10 Minutes With Erika Lee Vonie

Dialing in. Photo by Brian Gelletley.

Erika Lee Vonie
Ultimo Coffee
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

What other coffee jobs have you had?

Up until recently, I managed MilkBoy Coffee in Ardmore, PA and was a manager at MilkBoy in Center City Philadelphia, and I got my start in specialty coffee as a barista at Lovers and Madmen, located in West Philadelphia.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?

My favorite part about working in coffee is two-fold. I love how this is an industry in which you can never stop learning, and that in order to expand your working knowledge of the industry, you have to meet and interact with the coolest people. Coffee people are the best kind of nerds to hang out with. We’re always in pursuit of the newest information, and we’re not afraid of conversation and a lot of experimentation to go figure it out.

Erika prepares for a bar certification test. Photo by Brian Gelletly.
Erika prepares for a bar certification test. Photo by Brian Gelletly.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?

I don’t have much by way of a 10-year plan, but I love traveling and I’m truly fascinated by the chain of human interaction leading from seed to cup. I would hope that I continue exploring the connections coffee creates all over the world. Hopefully, I’ll still have my trusty pup, Poe, my cranky, fat-ass cat Nohbdy, and my sweet boyfriend, Gavin, by my side as well.

Erika lays down the rules at a local TNT. Photo by Brian Gelletly.
Erika lays down the rules at a local TNT. Photo by Brian Gelletly.

Who and what inspires you?

I draw a lot of inspiration from badass women doing badass things. I’m very into sci-fi and fantasy, and women like Eowyn, Princess Mononoke, Rogue, and Princess Leia. They were the first women I looked up to, and I still draw from them from time to time. Now real women doing badass things, like Wendy Davis filibustering for women’s health, Beyonce dropping a whole album because she can, Hedy Lamarr quietly inventing the precursor to Bluetooth, and Janet Mock dropping knowledge bombs on Piers Morgan are true inspirations for me. Seeing women stand up for themselves and those they believe in pushes me harder than anything else.

What are you drinking right now?

Tsheya, Democratic Republic of Congo, produced by Counter Culture Coffee.  So balanced, so tasty, it’s incredible.

Dialing in. Photo by Brian Gelletley.
Dialing in. Photo by Brian Gelletly.

Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?  

I don’t know if this is the craziest, but it’s the first experience that came to mind. A cafe who roasts their own coffee in Philadelphia, Elixr Coffee, teamed up with a local ice-cream company called Little Baby’s Ice Cream for these Affogato Days during the spring and summer of 2013. Elixr was using these events to showcase their delicious roasts, and I was super excited to go eat ice cream for breakfast. I entered the already incredibly busy shop, and the baristas behind the counter spotted me and shouted “Erika!” and blasted the Salt-n-Pepa that they were playing. I started dancing, and then they joined me, and we all grooved out while I made my way over to the register. I felt like a dancing queen, if only for 15 seconds. It’s a true testament to how warm and wonderful the Philly coffee scene is. The affogatos were also bangin’, by the way.

Erika (left) at a holiday party. Photo by Brian Gelletly.
Erika (left) at a holiday party. Photo by Brian Gelletly.

What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?

Right now, I’m still doing coffee when I’m not “doing coffee” by way of training for the USBC. Competition takes up a lot of free time, but I also manage to squeeze in a weekly Dungeons and Dragons session every Monday with a group of pretty cool nerds. I’m also a huge cinephile, and I average about 5 movies a week, so if you’re ever bored- come hang out and watch a movie with me!

About Sarah 933 Articles
Sarah Allen (she/her) is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.

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