Life of a Barista – Our Interview with Cafeoteca’s Edwin Yuan

Sep 23, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

What do you do? Are you an Excel, PowerPoint or financial wizard on your way up the corporate ladder? Or are you the creative type. And you’re trying to make a name for yourself in the Instagram game? Whatever it is, you probably spend a heck of a lot of your life doing it. For many coffee lovers, you have probably thought about what it’d be like to live the life of a Barista. Coffee, creativity, chasing the perfect coffee drink. What is there not to love, right?

 

Chemex pour at cafeoteca - life of a barista - blue penguin coffee

 

If you have ever thought about jumping head first into the life of a barista, you’re in for a special treat.

 

We’ve always been curious about this question. What makes coffee people coffee people?

 

What drives them to perfection and what makes coffee so special for them?

 

Specifically, we are always looking to hear about that one moment. The moment a person knew they had to live, breath, drink coffee and somehow be part of this crazy industry.

 

Lucky enough, we got the chance to interview Edwin Yuan, a barista from the famed Cafeoteca in San Jose, Costa Rica.

 

From the time we walked in, to the time we left, Edwin made sure to make our experience memorable. Plus, he saved our entire trip by jump-starting our car when we stupidly forgot to turn off our headlights!

 

Like we’ve said before, if you love coffee and you have never been to Costa Rica, you MUST go there.

 

Costa Rica has 8 different coffee regions and each region’s coffee is unique. On this stop alone we tried coffees from 3 different regions.

 

Edwin made sure to teach us as much about Costa Rican Coffee as he could.

 

To be honest, what initially intrigued us about Edwin was the fact that he is Asian, like us.

 

We’re Asian American and he is Asian Costa Rican (if that’s the right term), so we already had that in common.

 

Plus, he was the first person who said what’s up to us. So it was pretty easy to strike up a conversation.

 

Edwin’s story, which has similarities to ours, was an inspiration to hear.

 

He was born in Hong Kong and then at a young age, his parents immigrated to Costa Rica where he has been ever since.

 

In our Chief Penguin’s case, his parents immigrated from Taiwan and he was born in the United States.

 

Melissa, our creative director has the same story too, except her parents came from Shanghai.

 

It’s crazy to think how different, yet similar life can be!

 

Here’s Edwin who grew up in Costa Rica, is fluent in Cantonese, and Spanish, but doesn’t speak Mandarin Chinese!

 

Then there is the Blue Penguin team who both grew up in the Midwest United States and for the most part, speak English as their first language.

 

What if our parents had decided to go to school in Costa Rica or somewhere else in the world?

 

Things might have been very different. Blue Penguin might not exist!

 

Anyways, that’s for another coffee time chat or something. Let’s get back to Edwin’s story.

 

The Life of a Barista – Cafeoteca’s Edwin Yuan

 

Finished brew from cafeoteca - blue penguin coffee

 

Like many baristas and coffee people in the world, he did not start his career in coffee, he did not live the life of a barista. Instead, coffee found him and after it found him there was no way of letting go.

 

The more you talk to people in the industry, the more you hear of this happening.

 

It’s the same thing when you talk to people about golf, or fishing, or traveling. There was that moment in time where they finally felt like this is the thing. This is the thing they want to do and if possible, dedicate their lives to the craft.

 

Howard Schulz of Starbucks probably has one of the best all-time quotes about this elusive feeling. This is how he remembers his first time in Starbucks:

 

When I walked in the store for the first time – I know this sounds really hokey – I knew I was home. I can’t explain it. But I knew I was in a special place and the product kind of spoke to me.

 

What’s funny in Edwin’s case is that he didn’t even drink coffee when he was younger. That’s how hard the coffee bug bit him!

 

Edwin started his career in advertising as a graphic designer.

 

However, he quickly realized that being a graphic designer wasn’t his true passion. Sure the job was good, and he was definitely successful at his age by societal standards, but he knew there was more out there.

 

You could say the life of a barista was calling his name.

 

And you know what he did that is both inspiring and courageous?

 

He took the jump and followed his passion once he found out what it was.

 

You have to remember, Edwin is Costa Rican, yes, but he is also Chinese. The Chinese community, which he grew up in and which supported him his whole life did not understand why he wanted to quit a good job to get into ‘coffee’.

 

To Edwin’s credit, he pushed on and continued to do what he wanted to do.

 

Let’s stop the story here and hear from Edwin himself.

 

Pour over at cafeoteca - life of a barista - blue penguin coffee

 

1.) Going off of your story and journey from Hong Kong to Costa Rica in general, how did your love for coffee get started? Do you have a story to tell about the moment you knew you were hooked and had to live the life of a barista?

 

The moment I fell into the coffee business is actually like two moments for me. The first moment was when I took a barista class, met some awesome people and at that moment I was ready to dive in as fast as I could. It didn’t go well, though and I ended up in some trouble. The second moment was after hit my rough patch.

 

 

2.) Oh wow, you moved really quickly then. Can you go into a little more detail of what trouble you got yourself into? We’re curious here.

 

Yeah, I invested wrong in the start. I was supposed to team up with someone to open up a little cafe, but we didn’t have the experience to get it done. At this point, I stopped my plan of opening a cafe. But, I kept with my passion, kept drinking good coffee and meeting people from the industry. Then about a year later, I decided to take a roasting course at Asosiacion De Cafes Finos Costa Rica with Mike Ebert and Pablo Araya. At this moment I really fell for coffee and I started to participate in coffee events to get some experience. Then I met a guy in Cafe Vinicio, which turned out to be my lucky break. We became friends. At around the same time, he was quitting his job there and he recommended me to the owner of this cafe called Lemon and Coffee. I ended up getting the job and then got the opportunity to jump to Cafeoteca. I decided to work as a barista to get the experience I needed to meet my coffee goals.

 

 

3.) You’ve really come a long way then. What would you tell people who are attracted to the life of a barista and are considering entering the industry? Or even to those who have just started?

 

To all the people just starting out, I will tell you to have patience, walk slowly through this beautiful world and you will find your way. More importantly, never doubt yourself.

 

 

4.) Can you help explain to our readers how you choose your brew method based on bean type, the process you follow, and why you do it this way?

 

Choosing the brewing method is just getting to know the coffee you work with. I never stop learning and always experiment with the beans to figure out which brewing methods are best for each type of coffee. It comes down to the fact that I have tasted the coffee using all the different brewing methods with different recipes. So maybe one day I’ll serve it this way. Then the next time I will recommend another method for the same coffee just because I learned something new or because I found better flavors in another method.

 

 

5.) So what does your typical day look like? I’m guessing the life of a barista is pretty hectic, right?

 

Yeah, it’s hard to say because my schedule is such a mix, but this is how my day was today.

 

5:40 am: Wake up, feed my dog and get ready for the day.

 

7:20 am: Arrive at Cafeoteca and start getting the cafe ready to open shop. This includes turning on all the equipment, filling the desserts of the day, cleaning up the cafe one last time.

 

8:00 am: The doors open and our regulars come trickling in. At the same time, I start calibrating the espresso machine for the day.

 

9:00 am – 12:30 pm: Depending on the day, it usually starts to get busier and busier as the day goes on. Today, I spent this time taking care of all the customers and making sure they were all having a good time.

 

12:30 pm: Our batch of freshly roasted coffee arrives. Check the batch to make sure it meets our quality standards and start doing an inventory count of what we have and what we need.

 

1:00 pm: Break time! Lunchtime for me.

 

1:30 pm – 3:00 pm: The rest of the day just flies by. Serving customers, listening to stories and teaching them all about Costa Rican coffee! Today, I left the cafe at 3:00 pm, but the time I leave really depends on what day it is.

 

 

6.) One last thing before we go, tell us what coffee means to you?

 

Coffee for me means hard work because there is no talent here. It is hard work and love. From the producers to the roasters to the baristas and everyone involved. I think it is beyond money. It is something deeper here. In a sense, the coffee is moving people.

 

 

edwin brewing - life of a barista - blue penguin coffee

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