Sarah Dooley, Erin Meister, Trevor Corlett, and Joe Marrocco Speak on Creating Careers in Coffee at SCAA

By Jeremy Martin

Having attended several lectures and panel discussions at this year’s event and other coffee industry showcases, I’ve found the method for putting on a talk quickly becomes apparent. Sure some speakers ad-lib more than others, and some encourage audience participation, but for the most part the audience is treated to a power point style lecture, one that has presumably already been given countless times before.

Saturday morning’s crafting a Viable Career Path in Coffee discussion was most certainly not cut from that cloth.

A panel of four industry veterans ”Sarah Dooley of Baratza, Joe Marrocco from Café Imports, Erin Meister of Counter Culture (and a writer here at Barista Mag), and Trevor Corlett co-founder of Madcap Coffee ”gave heartfelt, if not always fully thought-out, musings on their time in the coffee industry and the life and career choices that led them to this moment.

From left: Sarah Dooley, Joe Marrocco, Trevor Corlett, and Erin Meister.
From left: Sarah Dooley, Joe Marrocco, Trevor Corlett, and Erin Meister.

In lieu offering a template on how to map out a career, the group instead doled out bits of hard-won wisdom and implored each member of the audience to follow their hearts and to do no small amount of internal exploration as they forge their own unique and hopefully successful career paths.

Marrocco, a jovial, well-spoken husband and father took aim at the language of the class, insisting that no one in the room should seek a ˜viable career.’ He likened the word ˜viable’ to ˜sustainable,’ with both having connotations of just barely hanging on.

Why be merely viable, or sustainable he asked, especially when the option to be successful and to flourish is within reach?

Dooley and Meister found agreement in the idea that no matter how crappy you feel, regardless of what kind of day you’ve had, simply being nice to everyone you meet will do wonders for your career.

Meister also threw out a great idea  for coffee job hunters:  Don’t wait for a posting to go online on Craigslist or, but rather personally seek out the companies you want to work for and write to them. Let the people in charge know why you like them, and tell them what your strengths are and what you can do to help the company reach its goals.

In other words find the niches that are not currently being filled and create a position for yourself. It may take a while, it certainly won’t land you a job overnight, but with persistence  you will get noticed.

Corlett went further in depth regarding the concept of self awareness and looking internally.

œA lot of people are not self aware,  he said. œThey are not aware of what they actually enjoy and are good at. Self awareness is a huge part of being able to find your career path. 

Marrocco added to that thought by explaining that to be successful, your life and your career need to be in sync. If you are unhappy at work, you will take that unhappiness home with you, so find what makes you happy during the day and your life will follow suit.

The ninety-minute discussion concluded with a Q&A session where the panel fielded questions such as œwhen you find what you are good at, but it doesn’t bring you joy, do you continue to that job? 

The agreement among the panel being, no, you find something else you are good at.

The group also answered a query from a roaster in Wichita who was concerned that he had reached his ceiling for growth in Kansas and whether or not moving to a city like Seattle would ˜fast track’ his career development.    

The experts at first seemed a bit unsure how to handle this one, but in the end Corlett and Marrocco agreed that maybe it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than to try to compete with the already established old guard in a new city ”which didn’t seem to be the answer the roaster was looking for.

In the end though, the takeaways seemed to be: look within yourself, follow what you’ve found, and be nice to everyone ”Though having some aptitude for coffee making would probably also help.

Jeremy MartinJeremy Martin  is a freelance writer and photographer who has reported on coffee, craft beer, college sports, and business for a variety of publications over the past six years.  A veteran of the café industry and graduate of Western Michigan University, Jeremy lives in Seattle where can often be found making sandwiches from whatever is left in the fridge and cracking wise for the amusement of his adoring wife Amanda.  

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