‘Master Q+A’ Continued: Heather Perry

It’s been a decade since we’ve interviewed Klatch Coffee’s Heather Perry for Barista Magazine, but she has been incredibly active in the meantime. Read on for our continued conversation with Heather from our current issue’s ‘Master Q+A.’


Heather Perry
Heather and her three children pose in front of Klatch Coffee’s roastery. Photo courtesy of Heather Perry.

We featured Klatch Coffees, and current president of the Specialty Coffee Association, Heather Perry in our December 2019 + January 2020 issue of Barista Magazine. As often happens when we talk to longtime coffee professionals, they have so much more to share than we have room to print in the magazine. Today we continue our “Master Q+A” session with some of the great stuff from Heather that didn’t make it to print. Read on to find out what Heather thinks of the SCAs global unification, lessons she learned from barista competitions, and more!

Kenneth R. Olson: What are you goals for the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) while you’re the president of the organization, and where would you like to see it go in the future?

Heather Perry: My goals as SCA president are to get us to an effective stable organization. There have been so many changes, and no discredit to anyone who works or volunteers in the association, the merger was just bigger than us, and we are still trying to find the best way to be a global organization that is effective and efficient at serving the needs of the coffee community. It’s also really important to me that the work of the Price Crisis Response team is meaningful and becomes imbedded within the organization. When we talked about why merge, it was exactly for these types of situations. You have the best of coffee coming together to try and tackle this.  

You’ve been in a role to help shepherd the SCA through the unification process, combining the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe into a single organization, in the last few years. How would you describe that process? What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with it and what would you consider the biggest success? 

Now this may sound terrible, but I would describe the process similar to having a baby, something I also have a lot of experience with. The planning process is like being pregnant. We did so much planning and thought we had everything covered and we were prepared. Then we labored, and we worked to combine all systems and figure out how to work together. Then the merger happened, and even with all our planning, we were still not prepared.  

You just don’t know what you don’t know. Just like with babies, there is a lot of shit and a lot of sleepless nights. But you adjust, grow, and learn; all that being said, you have a beautiful baby and it was all worth it. And we have a thriving coffee community, and I genuinely believe the coffee is better because of the merger. There are things that are different for everyone, and change is hard, but when I look back, the coffee community and the future of the coffee community is better off because of it.

Heather Perry on the cover of the August + September 2009 issue of Barista Magazine.
Heather gracing the cover of the August + September 2009 issue of Barista Magazine.

KRO: A big theme of the story the last time (Heather was featured on the cover of our August + September 2009 issue) was your competitive streak. Since you haven’t been competing as a barista since 2010, how do you satisfy it (other than the random Barista League competition)? 

I compete against myself, and my family. I work out at Orange Theory and try and get more splat points than anyone else. I set goals for the business, and make them known to everyone so I have extra incentive to hit them! My kids have become more competitive in every area, so I take them on too. As I’m sure you can imagine, I don’t go easy on them.

I also love coaching other competitors, such as Todd (Goldsworthy) and Jenn (Hwang) and I win with them and I lose with them. I am not a passive coach; they feel my competitive spirit.

What lessons did you learn from your barista competitions, and how have they influenced your work since then?

I think I take two things away from competition. First, know what you are competing in. Sometimes people come to me starting in competition and it’s very romantic the story they want to tell, but ultimately, competition is a score sheet, and you need to know how to score points on that specific score sheet. Life is the same way to an extent. You have to know what success looks like for any given task, and do you know the best way to accomplish that? Overlook nothing. Six points can come from anywhere

Experiment, document, taste. Try everything, document everything you try so if you hit gold you can replicate it, and ultimately does it pass the taste test? This formula doesn’t just work in coffee, but also in leadership, or sales growth; obviously “taste” probably changes to “evaluate,” but you get the idea.

Heather Perry in Costa Rica
Heather visits a coffee farm in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Heather Perry.

In the period of time you competed as a barista, you saw tremendous changes in the routines, coffees, and professionalism presented in competition. What has impressed you most about the growth and evolution of barista competitions?

I think what has impressed me most is how much it has evolved. World (Barista Championship) finals are so exciting because every competitor really has the opportunity to use the space as they see fit and create a totally unique experience for the judges. I also enjoy how you can do well through so many different avenues, meaning it is no longer about wearing a tuxedo and looking the cleanest.

I feel more than ever it is about serving an amazing coffee experience while being genuine and authentic as you do that. 

I will say there is one thing I do not like about the changes: the milk beverage. I love a cappuccino, a perfect single-shot 5oz. sweet, creamy, and luscious cappuccino. And not that they don’t have to make them for competition, I rarely to never get them.  Everything is milk with a little foam, and that makes me sad, because great foam is life-changing.  

Additionally, at the time we last featured you, you were both the highest-placing woman and American at the World Barista Championship. What were your reactions when Americans Michael Phillips and Pete Licata (who helped you in Tokyo in 2007 at the WBC) were able to win on the world stage? How about when Agnieszka Rojewska became the first woman to win in 2018?

Competing at such a high level takes such a toll. I love when competitors who just miss come back and are able to take the highest honors, and that is how I feel about all three (competitors) you named.  

When I saw Agnieszka win, I was so proud. I had the honor of being her judge and getting to know her at Coffee Masters a few years ago, and I am completely drawn to her competitive spirit. She has such a passion for learning and pushing herself, and I think she is the perfect woman to hold the title of first woman World Barista Champion.

Read the rest of our interview with Heather Perry in the December 2019 + January 2020 issue of Barista Magazine! You can read it for free with our digital editions (our e-pub and our app). Or you can order a hard copy of the issue, or better yet a subscription through our online store.

About Ken 262 Articles
Kenneth R. Olson (he/him) is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Washington Huskies, and public libraries.