An Attempt to Platform New Stories

Begin by de-centering your point-of-view—and going to your community for help

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Find ways to let others tell their stories.

On the latest episode of the podcast, I interviewed Astrid Medina and Luísa de Salazar, two coffee farmers in Colombia. This was—technically and logistically—one of the most ambitious and challenging interviews I’ve ever conducted.

Astrid and Luísa speak Spanish, a language I am not fluent in. From the get-go, I knew this episode would have to work differently, and that it would involve new systems to get the same quality information to listeners. Making it meant coordinating multiple schedules, dozens of emails, three rounds of translation, and back-and-forth with my audio engineer to make sure the edits were just right.

Usually, an interview-style episode of Boss Barista can be done—from first email to hitting the ‘publish’ button—in about 10 hours. This includes research, transcription, verifying quotes and facts, and writing and recording an introduction. I’m used to this process after honing it over the course of several years, and feel confident about the steps I’ve taken to make it straightforward.

But this new episode took roughly two-and-a-half times that amount of work, and required resources that I don’t normally utilize (we edit almost every episode in-house, and I personally transcribe most shows—for this episode, we hired folks to step in and help). It was important to make space and find creative solutions to tell a story that would have otherwise been impossible for me to communicate, because I am not a coffee farmer and I do not speak Spanish.

“There are hardly any stories told by the coffee producer or the person living in that country who experiences all the emotions that arise from working in the coffee industry.” Former podcast guest Vava Angwenyi shared this insight during her talk in March 2021 for High Density, an event hosted by The Barista League. “From the growing of the coffee, the processing, producer mobilization, this story has always been from the point of view of the buyer, the roaster, the trader.”

In providing this behind-the-scenes explanation of how this episode came to be, I want to encourage more people to find ways to tell stories that de-center their point of view. Yes, it’s much, much easier to tell a story from my perspective, but I’m bound by what I know—which is, relatively speaking, very little—about a hugely complex beverage that affects so many people across the world.

Many of the adjustments I made to produce this episode were crowdsourced. I asked folks on Twitter if they could help with Spanish translation, and I was in constant contact with the Amor Perfecto team (the folks who put me in touch with the two farmers) asking for their advice and insights. I am still actively working on how to de-center my own point of view, and the experience I gained through putting together this episode was a stimulating reminder that I need to be vigilant about stepping out of my comfort zone.

It felt fitting to make this project a communal endeavor. Coffee is a global agricultural good, and we have a responsibility to find ways to bring all actors to the table—and make adjustments that allow them to tell their stories. If the only folks present are representative of a small contingent within a larger group, they’re likely to dominate the discussion. It’s time we really consider the whole.

Before you go…

Y’all. THE TARTINE UNION HAS WON! After over a year of fighting and advocacy, they are now an officially recognized union—learn more about them on this episode of Boss Barista from February 2020.

My biggest wish in life in the year 2000 was to go to sleepaway summer camp. That never happened, so I had to live vicariously through the campers on the proto-reality show Bug Juice, a Disney show that followed the lives of preteens at camp. I distinctly remember the episode where Eve, one of the campers, was kicked off the show with no explanation—she was simply gone. But Eve is here to tell us what happened and how horribly she was treated.

I finished Just Kids by Patti Smith, and it rekindled my obsession with nostalgia. Patti has the perfect reference for everything. Every date means something (a photoshoot falling on poet Arthur Rimbaud’s birthday, for example, was a good omen), and every friendship has a place in Patti’s life—they’re all distinct and unique, and it was a fresh reminder to chronicle my life and write things down.

In the context of cooking, I didn’t know what a skirt was until I saw Sohla El-Waylly’s recipe for pork and scallion dumplings. A little slurry of cornstarch added to your pan gives your dumplings a crunchy little restaurant-quality treat.

The North American Guild of Beer Writers recently hosted one of my podcasting heroes, Jesse Thorn, as part of their semi-regular writers’ workshops. Jesse is the founder of the podcasting network Maximum Fun, and hosts shows like Bullseye, Jordan, Jesse, Go!, and my favorite, The Turnaround.

In particular, he talked about his interview with Larry King. Larry King isn’t afraid to be dumb in an interview, and while some might interpret that approach as lazy or unprepared, as Jesse talked, it was clear that Larry’s style of interviewing meant he was totally present. In that way, an interview almost becomes an event—a singular moment that depends on two people coming together and bringing their grace and presence to the stage. “A good question can open up doors in my mind that I would never think of discussing with anyone,” Frank Sinatra said to Larry King in the last interview Sinatra did, back in 1988.

That’s the dream, Frank.

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