BABE #301: BRENNAN RODRIGUEZ - Head Roaster, Made Coffee
Brennan is the head roaster for Made Coffee, where she oversees the sourcing, buying and roasting of green, raw coffee, calls the shots on roasting profiles they use (or don’t use,) and samples a whole lot of coffee — for quality control purposes, of course. Brennan also brings her skillset to Eastlick Coffee, where she works in tandem with the company’s owner to build dynamic roasting profiles. It’s safe to say this hustlin’ babe knows a thing or two about coffee, and she’s passionate about educating others on the importance of working towards a more sustainable industry for farmers, importers, producers and consumers alike.
Babe you admire and why?
I admire so many great women! Locally, I’d say Sarah Weaver, co-owner of Bandit Coffee, is someone I really admire. She’s been a really big source of inspiration and motivation for me.
How do you spend your free time?
I really love botany and tending to plants! I have an entire indoor nursery with different tropical plant varieties.
Favorite fictional female character? Why?
Probably Dana Scully, from “The X-Files.” She’s consistently done with everyone’s BS and way more qualified than anyone gives her credit for.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
For coffee, I prefer a shot of an East African espresso. For cocktails, I prefer a dirty gin martini.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
Besides coffee, I’d love to become a sommelier in wine, as well as get my Cicerone certification for beer. There’s also a lot of interesting development and growth in specialty teas, which I’m super curious about. If I can drink it, I want to know how it’s made.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
I’m half Colombian! My dad is from Barranquilla, Colombia. I look pretty white, but I’ve got some roots elsewhere.
Tell us about your hustle.
My hustle is nonstop! I love it, though. I’m head roaster for Made Coffee, where I oversee the sourcing, buying, and roasting of green, raw coffee. I’m their quality control person, which means I’m the one making the calls on the roasting profiles we use (or decide to stop using). I handle and lead cuppings, (basically sampling coffee to gauge the quality of the roast). I also work with Eastlick Coffee where Joel Eastlick and I work in tandem to build roasting profiles together. He has the final say within his company (obviously), but we’re a really great team.
What does your typical workday look like?
If I had a closet for the hats I wear, it’d be very full. I’m normally up around 8:00 a.m. I’ll make coffee at home or pick something up at Bandit or Union and make my way across the bridge from Tampa to Pinellas. I start my day with cupping last week’s roasts, noting any changes or adjustments that need to be made. From there I basically roast coffee all day. It sounds simple, but it’s a lot of time management. Other things I do with Made are bagging all of our whole bean orders (upwards of 300 lbs. of coffee a week, these days), and I also handle some of our deliveries for whole bean coffee. I like visiting our accounts to check on the condition of their bags, swap out anything old, or taste what our accounts are brewing to make sure it’s up to spec. It’s also super-important to keep up a consistent dialogue with our clients because coffee changes, and so do the preferences of their customers.
Tell us about your background in coffee.
I became passionate about coffee just about as soon as I started in it. My first job in coffee was at Buddy Brew’s Hyde Park cafe. Seeing the science of dialing in, coffee extraction, etc. was really eye-opening. I worked for several different cafes around town following my employment with Buddy Brew, and really decided to pursue a career in it after winning first place at the regional Aeropress competition. I went to Seattle to compete on a national level, and saw a room full of so many passionate minds. Being supported by good employers and a really good community has lent a lot to my decision to pursue a career in this industry.
What was the process of becoming a coffee roaster?
I was really fortunate. I met Joel Eastlick of Eastlick Coffee prior to competing in Seattle for the National Aeropress competition. He’s a local roaster who provides coffee for my at-the-time employer, Craft Kafe (which is a super rad company that has my whole heart). I reached out to him when I got back from Seattle because I really wanted to learn more about that part of coffee. The brewing and barista side of it I had down pretty well, but there was this whole other world to discover in roasting. He was kind enough to show me the ropes, and eventually we developed a mentor/apprenticeship dynamic where he’s taught me a lot of what I know when it comes to roasting. I still learn so much week-to-week working alongside Eastlick.
Why is sustainably and ethically sourced coffee important to you?
The farmers who source the coffee that we drink, take pictures of—and, truthfully, waste—are paid so much less than what they’re worth. Climate change plays a major role in every part of a coffee’s life. As it is right now, we cannot sustain this industry with our environmental practices nor current coffee market value. There are a lot of qualified people who can talk on sustainability in coffee better than I can, but my thoughts are as follows: Working with importers who work at origin to ensure sustainable development and growth, and then educating consumers on their impact on this industry are key factors. If the importer is working hand-in-hand with the farmer to ensure healthy practices, positive working conditions, and comprehensive pay, then that is an important first step.
As patrons, how can we better support the craft coffee industry?
Ultimately, we as consumers and producers should be spending more on coffee. Our profitability on this side of coffee production has increased along with demand, while farmers’ profitability has not changed in more than three decades. Farmers produce more to meet our goals, and make the same amount they made 30 years ago. Our industry will run out of farmers, coffee and money if we keep on this path. Consumer awareness is probably the biggest factor to problems like these. We’re so used to going to Starbucks and buying a $3 for a cup of coffee from a mass-produced corporation (there’s nothing wrong with mass-production); we drink it out of our single-use cup and straw, and we throw it away halfway finished. This happens, every day, hundreds of thousands of times a day, with no second thought. So much coffee for consumers is about instant gratification. “How can I brew a K-Cup under two minutes? Which Dunkin’ Donuts has the fastest drive-through? How quick are Starbucks’ app-based orders? What is the cheapest cup I can get this morning?” I think a lot of the industry’s problems could be set on a more sustainable path if we were only to slow down, educate ourselves and maybe put more intentionality into how much we coffee we drink and how much waste we can stop producing. I try to perpetuate this mentality in everything I do at Made. Education, intentionality, traceability and accessibility are key factors towards a more sustainable industry. We have a responsibility to our farmers to hold ourselves and our consumers to a higher standard.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
There have been pros and cons to past experience, as with many things in life. I think working multiple jobs for so many years has really given me a good work ethic and a sense of who cares and who is just talking up a big game. It’s easy for an employer to simply say they value you, but when you demand respect for yourself is when you truly see the character of those you work for. Character is everything. I think the biggest thing I’ve taken from both positive and negative experiences in my professional and academic career is that character and integrity determines your success in the industry. If you aren’t in it for the humanity of your field, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons.
What’s your most memorable award or accolade?
Winning first place at the regional Aeropress championship. I also recently placed third at a national latte art throwdown I entered last-minute, so that was pretty cool. My biggest milestone would be attending my first Expo with the Specialty Coffee Association in Boston this year. That was pretty inspiring and foundational for my career, and I made some really cool connections.
What has working in the service industry taught you?
That no-slip shoes are invaluable, hydration is key and tipping isn’t optional.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I think a great place to start fixing inequality is by addressing inequality. But talk only goes so far, right? Being a woman in a male-dominated industry is no small task. I have to speak twice as loud to be taken seriously by a lot of people in my field, and I have to have twice the qualifications to be given the same opportunities as many men do. It’s just a way of life for women that we have to work a little harder and talk a little louder to be given equal opportunities and taken seriously, especially by men. But inequality has also taught me the value of self-respect, and it has taught me that being an ally to other women (accomplished or aspiring) is the best thing I can do to level the playing field. Put more womxn in positions of leadership. Period. If you’re a man, be an ally in this, because your voice will likely be heard before mine. The more women there are in positions of leadership and the more influence we have in this market, the better of a space we create for each other. The most important thing we can do as women, for other women, is make sure our conversations are inclusive. Trans womxn, POC, LGBTQ folx all have to fight so much harder for the bare minimum. If our fight doesn’t include them, it’s pointless.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Taylor Prater, my coworker and boss babe is a total source of inspiration and encouragement. There have been many weeks I can’t imagine getting through without her. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but Sarah Weaver of Bandit Coffee is also truly such an inspiration and friend to me. Seeing her leadership and success with Bandit is beyond inspiring, and I’m so grateful for her. Amelie Haaksonsen of Concord Coffee is also a firestarter. She has a really strong silence to her that speaks volumes. Such a talented woman. Izzy Honda of Blind Tiger is also an amazing human, and they deserve more recognition than this industry has given them as a NB person. Izzy Honda and B Koslak of Black Crow have been amazing allies for nonbinary folx in coffee in our local community. On a national level, Kat Melheim of Allegro Coffee and Umeko Montoyoshi of Umeshiso brand are also absolutely incredible forces in the industry. So many amazing womxn and femme folx.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Stand up for yourself. Talk shit when something isn’t ethical. Address inequality, and the people that care about leveling the playing field will notice. Ally with womxn you trust, ally with womxn who need representation. We are only stronger together.
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