With the ‘50 Weeks, 50 States’ series, the ‘Barista Talk’ podcast explores coffee businesses across the country.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by McLain Stalker
In early 2021, former barista and journalist Laura Stewart channeled her interests and experience to launch “Barista Talk,” a podcast interviewing baristas, coffee shop owners, coffee roasters, and customers about what goes on behind the scenes at their businesses.
While Laura produced monthly episodes in the podcast’s first year, she desired to go in a different direction for 2022. “I wanted to post weekly and have a theme for the year,” she says. “I wondered if there was a way to unite small business owners across the U.S., and wanted to see if there were commonalities or major differences between the states when it came to the coffee culture.”
Laura’s brainstorming yielded “50 Weeks, 50 States,” a “Barista Talk” series she launched in January of this year with an episode on Grounded Coffee in Madison, Ala. Since then, the “Barista Talk” podcast has embarked on an aural journey exploring coffee businesses throughout the United States, which Laura says is the result of her yearning “to see sustainability-focused coffee shops thrive, educate customers (and listeners) on what goes into making their coffee, and the importance of supporting local shops.”
Originating in Love for Coffee
Laura says she originally launched “Barista Talk” after getting interested in podcasting and realizing she missed the interviewing portion of her former journalism work. When she sought to settle on a topic for her podcast, she channeled her time behind the coffee bar. “My days working as a barista were really special to me, as I learned a lot about my customers, my community, and enjoyed the act of making a delicious cup of coffee,” she says. “But I wanted this podcast to be accessible to anyone without needing to understand the coffee world, erasing the boundary between customers and baristas. No pretentiousness here.”
Once she decided to embark on the “50 Weeks, 50 States” series, Laura set the goal of sharing café owners’ wisdom with the greater community. “I wondered if there was a way to unite small business owners across the U.S., and wanted to see if there were commonalities or major differences between the states when it came to the coffee culture,” she says.
Coffee Stories from Across the Country
Now that we’re in August, the project has covered more than half of the states of the union. (Episode 37, posted in July at the halfway point of the series, includes Laura’s thoughts on the first 26 episodes.) Laura says she has many favorite episodes from “50 Weeks, 50 States,” including Episode 27, with Haley Kesterson from Tru Coffee & Threads in Iowa City, Iowa. “This was one of the most inspirational stories,” says Laura. “She was spurred on by her mother to chase her dream of starting a coffee shop right before she passed away. Haley started her shop during the pandemic and went through several other life-altering changes since opening. … She has (demonstrated) true grit and compassion as she focuses on community over competition.”
Another highlight episode for Laura was her interview with Leticia Hutchins from Alma Coffee in Canton, Ga., in Episode 22. “Leticia is carrying on her family’s legacy as the fifth generation of coffee farmers,” Laura says. “She was the first to open a shop and roast coffee. … Her goal is to connect the coffee back with the farmers and (tell) the farmers’ stories to customers.”
Passing Along Valuable Lessons
You can listen to all episodes of “Barista Talk,” including the in-progress “50 States” series, here. Laura is excited to complete the series, and to share all she has learned from her knowledgeable subjects.
“Shop owners are resilient, and those who pivot will grow,” Laura says. “This is something I’ve seen throughout these interviews. Plus, the coffee community is extremely open and giving. People are willing to help support each other, which is unlike most other business-centric industries.”