We talk to the Dallas-based ‘techucator’ at Counter Culture Coffee about barista competitions, the current moment, and more.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Hana Kaneshige
Hana Kaneshige was always a fan of café culture—growing up in the Pacific Northwest, she would make frequent stops at local coffee shops. This familiarity with coffee helped her land a job at the campus coffee shop during college, which eventually led her to a career in coffee. After a few stops along the way, Hana ended up at one of her favorite companies, Counter Culture Coffee, where she now works in a tech/educator hybrid role. Along the way Hana has pursued several avenues to strengthen her coffee knowledge and support the community, including competing in Barista competitions and serving as a community coordinator for the Specialty Coffee Association’s U.S. Chapter. We chatted with Hana to find out more about her endeavors.
Chris Ryan: Can you tell us a bit about your pre-coffee life? Where did you grow up, and what did you study/plan to pursue professionally before you got interested in coffee?
Hana Kaneshige: I was born and raised in Bellingham, Wash.—about 90 miles north of Seattle and just south of Canada. The Pacific Northwest is pretty steeped in coffee, and I grew up having hot chocolates at local cafés while my mom had her latte. I went to school at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and studied Critical Theory and Social Justice (with no actual plan to use that degree, but here we are now!). I actually started working in our on-campus coffee shop my freshman year of college, and joined its team of managers my sophomore year. There was a period of time in my college life when I thought I might want to go into business consulting, but after thinking about what I loved doing, I decided I wanted to open a café/bar.
How did you start working in the coffee world, and how did you end up at Counter Culture?
Technically speaking I’ve been in coffee since that first year in college! But we were not making the best beverages. After graduating, I was hired to help launch the coffee program for a small market in Highland Park (Los Angeles) that just happened to be an Intelligentsia account. After a bit of training, I knew there was so much more to learn, and I applied for one of the opening barista positions as Verve Coffee Roasters was coming to Los Angeles. I was part of the opening team for the DTLA location, and ran the store for two years before moving to Counter Culture. I was a longtime admirer of CCC, and made it a point to go to just about every single Tasting at Ten in L.A., and applied for almost every position that opened up in L.A.
How long have you been with Counter Culture? What do you do there, and what are some of your day-to-day duties?
I have now been with CCC for about two and a half years. I came in as the L.A. regional educator, and then moved to Dallas to be what I like to call the regional techucator. I sit in a hybridized technician/educator role here in Texas. Pre-COVID, the day-to-day was wild—I would still teach classes and conduct trainings, but gained a whole new set of skills as a coffee tech. I had a lot of service calls and quite a few installations; our region ranges from Oklahoma and throughout Texas to a bit of Louisiana. I’ve driven more since moving to Texas than I did in my last year in L.A.
How have you been impacted by / had to adjust to COVID-19 in your work?
Now, the days are a bit of a mix. We have been offering online courses to wholesale partners and subscribers, and I am having service calls come up as our partners are reopening. We shifted a lot of our educational offerings online, and did a lot of material editing to make it fit into smaller chunks. On the tech side, we were able to work toward building a thorough online training program for new and current technicians—with a lot more time on our hands, we have been able to compile lots of information that will be so helpful long-term.
You’ve competed in Barista competitions, correct? What drew you to competitions, and what do you feel like you’ve learned from them?
I have judged and competed in the Barista competitions alternating years for the last few years. The first time I competed was almost a mistake—I happened to win Verve’s in-house competition for SoCal, and went off to qualifiers with no idea what I was in for. My main goal was to tamp all the shots and not go over time. I definitely blacked out a bit, but overall the experience made me a better barista in being able to really get to know one coffee. I judged the following year, as I moved to CCC, then competed again and made it to nationals. I did a bit of judging this past year at prelims, and it was so fun.
Competitions and coffee events are like family reunions at this point! I love the community that goes along with the events. I love competing and judging because they make me a better coffee professional, and I have the opportunity to singularly focus on one thing over an extended period of time. It’s a challenge, and takes practice. I’ve gained coffee skills, time-management skills, presentation skills, and had a lot of fun. Judging is particularly helpful in terms of calibrating with other people and tasting a range of coffees together.
I know you’re also a community coordinator for the SCA’s U.S. Chapter. Can you describe why you wanted to be involved with that, and what your duties entail?
Having been part of a few different coffee companies, and competitions, and teaching/writing material for courses at events like BGA Access, I wanted to be involved in a bigger capacity. The U.S. Chapter was focused on amplifying the U.S. coffee community, but with recent events has pivoted to work toward the following mission: “Our chapter advocates for and helps the U.S. Coffee Community to create awareness of, communicate about, and support local and regional events and education that provide value to both members and non-members.”
We are diverse, inclusive, and committed to being anti-racist. We remove barriers to participation, advocate for innovative content, and improve approachability, accessibility, and connection to resources. I’m happy to chat with people (email@example.com), or please check us out on Slack, Instagram or firstname.lastname@example.org!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I didn’t want to leave this interview without at least acknowledging that Counter Culture has been in a pretty interesting spot the last few months. I certainly don’t speak for the company, but I believe the company is in a position that is forcing it to take a look at its own structure and systems. We are seeing the result of widespread systemic injustice on a large scale, and I know that those systems are present throughout so many organizations—Counter Culture is not alone. Systems in any given company are built over years, they don’t just pop into being. I do believe we’re at a pivotal point, and I have a lot of hope that we will capture this moment, and create change within the company. I know that I personally am committed to pushing for and seeing a shift come into being. It’ll be hard, and challenging, and take engagement from every single person. I love the amazing humans that I work with, and want to ensure that we do the work for all of them. Personally committing to that work is all I can offer.
We have recently hired our first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion specialist, and worked with an external company to conduct an audit of our systems. It’s been a crazy few months, but I am hopeful about our progress!