From roller derby to roast master, Greater Goods’ Sara Gibson talks about risk, reward, and reinvention.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Sara Gibson didn’t fall into coffee like many coffee pros do—she chose it. After working for years in typical (and some not-so-typical) jobs, she took a class on roasting and decided that this is what she wanted to do. Now she’s the head roaster at Greater Goods Coffee Roasting in Austin, Texas. In this interview, we trace her journey to coffee, learn how roller derby helps her roast, and how big risks can mean big rewards.
Ashley Rodriguez: Can you talk about your first coffee memories?
Sara Gibson: I’ve always loved coffee. My dad would make me mugs when I was little—I’m sure they were mostly milk, but I loved the smell, the warmth, and the ritual of the percolator. In high school and college, I had opinions about what made coffee bad or good, but it was just a simple mental equation of weakness versus strength and how long a coffee pot had been sitting on a burner.
A college trip to Italy and easy access to Peet’s in Berkeley got me into espresso. I only really started paying attention to specialty coffee in the last six years. All credit goes to Philz for getting me to notice pourover coffee and flavor profiles. Since I was working in San Francisco at the time, it was easy enough for me to frequent roasters like Sightglass, Andytown, Ritual, and Blue Bottle. And I learned that the people working in shops that make great coffee tend to be really happy to talk to you about coffee. It was such an interesting rabbit hole of information.
How did you get into coffee and roasting?
It was also so completely different from what I was doing with my life. I had been working in editorial/digital content/marketing for years, and it just wasn’t exciting to me anymore. Whenever I would complain about work to friends, I would joke that I was going to quit it all, move to the country, and become a coffee roaster. And then one day I was like, why not?
So I quit my job in San Francisco. I took an Intro to Roasting class at Bay Area CoRoasters from Cheyenne, who is an amazing teacher. I moved to Dripping Springs, which is in the Texas Hill Country, right outside of Austin. And I found a coffee company that was doing amazing work, and kindly harassed them until they allowed me to apprentice with the head roaster. (I showed up all the time, asked questions, attended cuppings, etc.)
I feel incredibly lucky to have found Greater Goods Roasting. The founders are good people who love good coffee, and they’re all about quality, constant learning, and giving back to the community. Their mission aligns perfectly with my sensibilities.
It seems like you’ve always loved coffee, but took a non-linear route to get there. Does that speak to your personality?
I’m not a linear person. I’m a gold-star tangent taker, aside maker, and side-story sharer. I start and stop relationships/hobbies/jobs, but find that they all loop around each other in some interesting ways. My college degree was in international studies, with a concentration on Latin American history and politics. After college, I worked in the music industry, then I became a teacher, then I became a digital content and marketing director, and then a coffee roaster.
So, though coffee roasting in some ways seems like a big side-step from everything else, it actually ties in really perfectly with my degree. And music, teaching, and marketing equals artistry, education, and human engagement. And that’s kinda what coffee is all about.
What do you listen to when you roast coffee?
My typical roasting playlist is happy and catchy in the morning to wake me up, then melodic and thoughtful to keep me focused, then just a weird mix of stuff in the afternoon to keep me going.
What feels important to you right now?
These days, I’ve been working on:
Reinvention. The best things that have happened to me have come from “f**k it” moments where I just jumped into something headlong—a “sounds good, f**k it, let’s do it” type of situation. That’s what got me to Austin, and what got me into coffee.
Feeding creativity. Reading, drawing, baking pies. Planting succulents. Rearranging the pictures on my walls. Talking to cats that I meet on the sidewalk. Trying to find new and exciting uses for chaff. (Still working on that one.)
Finding the humor. The last few years have been a socio-political dumpster fire, and I f**king hate it, but sometimes you just have to turn off NPR and rewatch the first three seasons of Arrested Development. There’s a lot of seriousness AND silliness to be found in coffee. It’s fun to embrace both.