10 Minutes with Jayy Terrell 

The NKG Pace partner discusses their work and offers advice to future applicants.

BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Photos courtesy of Jayy Terrell

Editor’s note: Today we continue our “10 Minutes With“ series interviewing each NKG PACE (Partnership to Advance Coffee Equity) Program partner by sitting down with Jayy Terrell (they/them). 

Jayy Terell is from Houston, and has degrees in English and anthropology. But it was coffee that won them over in the end. In this interview, Jayy talks about their experiences in the coffee industry, why they applied to the NKG PACE Program, and their plans for the future. 

Jay and two other people stand around a cupping table with many cups and bean trays.
Jayy is learning to become a Q Grader while working at InterAmerican Coffee.

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

Jayy Terrell: I applied to the PACE Program for a number of reasons, but I think the main one was frustration. I had been a barista for upwards of five years, bounced around a few different shops, managed a couple, and I think there was a certain point where my sort of itchy curiosity wasn’t being scratched. The things that excite me most about coffee, the volatility, the variability, the possibilities, those things weren’t being engaged in the coffee shop, not in the way I wanted. I was so busy just slangin’ drinks that I didn’t get as much time to play and experiment, which is extremely important to me! When you’re working behind the bar, there’s a need for speed, there’s a need for consistency, for numbers—and, after a while, that just got old. Without going the competition route, though, there are so few opportunities to continue learning and playing and growing. Of course, as a Black, queer coffee professional, those opportunities seemed even fewer. When I first heard about the PACE Program, I felt immediately that it was for me. I can’t explain it, I just knew.   

Jay flashes a peace sign while bending over a cup during a cupping session. They are wearing a denim baseball cap. In the foreground is a close-up of ceramic cupping cups.
Jayy believes in the power of coffee to uplift communities of color.

What has the experience been like so far?   

So, so crazy and edifying! Truly eye-opening in a lot of ways. Working for InterAmerican Coffee, I’m learning about aspects of the industry that I had literally never thought about. There really is a whole massive machine that works very diligently to keep the industry moving. It’s also a really unique time for the industry, as far as the trouble of moving coffee, shipping delays, and all that. Aside from getting to see the other parts of the company in action, I’ve also co-hosted a handful of customer cuppings, which I love because it lets me kind of engage the entire process of QC. I go through the whole process of receiving the sample, then proceed to roast it, and finally, I cup with current or potential customers to talk about what a coffee may offer to their roastery or shop.  

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

The most challenging part of the transition into this part of the industry is probably the social aspect. In my experience, coffee shops tend to be safe spaces, or little hubs of like-minded folks. This is the first time I’ve ever worked in an office setting, and I have been really shocked at how different it is from any other work environment I’ve experienced. I love people, but ultimately, I’m an introverted person, so the task of getting to know an office full of people has been challenging.  

I’ve also been reminded that self-care is essential to my quality of work. Being away from home, I have moments of homesickness or just low-energy days that can make it difficult to perform my duties. Tasting coffee at this level, in these quantities, requires me to be grounded and in sync with my own body. If I haven’t slept, or am eating poorly, having a bad mental health day or whatever, it will absolutely reflect in how I experience the coffees I’m processing that day. So that’s been an interesting development, too, just this deeper awareness to treat myself well and be gentle with myself, because I’m expecting a lot from this body of mine!  

Jayy Terrell sips from spoon during a cupping. Jay wears a green apron and patterned shirt. On the table are metal tumblers and ceramic cups. Someone's arm is reaching a spoon over a cup.
Jayy says that frustration with a lack of opportunity to satisfy their natural curiosity
led them to apply to the NKG PACE program.

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

Yes! I’m already experiencing the opening of doors. The sheer amount of travel and exposure has been amazing. I was at Coffee Fest in L.A. a couple of weeks ago and got to meet and share space with some amazing Black coffee professionals. I’ve been able to chop it up with people across the industry—from private roasters to other importers, shop owners, all kinds of people—and get a good look at what’s possible. It’s helping me figure out exactly what I’m interested in pursuing next. A lot of those people are also really interested in the PACE Program and have offered themselves as personal contacts for when the program ends.  

That’s so great to hear! You are currently part of the InterAmerican team in San Diego—what has been your favorite part of the job so far?  

My favorite part of the job at IAC-San Diego has been calibrating to the people on my team, as well as to the other PACE partners. We are all bringing vastly different experiences to our cuppings, different preferences, and length of time in the industry, so getting to a place where we are speaking a common language has been so gratifying. Before I got here, the thought of cupping a full table of coffees and scoring them within a point or two of everyone else seemed daunting, yet somehow—through the work we’re doing—we’re figuring it out! It’s been great to feel myself grow more confident and to feel my team recognizing that growth, and to see that happening for the other PACE partners as well has been amazing.   

Jay sits at a cupping table, smiling with arms folded. A group of six people surround them, smiling for the photo. On the cupping table are about 30 cups, metal tumblers, spoons, coffee trays and a pitcher.
Jayy during a customer cupping with James Coffee.

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

My ultimate goal is to not only start my own roasting company, but to share what knowledge I’ve acquired with other BIPOC. Coming from Third Ward in Houston, I was able to see just how much of a miracle crop coffee has been in the way of giving options to my community and other communities of color. I also come from a family that has always thought of coffee in a very flat, one-dimensional way, instead of a rich and engaging career field.  

And of course, that’s not an accident! The face of coffee has been so white for so long, that I want to help BIPOC realize the potential we all possess. My immediate goal, however, is to continue working my way backwards through the value chain, so the next logical step for me would be spending some time at the origin, learning as much as I can about the ins and outs of the agricultural side of coffee. With climate change really upending a lot of the conventions surrounding coffee, the time and space for innovation is vast, and I just want to jump in and soak up as much as I can.  

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

My advice to anyone considering applying to the PACE Program is to see themselves as worthy of this opportunity and go for it! As Black and intersectional folks, the narratives surrounding our existence have been historically out of our hands, so sometimes we end up believing or adhering to untruths that were never even ours. Do not listen to the imposter syndrome, do not second-guess your ability and worthiness to occupy these spaces. Trust that what you are bringing to this industry is not only unique but necessary.  

You can read more about the racial equity work of NKG PACE and the PACE Partners in the October/November issue of Barista Magazine here.

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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