Meet the coffee professional and mental health advocate behind Casey Makes Coffee LLC.
BY ARIELLE REBEKAH GORDON
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Feature photo courtesy of Casey Chartier-Vignapiano
Prior to last March, Casey Chartier-Vignapiano (she/they) worked as a coffee educator and wholesale trainer, a “dream job” that she abruptly lost as the world entered lockdown.
Like many coffee professionals, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Casey to reevaluate and take stock of next steps in her career. Through much self-reflection, Casey realized she did not need to wait for the perfect job to open up. She decided instead to cultivate her own dream, a coffee consulting company into which she could integrate her personal values and teaching philosophies, even in COVID times. Casey Makes Coffee officially launched in October 2020. Since then, her coffee and mental health resources, YouTube videos, and Zoom classes have been widely shared on social media, creating accessible paths to education for coffee lovers near and far.
Arielle Gordon: Hi, Casey! I want to hear all about Casey Makes Coffee! What kinds of resources and services do you provide?
Casey Chartier-Vignapiano: My goal with Casey Makes Coffee is to meet people where they are and provide accessible, fun coffee training. Coffee talent is not something we have to pick off a tree; we all have the skill sets within us already. I aim to lift up both coffee professionals and home brewers and give them support. I also use learning devices that are fun and tangible to help those with unique and kinesthetic learning styles, since I myself learn best with touch-and-do.
I season my training with comedy! I have a background in professional theater and clowning, and find that laughter and connection through comedy sets everyone at ease and builds trust.
How did you decide to launch a consulting business? Why now?
I think this project and business is my most radical act of self-love and care. I lost a job that felt like a dream in March (2020), which was a coffee education and wholesale training role. In October, I realized I never really lost that job—a job would only be a job description without the talented person there to fulfill it. So I bought a domain and made Casey Makes Coffee, with the goal to train cafés in-person when the world allows it.
What is most important to you about the way you conduct your business?
Making learning accessible. I am grateful that I have worked for some of the best companies in the country, but I would be remiss in saying my coffee learning journey was easy. I am diagnosed bipolar and ADHD, and with those diagnoses come unique learning styles. It is easiest to explain abstract concepts like “extraction theory” in a way that makes sense to me: visuals and metaphors. I use neat metaphors and graphs that I draw to connect, say, a proper tamping technique, to something else we have probably done before. It transfers the muscle-memory to coffee-making, and I have had a lot of people say it clicks with them.
How do your mental health resources tie into the mission of Casey Makes Coffee?
I was on my way to start my journey in becoming an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) this winter, but I decided against it. You should see my reading list and bookshelves: It is almost exclusively psychology texts. Psychology, specifically trauma, anxiety, and relational psychology, is about as much of a passion to me as coffee. We work in an industry drenched in toxic and harmful dialogue.
My goal is to share my knowledge and weave it into coffee training. Within the hospitality and service industries, the service model of making products and relying on approval from complete strangers to receive more compensation can be really harmful. I think that if a barista can learn how to self-soothe their anxiety on the bar or communicate needs in a healthy and effective way, they will be so successful.
What are some of the challenges and joys of being fully freelance as a coffee professional?
In addition to working through imposter syndrome, I have also learned how to do 20 jobs in the span of a few months.
[But] I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think the best thing about all of this is that I feel a sense of community building. I have had a couple of online events and already feel that a team of solid supporters has developed. My first barista training class was this January 21 and I had over 40 people attending. I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe I started something so beautiful.
Casey’s next digital event is on February 25 at 6 p.m. CST. Event details will be posted on her online training events page and her Instagram feed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arielle Rebekah Gordon is a transgender activist, coffee professional, and author of the blog Trans and Caffeinated. Though her love for an impeccably brewed cup of coffee is strong, her passion for fostering genuine human connection using coffee as a medium is even stronger. She dreams of a world in which producers are paid a thriving wage, baristas are treated equitably, and consumers understand the love evident in those first 90 feet.