Anne Cooper, Head Judge for Golden Bean and Coffee Roasting Consultant at Equilibrium Master Roasters, talks about barista competitions, the differences between Australian and American coffee culture, and her 23 years in the coffee industry.
I met Anne Cooper in 2013 at my very first barista competition, and she was easily the most enthusiastic, genuine, and passionate person I had ever met. She’s a roasting consultant at Equilibrium Master Roasters and one of the Head Judges for the Golden Bean competitions, but Anne has done it all in her 23 years of working in coffee. I ask her about her years in coffee and learn more about how she got to where she is now, and where she plans to go in the future.
Ashley Rodriguez: Anne, you and I met at the 2013 NERBC (North Eastern Regional Barista Competition) in New York, and you mentioned that wasn’t your first competition ”when and where was your first barista competition? What and how did you do?
Anne Cooper: My first barista competition was in 2005 in the Opens at the Australian comp in Melbourne. I came 4th in a very strong field of experienced competitors ”including Carl Sara (NZ Barista champ) who would regularly come over to Australia to practice in our comps! I used a coffee from a company called Sexie Coffee and I made a layered dark and white chocolate chilli espresso for my sig drink! Yep…it was super fun and definitely set me on the barista comp path to then being my Regional champ from ’06-’08 before moving to NYC in ’09 and then eventually competing again in ’13 at NERBC & USBC.
AR: In your 2013 NERBC competition routine, the thing that stuck the most with me was how much of everything you made, and you even mentioned that you didn’t grow the coffee beans, and then said, ‘if I could have, I would. Next time.’ Is growing coffee a goal of yours?
AC: Yes! Before moving to New York I had 3 coffee trees I was growing in Brisbane, Queensland where I lived and always looked forward to the yearly ritual of picking and processing ”and then making (some highly caffeinated) jam out of the cherry skin! I really missed my trees when I was in New York! I am now trying to grow coffee again in Melbourne (a geisha tree I spawned from a geisha seed), but it is just too cold and it is really struggling, no matter what I do to try and protect it from the cold. I might have to send it up to Queensland for a holiday!
AR: You’re a consultant now: what does your day-to-day look like?
AC: Very random and lots of traveling! For a structure-oriented person like myself it has certainly taken some discipline to get used to managing my time and not allow days to get out of control. I really like traveling so I don’t mind the amount of driving or flying I have to do. If I am not in Melbourne either doing my Roasting Course or consulting with a roaster, I will be traveling to consult with a roaster in another city of Australia. I am very lucky in that I get to see and use a whole range of roasting machines every day of every week ”one day I am on a Probat, the next day I am on a Loring, the next day I am on a Diedrich and so on.
AR: What’s something in coffee you haven’t done yet and would like to do?
AC: I haven’t owned my own roastery and I haven’t produced my own brand/product, in that I haven’t completed a true Direct Trade/Relationship purchase starting at origin and then producing it as a roaster to the market. I would love to one day have visited a producer, cupped/tasted then purchased their coffee when on the farm, then receive their coffee in my roastery and roast my heart out in order to showcase my roasting mantra as well as present the producer’s amazing coffee to the market/consumers.
AR: Let me guess your birth order. You’re not the youngest, but maybe in the middle with a few brothers? Do you see traits in yourself that come from how you grew up?
AC: Haha! I am the youngest (I have 1 older sister) and because I was such a tomboy growing up I often joke I am my father’s son. I am always the first one to get dirty, grab the tools to fix something, I love troubleshooting and fixing things etc. I also grew up doing competitive swimming and often see maybe why I ended up in coffee as it is a very repetitive and instant results career/profession ”much like swimming and suits my persona.
AR: What would you be doing if you weren’t making coffee?
AC: I was supposed to be a Speech Therapist ”as that is what my original college degree was. I also have a Bachelor of Design in Architecture but nothing beats working in coffee!
AR: What’s been the most challenging job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it?
AC: The most challenging job I’ve had was at Dallis Bros., but in totally a good way! Even though I was just coming from Australia, just the general change in culture was a real challenge but also an opportunity to challenge myself and who I was, how I handled myself ”I actually panicked in my first 6 months and went home because it was familiar, but am so glad I came back and just embraced it for it what it was. I highly recommend anyone to take the chance and work in another countries coffee culture; it certainly allowed me to become the coffee professional I had always wanted to be.
AR: There are not very many people that can claim 23 years worth of experience ”how did you get your start in coffee?
AC: I was working in a cafe washing dishes to earn money to help pay for college fees and basically the waitress out front didn’t show up and I was told I would be out the front and off I went! I clearly remember cringing at the sound of the milk screeching on the espresso machine, burning myself on the steam wand and thinking what on earth is this, I would never be able to do this! But I really enjoyed serving and finished college but kept on working in cafes and moving through the ranks as barista to manager and then starting doing the barista comps and it all kind of went from there.
AR: You have a ton of experience both in Australia and in the United States. Are there aspects of the coffee industry that one country has nailed down better than the other?
AC: I think the U.S. has done a great job of educating consumers about origin no doubt due to the batch brew coffee culture. In Australia I grew up knowing coffee as a milk based espresso brand and a blend ”I had no idea until I started competing and learning more about coffee origins that there were different varieties, processes in coffee. To a lot of Australians coffee is just beans in a cup and we still have a long way to go in educating consumers about the basics of what coffee really is, where it comes from, how it is grown etc. ¦which is what the American brew culture has been able to do for its consumers.
AR: After 23 years of making coffee, what do you think the next 23 look like for you?
AC: Well by looking at my previous answers I think perhaps I need to have a mid-life crisis, do a Matt Damon and buy a (zoo) coffee farm!