Constructing Education: Meet SCA Education Content Creator David Miller

Constructing Education: Meet SCA Education Content Creator David Miller

DDavid Miller’s leading draw to specialty coffee industry was not to espresso itself, but to the machines creating it.

SUSIE KEALY draws a spotlight to one of our long-term volunteers in a series on SCA News. This month, she’s interviewed DAVID MILLER, a content creator for the new Coffee Technicians Program (CTechP) and chair of the Coffee Technicians Guild (CTG) Education Committee. Photo by Tyler Dean Johnston. 

A former mechanic with an extensive expertise in repairs and maintenance, the Canadian native attributes his interest in the industry to the passionate people that inhabit it. Now highly involved in the Coffee Technicians Program Hydraulics and the CTG as a whole, David also manages his own service company, Latté 911 Commercial Espresso Systems, which operates in greater Toronto and south-central Ontario. The Education Committee chair sees his participation in the hydraulics program, a group he has been involved in for over four years, as a chance to “do more good for others.”

David recalls his first introduction to the coffee scene as somewhat unconventional, with the cogs and boilers first piquing his interest.  “My journey as a machine technician was backwards to how most of my peers tell it. The machines drew me in first; it wasn’t until I had worked on quite a few of them that I discovered what good coffee really means. It very easily could have gone the other way.” David had formally trained as mechanic for the construction machinery industry, a career role he excelled in for 17 years, earning three still-valid licenses.

When he chose to swap building sites for espresso equipment, he acknowledges that his previous familiarity gave him a “huge” head-start. However, while he had the background knowledge, he didn’t believe he knew everything he needed. It was the humans behind these two- and three-group builds that made him consider some new approaches. “Learning how baristas and café owners perceive value in my work and how to meaningfully connect with them was a very steep learning curve and I feel only now that I’m on top of that as well. Learning how to use these machines the way my customers do has given me a great deal of respect for their place in the value chain and it’s essential to being a good technician in our industry.”

It was these very conversations that led David to discover the Coffee Technicians’ Guild—as soon as he had heard of the guild, he immediately felt compelled to join. While attending their debut summit at the Specialty Coffee Expo in the early part of 2016, he spoke with members who mentioned the Education Committee and its purpose. “That’s what really started me on my journey of developing training programs for my own business and wanting to contribute to the industry in general.”

David chose to join the hydraulics side of the training system and took on the role of creating content for the many ASTs that attend, acknowledging that the experience has evolved his own personal ‘machine-side manner’ with customers, as well as opening many doors. He also observes the transformation of the guild and how technicians are now perceived by the rest of the industry, citing the ripple effect the new Coffee Technicians program has had so far. It’s not just educating the people that are taking their courses and reading their literature, but reaching beyond to the baristas and brewers with whom those students now work. “I feel like, for a long time, people have regarded the task of fixing espresso machines as simple and unsophisticated and I’ve definitely seen the overall mood shift to one of more respect and value for us even in the short time I’ve been involved. There’s so much more to it than flipping gaskets and spinning filters that goes on when a qualified tech is onsite but that’s all customers are seeing unless we talk about it, and I feel that our work in the CTechP is working directly to raise awareness of that.”

An essential cog in the “education” machine for this former mechanic will be the community’s approach to climate change and all of its resounding effects. He views this as the biggest on-going hurdle facing a growing community: “I think coffee is at a crossroads right now. Climate change is putting it on a collision course with the forces of supply and demand. I think it’s inevitable that coffee prices across the board are going to go up, and making it sustainable and affordable at the point of enjoyment is going to require serving lower quality coffees more carefully and consistently to add value to them.” Those who will survive the ups and downs of the complex and confusing (but inevitable) scenarios to come are the ones who spend time digging into the value chain to understand it. “Our livelihood depends on the flow of green coffee and the ability of that coffee and the farmers that grow it to survive and thrive.”

While David now possesses a plethora of knowledge on all things “coffee equipment,” there are still many avenues he’s excited to explore in the coming future. “I’d like to shift more of my business toward training and consulting. I love talking about my work, and I know I’d do that a lot more if it could generate an income on its own. I also seem to do very well with helping customers build entire cafés and supplying them with all the coffee equipment and advice they need to do it. So it seems natural to want to shift my business in that direction.”

“With all that said though, I don’t think I’ll ever stop building machines. The interplay of old and new ideas, the sacrosanctity of the workbench and creative space, the stretching of possibilities and the presence of new life in a completed project powering up for the first time all come together in a build and I can’t ever get enough of it.” When not spending time with his family or his St. Bernard/Great Dane mix, David finds much fulfillment and enjoyment with the work and people that encompass his everyday life. “I’m very lucky and privileged to be able to say that,” writes David.

SUSIE KEALY is freelance communication and marketing professional based in Berlin.

Follow along with David on Instagram @legendsworkshop. The CTG has recently released a call for potential Coffee Technicians Program Authorized SCA Trainers—read it here. If you’re interested in volunteering for the CTG more generally, they’d love to hear from you! Contact them here.

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!