Ten minutes wasn’t enough time to cover all the amazing achievements and insights Jen Apodaca of Royal Coffee has to share. Here’s part two of her interview.
Jen Apodaca, Head Roaster for The Crown at Royal Coffee, has had a remarkable career in coffee. But she’s also funny and insightful to boot, and we couldn’t contain her interview to just one post. Read part one here.
AR: What myths exist in roasting that are just patently untrue? What ideas do you wish would go away?
JA: That it is “easy” to roast light, or it is “easy” to roast dark. Most people acclimate to a small section on the light to dark roast scale. They have a difficult time tasting coffee outside of their comfort zone. Everything outside of the range they specialize in is an ‘other’ to them. It is equally as hard to roast an excellent light-roasted coffee as it is a dark-roasted coffee. People that specialize in either style can taste nuance and pass a triangulation test, but if you are not practiced or familiar, it will seem homogenous and simple. I say push yourself and be good at all of it.
AR: What would you be doing if you weren’t in coffee?
JA: I really want to drive the 38 Geary Muni [bus] with the accordion connection between the two cars. I like the giant steering wheels and the nearly zero clearance from the windshield. The route is also complicated and dangerous, which makes it more appealing to me. If not a bus driver, then a butcher. I am pretty good with knives.
AR: What do you do in your spare time?
JA: Spare time? What is that? I have four unread books on my nightstand. Since moving back to Oakland, I have attended lots of baseball games at the Coliseum. When I retire, I want to be one of these little old ladies that keeps score and goes to every Athletics home game.
AR:I love guessing people’s birth order (oldest, middle, youngest) because I think it says a lot about their personality. I bet you’re the oldest. Is that true? Do you have brothers or sisters?
JA: Oldest of six. I have a maternal relationship with my two oldest sisters that I have been reversing over the past decade. My mother ran a daycare in our home until I was in fourth grade. After that she got a job as a laborer in a bindery for a local printer, and my father was an iron worker that commuted to the Bay Area every day—two hours each way. They both left the house between 4 and 6 a.m., and returned around 5 or 6 p.m. I was responsible for getting my sisters fed and to school, then getting them home, helping them with their homework, and getting dinner started.
AR: What do you want people to know about you?
JA: That I desperately want to be invited to “Martha and Snoops Potluck Dinner Party,” so if you can hook a girl up, I will owe you big time.
AR: You have a baby. And a successful career. Discuss.
JA: Lots of people do it. In fact, men do it all of the time. It is hard work, but not impossible. Back when I was traveling—before coffee and kids—I met a French woman on the coast of Oaxaca [Mexico] in a tiny beach town called Zipolito. She was alone with her three children, ages nine, seven, and five. She did not come from money—Zipolito is the place you go to travel on the cheap. She told me about all of the places her job has taken her and how hard it was moving her children. She moved to San Diego as a single mom with her boys a few years before. The boys did not adjust well at first, but eventually things improved. All of her boys have typical California surfer accents and they were on vacation. She had a high-profile career, but kids can keep you pretty lifestyle/house poor.
It had never occurred to me that I could just take my kids with me on my journey. She redefined what a mother could be for me. I had thought motherhood was a soul-sacrificing institution that I should avoid at all costs. I was pregnant with my son the year I was promoted to department head of McMenamins Coffee. If you are career ambitious, you can still be a mom. There are many types of moms and many of them manage careers and children. We all love our children equally. Don’t be afraid to define your own motherhood.