90+ Profiles: Getting to Know Sarah Allen


Who are you and what do you do in coffee?

My name is Sarah Allen and I’m the editor and co-founder of Barista Magazine.

How and when did you get started in the coffee business?

After earning my master’s in journalism, and working as a music critic on staff at two major daily newspapers, I tired of the newsroom grind and answered an ad for an editing position at a coffee magazine in 2002.

What jobs have you held in the industry?

I was associate editor and then editor of Fresh Cup Magazine for a quick 18 months — July of 2002 through November of 2003. I fell totally in love with covering the specialty coffee industry during that time, so much so that I wanted to focus even more seriously on a specific group within the coffee community: professional baristas. I had the idea to start a magazine for this segment, but I knew I needed to get some cred on the ground with baristas first. So I accepted a position in marketing and training for Zoka Coffee in Seattle, where I worked with Stephen Vick to train the company’s champion baristas for competition, starting in November of 2004. Almost exactly one year later, I left Zoka to found Barista Magazine with my now-husband, Kenneth R. Olson, who is Barista’s publisher.

What people and/or things inspire you, coffee-wise?

I can honestly say, I am inspired each and every single day by baristas. Baristas possess all the best qualities of the musicians I used to write about for newspapers: they are passionate, curious, driven, nerdy, social, intellectual, and fun. They’re supportive of each other and our industry in a way I hadn’t imagined successful professionals could be.

What would you like to see change in the industry?

Of course I’d like to see an end to hunger and poverty among our producing partners. But a lot of other things need to change for this to happen first, and one of the most important ones is access for baristas, cafe owners, and roasters to free or reasonably-priced education.

If you were to come back as a drink in another life, what drink would you be?

A cold-brewed V60 of Aida Batlle’s Finca Los Alpes. I’m super high-energy, for one thing. The Los Alpes is robust but still whimsical. And Aida’s one of my very best friends; I spend a week with her in El Salvador every January.

What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to coffee?

I like to think we’ve given the barista profession legitimacy. When we debuted in 2005, there were still countless people dismissing baristas as temp workers not to be taken seriously. But how many of those “kids” own their own successful cafes today? Tons! I’ve had so many people tell me that they started to believe in themselves and their futures as coffee professionals when they discovered Barista Magazine. Nothing inspires me more than that.

What do you think others would say is your greatest contribution to coffee?

The significance of Barista Magazine in developing and validating the profession of serious baristas and cafe owners.

What’s next for you?

Working on the free app we just released, Coffee Scout, which we developed with Google phenom and coffee devotee Alon Halevy. And, just continuing to work day and night on behalf of pro baristas and cafe owners everywhere. We’re 100 percent dedicated to them.

Has coffee affected your “non-coffee” life? If so, in what ways?

In my 10-plus years writing about the specialty coffee industry, my understanding of what it is to be a citizen of this planet has totally changed. As a vehicle for encountering cultures from the most devastatingly poverty-stricken to ones where people happily pay $15 for a beautiful cup of manual brew, coffee has connected the dots for me about what it is to live conscientiously, intelligently, and gently.

Who’s the person you’d most like to see us interview next?

Jason Long of Café Imports. His involvement with the Cup of Excellence (COE) award program is outstanding, and his company’s focus on supporting baristas as the future of the specialty coffee industry is revolutionary.