Barista Extraordinaire

Text by Samyak Shrestha

Jon Skinner, an accomplished British individual in the world of barista and coffee brewing, came forth to shed some light about coffee culture in Nepal. He was one of the first judges at the World Barista Championship, and has recently partnered with British Coffee School for the production of efficient baristas. He sat down with the Friday team to talk about his personal experience in Nepal, advice for starters, and so on.

When asked about how his expertise and experience would contribute to help turn Nepali youngsters into international level baristas, he said that he has seen and done pretty much everything, being there at the very start of the coffee revolution in the United Kingdom. So, he saw how challenging it was to initiate a coffee enterprise and build it up and running. But, subsequently, he watched the effectiveness of the coffee education system change the UK in terms of standard. Where it took 10 years for that change to take place in the UK, Jon believes coming to Nepal and sharing all that past experience, struggles, and highlights will help prevent possible mistakes and speed up the process. Moreover, what is being presented to modern-day baristas is very different due to the prevalence of new technology and comprehensive training methods. The value of that very barista experience takes about eight years, so already, baristas have an eight-year head start. Thus, the standards that people are starting their career with are drastically better than 20-25 years ago.

He further thinks that every other Nepali is capable enough to become as accomplished as any professional international barista. He stated that the international barrier is not an obstacle when compared to the determination shown by the Nepali youth at the British Coffee School. Everything he has seen, and everything the young trainees have shown, has surprised him. He says, “Perhaps, the society perceives something, but this is your time, and ours was 20 years ago. We ourselves were 20 years behind Americans. And, I believe you can get there much, much, quicker. You youngsters excite me with your will and determination.” In terms of capabilities, he believes that the youth work very hard, as the world is their oyster. Their energy and work will bring positive shifts to the coffee industry, compared to his time, when there was a resistance against this interest.

Jon always wants somebody to be better after he meets them. He says that he found subject matter with coffee so interesting and far reaching that he is still learning so much today—as much as he was 20 years ago. And, that’s what keeps him in the industry. In his own words, there are many aspects to coffee, and it’s like a new discovery every day. He met a fine gentleman the other day, who made his first expresso with him, and now he’s traveling to different countries, trying to perfect his coffee through research and experience. Moreover, that man was a barista five-six years ago, and now he’s in a different position in life. This is one of many examples of what excites Jon in the industry.

In terms of highlights, the first ever UK barista champion was trained by him at the beginning, and recently he gave Jon a book and credited him for it. Jon states, “I feel proud, as he’s one of the most regarded baristas in the UK now, and I only played a little part. The role of barista trainer is important, as the job is to encourage, motivate, and infuse, and from there, let the baristas run their own youthful minds and find what’s out there.

When the World Barista Championship was announced in 2004, Jon was at a bar in Atlanta, America. This crazy idea of the championship seemed impossible, but in some years, imagination turned into reality. He further states, “Being trained to be one of the first judges in the UK chapter was a quite a highlight, because I set standards for the baristas and kept on challenging their information and knowledge. To be honest, coming to Nepal and working with the British Coffee School is another highlight, which does sound cheesy, but it’s wrong to say it’s false, due to the enthusiasm and potential shown by the Nepali youth.”

A barista can be successful if they appreciate how big the industry is. It may appear that baristas just grow this seed, roast it, then throw it in a cup, but there are so many levels at every stage that go to make the industry. So, the advice is to put your head down and never stop learning. There are lots of books, along with the wealth of the internet, that help people learn from their mistakes. Moreover, the moment one stops learning more about the industry that is the moment the job dies. Jon was nine when he first wanted to be a chef, at fourteen, he pursued his goal towards being a pastry chef, and finally, by the age of eighteen, he was running his own kitchen.

Today, he still keeps on going, and says that there are areas where he knows so little. His advice to every eager individual would be to come in, work it, and find a sector to specialize in. This was the same advice which was given to him when he was trained as a chef years ago.