ashley: Do you have a unique interview style?
BjÃ¶rg: As the interviewer I feel like it’s my duty to let the person that I’m interviewing do the talking. It’s not about me, it’s about them. It’s about their experiences and their knowledge. They are the experts ”I’m just a facilitator.
Ashley: Do you feel you ask questions or want to know things that others don’t? What kinds of questions force your subjects to think deeply or consider a new viewpoint?
BjÃ¶rg: I am not afraid to ask stupid questions. That is also one way to take the listeners’ perspective. I mean the listener does not necessarily know exactly what we are talking about, and in fact many coffee professionals do not expect simple or silly questions. We are an industry of nerds, and we often think that everybody knows everything ”and sometimes it has felt liberating to just ask a stupid question ¦ like talking to Tim Wendelboe about roasting. Difficult to not ask silly questions there ¦
Ashley: Has your podcast changed or is it different than how you initially imagined it?
BjÃ¶rg: In the beginning I wanted my podcasts to have lots of sound bites and some heavy editing, but along the way I realized that 1) you need better equipment to get good clean sound and 2) it takes so much time to edit all the sound bites into something that people actually will enjoy. So with my limited spare time it quickly became apparent that I had to make each episode efficient and quick(er) to complete. Right now for my podcast to “survive” I am leaning towards making it a live-on-tape podcast where I do not edit anything. I just press “record” and press “stop” and upload it to the website. Boom.
Ashley: A lot of notable podcasts had a strong start and stopped abruptly. Why do you think that is? Why did you take a break from yours?
BjÃ¶rg: A lot of people have stopped their podcast because they are realizing the same thing that I did: It takes a lot of time! It is the same thing with people who want to start a blog with the initial intent to blog every day from the roastery or the cupping table… and you do that for one week, two weeks, maybe three, and then after that you realize that you actually need to gather your thoughts into a constructive text that people will find interesting and want to read. And that takes time!
I took a break with my podcast because time was an issue for me as we were super busy with Supersonic and I was (still am) at that point where I cherished my free time and did not want to sit front of my computer editing the podcast, but I still felt like I wasn’t finished because I hadn’t interviewed Geoff Watts. I made the interview with him in early May, but didn’t get to the editing of it until mid-July.
Ashley: What other coffee media that’s being made now do you pay attention to and find interesting?
BjÃ¶rg: I admire Matt Perger and his Barista Hustle. That’s a lot of text and research in every post. And then on top of that there are all the comments/questions that he gets for each post. In the beginning he answered almost each and every one of them, but now he is being more economical with his answers.
Ashley: What other podcasts or media do you listen to that aren’t about coffee?
BjÃ¶rg: Since I don’t watch TV I need to get my news elsewhere. So I mostly listen to various Danish news podcasts (“P1 Morgen” and “Orientering”) to get a different angle on the world news, and then there is also my favorite Danish literature podcast, “SkÃ¸nlitteratur pÃ¥ P1″. I used to listen to Radio Lab a lot. One of my favorite Radio Lab episodes is called “Bliss”. It’s absolutely amazing! Everybody should listen to it…! There’s also œThe World in Words , œBoston Calling and œAmerica’s Test Kitchen ¦ I used to listen to those, and I just re-visited some of them, and immediately started listening (again) ¦
Ashley: Do you think you’re a better listener now than before you started your podcast?
BjÃ¶rg: I have always been a good listener. I can come off as a person who doesn’t talk much because I come from a culture where you keep your mouth shut unless you have something to say, but there are a lot of people in this world that are from cultures where talking a lot is the way to go that has never been my style. On the other side, when I’m around people who do not talk a lot I will naturally start asking questions to aid the conversation. It’s a funny mechanism.
Ashley: Which one of your interviews was the most eye opening or informative? If you wanted people to listen to just one of the interviews you did, which one would you have them listen to?
BjÃ¶rg: If people were to listen to one of my podcasts I would recommend Chido Govera. It’s the podcast that has very little coffee talk in it, but it’s the one with the most inspirational story. At the age of 7 Chido became an orphan and was mothering her younger brother and caring for her nearly blind grandmother. Today she has the Future of Hope Foundation, which helps orphans get a life where they can sustain themselves. It is an amazing story of courage, hard work and love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Rodriguez thought that she’d take a break from teaching middle school science and putz around in a coffee shop for a few months. She ended up digging it way more than teaching (and was vaguely better at it). After spending 5 years making coffee in New York, she now works for Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @ashcommonname.