Ben Jones of Batdorf & Bronson describes how he got from English Literature to becoming a U.S. AeroPress Champion.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Lisa Ligon.
We keep up our coverage of the U.S. AeroPress Championships with an interview with the reigning champion, Ben Jones of Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters.
In 2016, Ben Jones had the pleasure of traveling to Dublin, Ireland, to represent the United States at the World AeroPress Championship. This memorable experience was perhaps the highlight of a versatile coffee competitions career for Ben, which has included multiple U.S. Brewers Cup appearances and coaching several barista competitors. But it isn’t all competition for Ben: He also serves as an educator at Olympia, Wash.- and Atlanta-based Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, where he works directly with the company’s wholesale clients to develop training programs. We talked to Ben about how he got from English Lit to coffee, his experience as an AeroPress champ, and why he loves working in coffee.
Chris Ryan: What are your earliest memories of coffee? What was your relationship with coffee before you started working in the industry?
Ben Jones: Like many, I remember sneaking sips from my mom’s coffee mug at an early age. When I was in high school, I was into Mexican mochas (with piles of whipped cream and sprinkles). That is what I drank regularly until November of 1999. A new little independent roaster opened up in Portland, and I had my first ever cup of black coffee that didn’t need milk or sugar. Haven’t had a Mexican mocha since. I started to brew coffee at home and get pretty deep into it.
I spent all my free time in that coffee shop. I did all my homework there and held all my meetings there. People began to joke that my blood was turning into coffee. Fun fact: My first published short story was a piece titled The Bottom of the Cup playing on French-press sludge as a metaphor for reconciling inconsistencies and paradoxes of life. Deep.
CR: When did you start working in coffee? How did that happen?
BJ: I was studying English Literature, intending to be a teacher. After college I ended up getting a job in a program to help kids transition out of high school and into the real world. The teacher before me had tried to start a coffee cart for the classroom. I was able to run with it and learned a ton about coffee from many local roasters. I went to Barista Camp back when it was Camp Pull-a-Shot, got a part-time summer job at a local coffee shop, and after five years decided I wanted to make a career of coffee.
CR: What does your day-to-day work look like now with Batdorf & Bronson? What are your areas of focus?
BJ: Every day is different—that is one of the things I love about working in training and education. I spend a lot of time working directly with wholesale partners to develop training specifically to fit their unique goals and needs. A good deal of time is spent in the lab tasting coffees and testing recipes. Sometimes I get my hands greasy installing or repairing equipment.
No one ever talks about the amount of paperwork involved; working in coffee is not all sipping cappuccinos. The secret to success in life is paperwork.
CR: Do you have a favorite memory or two from your time working in coffee so far?
BJ: My coffee life has been quite memorable. I’ve gotten to travel the United States competing in Brewers Cup and coaching barista competitors. I’ve seen my writing published. I’ve made many friends from all over.
I absolutely loved traveling to Dublin for the World AeroPress Championship. I stayed on the campus of one of the world’s oldest universities, saw the Book of Kells (unbelievably amazing), and had a blast meeting people as a representative of the American coffee community. One evening, I stood less than 50 yards from then-Vice President of the USA Joe Biden and the Irish Prime Minister Taoiseach. I would’ve loved to AeroPress a cup for them.
CR: What is gratifying to you about working in coffee?
BJ: With all the amazing experiences I’ve had, I am struck most by the way people in our business try to improve as humans. I’ve worked a variety of blue-collar jobs. In these places, there was rampant racism and sexism that was defended as the way business has to be done. While the coffee industry isn’t perfect, there is a strong sense that most people are trying to move forward rather than grow defensive.
I love seeing people improve.
And coffee is delicious.