Brittany Davies is the education manager for Discovery Coffee in Victoria, British Columbia. She opens up about her journey to being a coffee educator and the daily ups and downs she faces in her role.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Tzviel del Valle
Barista Magazine’s regular ‘Pathfinder’ series focuses on careers in coffee. In an online complement to that series, today we talk to Brittany Davis, education manager for Discovery Coffee in Victoria, British Columbia, about how she got into coffee and the journey she has taken from barista to education manager.
On Brittany’s background in coffee:
Except for one year when I wanted to be an NHL goalie—and bless my sweet mother who dutifully wrote that in my school-days keepsake book—I had always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I went after a bachelor of arts in English Literature at the University of British Columbia, followed quickly by a bachelor of education from the University of Victoria, and then had the crushing realization that it wasn’t what I wanted. I loved teaching, but I didn’t want to be in a high school classroom.
From there, like any good university graduate, I spent a bit of time as a bartender but always found myself in other roles that fulfilled my desire to be in leadership positions focused on teaching or training. Eventually, I found my way to being a volunteer coordinator for large-scale music festivals and other events in Victoria. But those contracts only covered my summer season, so in the winter I worked as a barista with Discovery Coffee.
On the transition from barista to educator:
I was a regular at Discovery Coffee long before I started working there. They were often on-site as vendors at the music festivals I worked for, and there was many a long, hot festival day that was saved by a doughnut or a bottle of cold brew. I loved what they were doing—quality speciality coffee, amazing customer service, and a staunch dedication to music on vinyl—so I took a chance and made them an offer: I would work the winters in coffee, and the summers in music.
I lucked out, they said yes, I started as a bar back and about three months into my time there I moved on to my barista training. I had some previous experience behind an espresso machine at a small mom-and-pop catering company when I was just out of high school, but it definitely wasn’t what you would call ‘speciality coffee.’ I was amazed and intimidated by the complexity of espresso, I was determined to master my latte art, and I worked hard to develop my foundational skills.
When Logan (owner of Discovery Coffee) and Kara (general manager) offered me the position of education manager, I was a little hesitant. I knew I had the education and teaching experience to support me, but I wasn’t sure I had the coffee knowledge or industry pedigree to do them proud. Logan and Kara made it clear that they valued what I brought to the table, they could see me as a member of their team, and that they wanted to invest in my professional development.
I started taking my SCA Level 1 Pathway, I continued working as a barista on the floor a couple days a week, and I went to the 2016 SCA Expo in Atlanta. I was hooked, I was on the train, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had found my coffee confidence, I had found my home with Discovery Coffee, and I had found my people and my community with the specialty-coffee industry.
Why being a barista helped make her a great educator:
I think there is something so powerful about people in positions of leadership and influence who are prepared to do the work. Leading by example is everything. I want to be that coach who is running laps with the team, not screaming from the sidelines, and I think having started as a barista puts me in a better position to be that person. I’ve been through the training program, I understand the demands and realities of the job, I can offer concrete examples, and I am prepared to do the work.
People are going to see through you pretty quick if you aren’t living and breathing your values. To be able to jump behind the bar and help out when I can is really important to me; it keeps me honest, it gives me more opportunities to connect with the team, and it means I’m always working on my skills.
On the aspects of the job does she like the most:
I could make a list a kilometer long of all the things I love about my role as the education manager for Discovery Coffee. Every day I feel so grateful, and a little bit surprised, that I get to do what I do. Training our staff and our wholesale accounts, teaching public sessions in the community, working with the roastery on our coffee program, sitting on the upper-management team, and still getting the chance to step behind the bar, all of it keeps me fired up and always wanting to learn more.
But one of my favorite things is watching someone learn something new—those times when something clicks or resonates. I live for those moments. I’m stoked when someone pours their first great latte, but I’m just as excited when they taste a natural-process coffee for the first time, or successfully decide the next move for calibrating the espresso, or remember a regular customer’s name and order. That’s the dream.
One of the greatest challenges for any teacher is being able to reach all your students. Sometimes teaching someone how to calibrate espresso or steam a pitcher of milk is frighteningly similar to teaching Shakespeare: Some people are going to pick it up right away, some people are going to need a lot of extra time. You have to be flexible, you have to be prepared to come at a concept from more than one angle, and you need to be able to give good feedback.