We interview Amanda Hagenbuch, winner of the Roaster Competition at the Nashville, Tenn., qualifier, about introverts, boy’s clubs, and what Philly icon Gritty drinks.
BY MANDY SPIRITO
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Jesse De Frances
Amanda Hagenbuch roasts for Rival Brothers Coffee in Philadelphia, and is the winner of January’s Roasting Competition qualifier in Nashville, Tenn. In this interview, Amanda chats with us about being an introvert in the coffee industry, the influence of women-owned shops in her career, and, of course, Gritty.
Mandy Spirito: Congratulations on taking first place at Nashville qualifiers! You and I have talked about being self-described introverts before; how did you get outside of yourself and into competition mode?
Amanda Hagenbuch: Thank you!
Definitely celebrated introverts, the classic roaster personality type. As it got closer to the competition, imposter syndrome was fully in the driver’s seat. But my barista companion Rodrigo (Vargas, who took fifth place in the Barista Competition) helped encourage me, along with the baristas at our cafés and warehouse staff, plus other coffee friends from Philly (shout-out to my roaster buddy Charlie of Blind Tiger!).
The most nerve-racking part for me was maybe an hour before the presentation. A friend had told me to repeat the phrase “fear into faith” and remember to breathe. But right before going on, my friend Kendra said, “You belong here,” which totally just kicked me in the gut! It was one of those moments where everything in you stops moving and grinding and you go, “Oh … I’m a fully capable human being and it’s going to be OK.” I seriously can’t thank her enough. The weight of those words allowed me to go up there with way more confidence.
The city of brotherly love is definitely a boy’s club. What are your experiences navigating the coffee scene as one of only a handful of female roasters?
Male dominance is a societal structure in most walks of life. This is a pretty big topic/issue, and I hope I express my experience in a helpful way. More specifically, working in any industry that involves machinery, heavy lifting, a warehouse setting, etc., is challenging to exist within. And (prior to Nashville), I have found difficulty in communicating that I am the head roaster, I am knowledgeable in my own right (separate from my male bosses), I can lift heavy things, and if I need help, I will ask for it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Menagerie Coffee, a woman-owned/operated shop that’s been awarded best coffee shop in the city and (in my opinion) is the best place to get coffee in Philly, hah. There’s Amalgam, a black-owned coffee shop/comic book store, and now Cà Phê—they do Vietnamese-style coffee. There is definitely an impactful female presence in the Philadelphia coffee scene. That being said, Philadelphia is a smaller city/has a greener coffee scene (pun intended), and the majority of the businesses are male-owned/operated, which does minimize the number of women in the foreground.
It’s hard to not notice these things when where I work and my personal life could not be more different. I live in an environment that is loving, inclusive, supportive, and diverse, so functioning in a predominantly cis-white-male community tends to make me feel like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. And I think in the past couple of years, things have popped up (like #shestheroaster) to voice things like what Kendra said to me: “You belong here. You have a right to take up space, and it’s important that you do.”
I just try to do a good job mostly.
You’re also in a band that plays a lot of shows around Philly. Tell us about it!
Hah, yes I am! It started as a solo project, but I occasionally play with my friend Josh on drums.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 9, and throughout the years I’ve picked up other instruments, like drums, upright bass, etc. But I am super in love with the guitar. My music is me singing and playing guitar, sometimes doing loop-type stuff with my guitar. But it’s mostly just me being sad and trying to get some feelings out. I love the Philly music scene. I feel like a lot of coffee people are also musicians, so it’s this really cool collision of two loves. I have an EP coming out soon! Hopefully!
Do your artistic pursuits inform your roasting at all, or do you focus more on the scientific side of the process?
Hah, I guess artsy brains are attracted to coffee … a lot of coffee people have artistic pursuits and often combine the two. I think roasters need to be flexible and patient, and maybe being a creative type plays into that. I’m definitely very attracted to the culinary-type science breakdowns in roasting too, though—like the reasoning behind the actions and the research hole you can get lost in. I own WAY too many books on coffee and love digging back into them; I definitely have a lot of fun understanding coffee to an unnecessary degree.
Lastly, the obvious question: What kind of coffee do you think Gritty drinks?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mandy Spirito is a roaster from all over the U.S. (seriously, it’s hard to pinpoint an origin). She also runs social media for She’s the Roaster.