10 Minutes with Charles Umeano

The NKG PACE Partner discusses career growth challenges, PACE Program benefits, and his future hopes to work in green coffee.

BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Photos courtesy of Michelle Maisto unless noted

Today, we are closing our NKG PACE interview series with Charles Umeano, the last but certainly not the least of the Partners. Charles is a University of Chicago graduate who has worked in cafés and roasteries in Atlanta, New York City, and Boston.

His experience on the front end of the coffee industry runs deep. Charles has been a wholesale manager, head barista, and quality control lead. He is currently based at the NKG U.S. headquarters in Hoboken, N.J., learning about green coffee sourcing, logistics, and much more.

Charles smiles for the camera, wearing a white button-up shirt and glasses. In the background is a large body of water and a city skyline.
Charles Umeano is a Partner working in the NKG PACE racial equity program.
Photo courtesy of Charles Umeano.

BMag: So Charles, what made you want to apply for the NKG PACE Program?

Charles: I applied to PACE because I was looking for an opportunity to work in coffee beyond retail. My coffee career has been mostly customer-facing with some dalliances in sales (wholesale) and education. However, my passion has always been in green coffee, and I jumped at the chance to work in that space.

What has the experience been like so far?

So far it has been both demanding and incredibly rewarding. I have learned so much about where and how coffee grows, and the logistics behind transporting green coffee from origin to the customer. The more I learn about all the hands that touch coffee before it arrives at your local shop, the more I am humbled to be a part of the process.

What has been the most challenging part of your transition into the coffee industry?

Honestly, it has been career growth/progression and the lack of transparency in how and why one person advances and one person does not. Not to mention, the pay (while getting better) is just not economically sustainable in retail outside of management. Opportunities beyond retail are not well advertised, and so for me, enter NKG PACE.

Charles and a colleague pour water from silver kettles into ceramic cupping vessels to try coffee. Before them on the table are many cups, plastic bins of coffee beans, and trays.
Charles looks to progress his coffee career beyond retail and into green coffee.

Do you believe that this program will open more doors for you in the coffee industry?

I do in that I am now aware of those doors and the skills that I need to develop to enter through them. Whether that will be enough, time will tell. However, I am hopeful and truly enjoying what I am learning in the program.

You are currently part of the Hoboken team; what has been your favorite part of the job so far?

Becoming more and more conversant in the language of coffee assessment as well as learning more about how coffee markets work. I truly love cupping coffees and have since my first days on the job as a barista.

What are your coffee industry-related goals after you complete the program?

I would love to continue working in “green,” either in quality control or as a trader for an importer, or as a buyer for a roaster long term. In the short term, I hope to pass my Q Grader exams and look forward to visiting origin early next year.

Charles takes notes in a notepad about the coffee he is tasting. Many ceramic cupping vessels lie before him on a metal table, complete with coffee trays.
Charles believes that the PACE Program will open more doors for him in the coffee industry.

What would be your advice to someone who is thinking of applying to the PACE Program?

Do it. It is only a year-long commitment, and in less than six months I have already gotten so much more out of the program than I expected (and I had really high expectations). It is challenging, but it is most definitely a coffee-driven program for people who eat, sleep, and yes, drink coffee.

You will be surrounded by people whose whole careers have been in coffee, so you will learn a lot. If you are placed in Hoboken like me, you will even develop an appreciation for commercial coffee. Mostly, I hope that folks who have done the hard yards in coffee and might now have one foot out the door will apply for this program because I believe it could rekindle that spark.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine, and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.

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