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 Barista Guild’s incoming chair, Jessie May Peters.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Jessie May is the current Vice Chair of the Barista Guild (BG). She’s a familiar face around many expositions, national and international coffee competitions, and a good few airports. You may have even spotted her co-hosting the World Barista Championships in Amsterdam 2018! Her hard work within the specialty coffee industry has brought her across both careers and continents, establishing her as a distinguishable ambassador of the community.
Before coffee, Jessie May studied and worked as a freelance graphic designer in London, but she thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality jobs she worked during this time. She relished in “the atmosphere of working in a team, running around and seeing customer at ease in a space.” Jessie May highlights the importance of a sense of purpose and value within her working life. Within her current role as European Sales and Marketing for Raw Material, she notes that she experiences an amalgamation of her love for design and coffee. “The further along my career in coffee moves, the more my design background becomes incredibly useful. Now that I work for a small green coffee production company, Raw Material, design is a key aspect of my job!”
So what was it that made Jessie May aspire to work with specialty coffee? “I first experienced specialty coffee at Harris + Hoole, where my barista life began. I realized something special was happening when an image appeared on top of my flat white, which I watched the barista pour in front of me. Latte art and flat whites were two things that I had never come across before so I was pretty impressed. When I decided that design needed to go on the backburner for my career choices, I applied there immediately.” Jessie May recounts that she chose wisely, as she was “flung” into a program that had trained many great baristas before her. From there, she soon moved to Paris to work in locations like Honor Café, and began volunteering for SCA-organized events.
Before her coffee career, Jessie May recalls that she had never ventured outside the bounds of Europe, but it was a fact that was quickly turned on its head. “I’ve now been to every continent, through Barista Guild and Raw Material, which is pretty mad to realize. As my work is now in sustainable development in coffee-producing countries, I’ve been able to see the value chain and its effects across all of its agents. And for that reason, I think it’s important for the consumption end to realize where your money goes.” The travel created an insightful look into how her industry functions, offering many moments to stop and consider her place within it. She highlights some memorable scenes: taking part in the Paris CoLab as a (then) local resident and attending the BG’s Bloom event among the San Francisco rooftops, right down to sitting on a street corner in Oakland, cheering glasses of natural wine with the local barista community.
Her time in the guild has given her the chance to meet many diverse industry communities. Her involvement in such gatherings “began bolstering my belief that the community I’d been searching for existed through this kind of thing happening.”
There have been many scenes that stand out as her favorite coffee memory, but if she had to choose a single memory, “it would be meeting the attendees of Barista Camp Taiwan last year. I’ve been fortunate to see communities across the world through the Barista Guild, and the Taiwanese community was so passionate and excited to be part of the event, it reinforced for me the importance of the BG.”
Jessie May’s passionate work and volunteering certainly keeps her busy, but the London native sees the importance of good rest at home. “I’m about to move to the sea, so my days off are going to be a bit different soon. Hopefully, I’ll be in a rickety boat, with a thermos of batch brew and some buttered bread. I like to paint on my days off, so I’ll be dipping my brush in the sea to do weird watercolors. Chess and a cup of tea are quintessential too.” She also notes she takes a lot of inspiration from the comedy writers Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Julia Davis, who are well known for their dark but intelligent humor.
And what does she see in the future for herself, the coffee industry, and the Barista Guild? “I think there’s so much work to be done to link local and international communities. The Barista Guild can be a conduit for that, and I’m glad to be part of that happening. We need to be able to give the stage to local groups, who are passionate and connected in ways that our small group of volunteers can’t be. They have the keys to expand our reach, and we need to support them.” Here, as incoming chair of the Barista Guild, Jessie May sees her goals clearly laid out in front of her and the rest of the leadership council, including the upcoming changes to formatting. “Reaching out for communities to run their Barista Guild events might feel like a step into the unknown, but it’s the absolute right way for us to move. CoLab has always been my favorite BG event, and if we can focus on leaning more and more on communities to show us what they want and how they want.”
And as for her own future? Her full-time job has evolved into a well of inspiration, such as her involvement with developing markets and branding, and began to influence her to start other initiatives. “I’m working on a project that addresses period poverty, by making products accessible through small donations in coffee shops and other local spaces.”
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!