SUSIE KEALY draws a spotlight to one of our long-term volunteers in a new series on SCA News. This month, she’s interviewed the Coffee Technicians Guild’s Vice Chair, Richard Muhl.
A native of Perth, Australia, Richard is both the current Vice Chair of the Coffee Technicians Guild (CTG) and the Technical Services Manager for Five Senses. The guild, recently established in 2016, strives to build the definition of what and who a coffee technician is while also creating standards to be broadly held among the industry. Richard, with his valued years of technical experience, has been a significant forerunner within these goals. Passionate, “good people” – no matter their credentials – drive his enthusiasm for volunteer work in the specialty coffee industry.
While many seasoned coffee professionals began their progress by pulling shots and running espresso bars, Richard took a slightly different path. His own career and taste for coffee started at the exact same time. “Twelve years ago, I had never even held a coffee cup to my lips when Dean Gallagher, a friend of mine and owner of Five Senses Coffee, asked me to join the company and start up a service department. He was trying to get the exclusive distributorship for Synesso espresso machines and it couldn’t go ahead without a national service department.” Before this proposal, Richard had already held two careers – he first worked and trained as a weapons systems electronics technician for the Australian Navy. After 12 years in that role, he then switched to a position as a Service Manager for Kodak Australia. In what now seems like a stroke of serendipity, Dean approached his friend just as Kodak’s endeavor was coming to a slow pace. Richard “decided to jump feet first into a third career” and wholeheartedly joined the Five Senses team, an expanding Perth roastery that also made training available to the growing local community.
Richard also attributes his time at Five Senses as the reason he joined the Guild in the first place. “There is a strong culture of serving and volunteering at Five Senses for the coffee industry and also the wider community. I came to see the Coffee Technicians Guild as a natural platform for myself and other technical people who are keen to serve and build something for the tech community, so I stuck my hand up.” In contrast to other guilds active at the time, the CTG was only just beginning when Richard and many others of its current leadership joined, still establishing ways of reaching out and supporting the community it was created to aid. “We have some definite successes under our belt such as the excellent CTG newsletter and the Member Technicians Slack group. I think there is much room for improvement with organizing and marketing community-led events and events generally.”
In regards to his favorite community memories, Richard points directly to ongoing community engagement. “It’s actually experiencing the community itself,” he says. “After working for a corporation for so long and overseeing a continuous decline of an entire industry, it was hugely exciting to be participating in something that was actually growing and full of very passionate people who not only loved what they were doing, they cared about the industry itself.”
The current Vice Chair also contributes his own success and passion for his work to those both in and outside the community, particularly to regular mentorship. “Over the years as a technical person, I’ve been very fortunate to have had a number of excellent mentors who have invested much time and effort in me which helped me develop in my field and succeed in my various roles.” Richard now desires to take on this mentoring role for those looking to get into the technical side of coffee, on both a personal level and as cornerstone attribute of the guild. “For whatever reason, I seem to have a drive to do the same for the next generations who are pursuing a technical career and hopefully help them to succeed in turn.” Richard also states that his work with both Five Senses and the guild have enabled him to “meet and get to know many industry-leading and iconic people,” as well as many technicians from all over the world.
When not immersing himself in guild work, education, or community events, Richard can be found spending much of his time with his family or exploring his hobbies. “I have always had a passion for rebuilding and riding motorcycles. I was hugely into bikes when I was younger but gave them up when we started having children as I thought it would be quite unfair to leave my wife Carol with six children to raise on her own if something went wrong. The kids are all adults now so I’ve gotten back into it and loving every minute.”
Richard also enjoys camping. “As a family, we were always off traveling Australia and camping with the kids. Now that the kids have families of their own, we find ourselves out and about again along with them as they do the same.” Richard also takes much inspiration for how he lives and looks at life from the everyday people around him, not just those working in the industry. “I have a number of close and life long friends who are highly successful as husbands, fathers, and relationships generally. I’m a bit of a family man really and value these traits more that any career or financial achievement. Good people inspire me.”
And what’s next for this slowly evolving guild and its Vice Chair? “I think the Coffee Technicians Guild has gotten off to a somewhat slow start but is gaining momentum and should have a bright future if we can knuckle down over the coming year or so and develop a suite of quality benefits to attract and retain members.”
SUSIE KEALY is a freelance communications and marketing professional based in Berlin.
The SCA was built by dedicated volunteers with a vision of an organization that promoted the values of specialty coffee and community. The contributions of SCA volunteers can be seen in the various leadership groups that support the mission of the association and in the thousands who give their time at SCA trade shows and community events every year. Please join us in thanking the many volunteers who make the work of the SCA possible!