Jul 6, 2021 • 49M

Brittany Sims Will Not Leave Their Feelings at the Door

Brittany Sims of the Non-Binary Barista talks writing, neurodivergency, and humanizing customer interactions

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If I could sum up this interview with one quote, it would be: “Everything you do is better than what you didn’t do.”

That line was written by today’s guest, Brittany Sims, a barista and coffee writer who runs the Non-Binary Barista blog. Brittany uses their blog to talk about gender in the workplace, but also to discuss accessibility issues, neurodivergency, how to deal with trauma, and big feelings at work. Essentially, Brittany’s blog humanizes service workers, and shines a light on the real experiences people go through on the job.

Brittany is a person who tries things. They’ve been writing for almost two decades, spanning genres and platforms, including a recently published novel. In this interview, they demonstrate their willingness to explore and be vulnerable. They buck the traditional ways we view customer service—the “leave your feelings at the door” mentality—and talk about how interactions with customers can be authentic and true to the way both actors feel.

Change begins with having a conversation, picking a starting point, and being open to new ideas. Brittany has a talent for being present, acknowledging both the humanity of others around them and also within themselves. Here’s Brittany.

Ashley: I was hoping that you could start by telling me who you are, your pronouns, where you're based, and what you do in the coffee industry.

Brittany: My name is Brittany Sims. I use they/them pronouns. I am based in Williamsburg, Virginia, but I'm originally from California and I am a barista as well as a coffee writer.

Ashley: If you were in an elevator and you had to explain The Non-Binary Barista, how would you describe that project to someone?

Brittany: The Non-Binary Barista is a website that talks about workplace dynamics—gender, being disabled, and neurodivergent—and kind of being a marginalized individual working in the coffee industry. So I talk about a lot of things, as well as some random coffee experiments like stacking pour-over cones.

Ashley: That we're going to get into—which I'm really excited about. I'm going to ask you more questions about how many things you can stack on top of each other or how many filters you can put in something.

I was wondering what prompted you to first start the Non-Binary Barista?

Brittany: When I started the Non-Binary Barista, I had a lot of thoughts about just working in the coffee industry—about how I wanted it to look like, the support for baristas that I didn't feel like we had. It's kind of becoming a topic of conversation now, but it wasn't really at the time.

And at first, I was a little nervous. I had been blogging since 2008 with various projects and decided to write down different blog post ideas that I had and was like, “Let's see if I have even enough for a blog.” And I filled three pages in 20 minutes.

So it was like, “Okay, clearly I have a lot to say,” and I decided to make a blog. It was January of 2020, so pre-COVID, and then it became what it is now and was kind of my link to the coffee industry, both when I was working in coffee, as well as when I wasn't.

Ashley: I love that your blog is this reflection of what working in coffee has been like and what experiencing the coffee industry has been like during COVID, which I definitely want to talk a little bit more about as we move on. But another thing that you mentioned that I really liked was that you weren't sure if you had anything to write about, so you gave yourself an exercise to figure it out.

I think that that's probably one of the biggest hurdles—I write a lot too, and sometimes I'm like, “I don't have anything to write about,” but oftentimes I have to use an exercise or a technique to get my creative ideas going. I like that you mentioned it’s not just like, “Oh, I have an idea and I woke up and I'm going to write about this thing,” but there are exercises, there are ways that you approach writing to get that energy going.

Brittany: Yeah. It comes from almost two decades now of writing where I was just—I've definitely had blogs where I was like, “I'm going to do a cooking blog!” And then it was like, “Okay, I posted two recipes and I hate taking pictures of food. So this is a bad idea.”

So after many, many blogs that either took off and then had technical issues or didn't take off, I was like, “Okay, before I start this massive undertaking, I get really excited and then kind of drop it. Let's see if I have enough to actually do this.”

Ashley: You mentioned over two decades of writing. So have you always been someone who's wanted to write and capture experiences?

Brittany: Yes. I started writing when I was 10. I started off with really terrible fanfiction and then moved on to regular fiction. I have done poetry, I've done journalism. I went to college for writing. And now I mostly write articles and science fiction and fantasy novels.

Ashley: And you’re a published writer in that arena, which I also want to touch upon a little bit, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you first got into coffee?

Brittany: I had graduated from college. I was working in theater, but mostly internships, so I wasn't getting paid and I was trying to figure out, “Okay, how do I make money off of my writing, off of working in theater?” which I love.

A coffee shop near my house was hiring. I had gone there for a year, almost every day, and applied—I wanted to work there so bad that I even had a panic attack the night before hoping to get the job.

I'm a very nervous sort of person, but I got the job and originally it was just kind of this cool gig of working in a coffee shop while I figured out what to do with my life. While I was working there, I fell in love with the craft of making coffee. I fell in love with getting to know regulars because I worked there for two-and-a-half years. So I got to really form deep relationships with them.

Because of working there for that long, I also built really good relationships with my co-workers, with the owners, and really just fell in love with coffee shops as a whole.

Ashley: Something that I really love about your blog is that it feels like it talks to a lot of different people, but without alienating anybody. I think that if you're somebody who is a coffee shop owner, or a boss, or somebody who's in charge, you could go to your blog and be like, “Oh, these tips are for me to make a more welcoming space for my employees.”

But then you also talk to people who are directly affected by discriminatory practices or marginalization, or even just people not understanding what it means to be neurodivergent for example, or what it means to be non-binary.

I was wondering if that was always your intention, or did you start the Non-Binary Barista with a different sort of perspective on who you wanted to talk to? And then that perspective started maybe growing outward a little bit more?

Brittany: I always wanted the blog to be mostly a place for baristas, and for baristas to find support, but I also didn't want it to be this very insular, kind of baristas just talking about what everything should be like without actually having a step up.

I’ve had a lot of bosses that I worked for that were very open and honest about their business practices. I wanted to incorporate what I've learned from bosses. I also wanted to talk to bosses that I've had and be like, “Hey, here are resources, here are what baristas are saying. Here are actual things that you can fix,” but also like, “Hey baristas, here are ways that you can help yourself. Here are ways that your shop can be better. Let's have a conversation, not just between us, but also with owners, with management.”

So it's always been this conversation where I didn't necessarily want to exclude anyone by making it just this inner world of baristas. And that was it.

Ashley: Something that you do really well in your blog is that things are not prescriptive. Nothing is like, “You have to do things this way,” or “You have to do things that way,” but you invite conversation and you talk about frameworks of understanding and creating safety for people, as opposed to saying you have to do X, Y, and Z, which I think is incredibly helpful.

One thing that you wrote that I even wrote down was, “People don't know what they don't know.” Maybe you wrote some version of that, but if somebody doesn't know to ask somebody, like, “What do you need because you are neurodivergent?”—if there's no conversation, then there's no place to start.

Brittany: Yeah. I've worked at, I think, seven shops now, and they all run slightly similarly, but there are so many variances between them—I obviously knew there are so many ways that a shop could operate that I didn't want to be like, “Okay, this is exactly how you need to run your shop. This is exactly how you're going to make baristas happy. This is exactly how owners should be.”

I was like, “Some are going to run differently than others, and that's okay.” I just need [them to be] a safe space for baristas, however you make that. I want to open up conversations between baristas, between owners, between management. I wanted management to come from a standpoint of, “Okay, how do people learn? How do people function? How can we make this a safe space? How can we ask better questions?”

For baristas too—how can we ask better questions or start these conversations with our managers to make it a good space for everyone?

Ashley: How have your own experiences behind the bar informed the way that you approach your writing?

Brittany: My own experiences behind the bar? I kind of didn't think about that they informed my writing until I stopped working in coffee because of COVID, and I was like, “Oh, I'm just talking about past experiences. I'm just talking about what I've learned.”

Then I stopped working in coffee and it was like, “Oh, so much of what I do is just informed by day-to-day interactions, by little things that I noticed, by relating one instance from one shop to another instance at another shop.”

It was very much a struggle during my unemployment moment of COVID where it was just like, “I miss being on bar. I love being on bar.” That's kind of who I am. I love interactions with customers making coffee, and I need to get back on bar. (Laughs)

Ashley: I know what you mean. I feel like—I don’t know if I remember how to steam milk. I know I do, but I don't know. Maybe. Who knows?

You've also been a manager—at least you've been in charge of the space—and you've been the person who's in charge of a group of people around you, and you've been the person who's like, “I'm gonna make sure that you folks feel safe and welcome here.”

I wonder where did you learn that? Or what part of your personality identifies with this idea of taking almost an outside lens, taking in a bigger-picture overview of what's happening, and saying, “This is what we need to do,” or, “This is what I think we need to do to make sure people feel welcome here.”

Brittany: I've always been the mom friend of the group and that ties into every coffee shop that I've worked at. I've been one of the older people on staff, but I was a stage manager in theater for a while. I was managing everything—trying to take an outside lens of everything was literally my job.

I started working in coffee and after working in coffee for about two months, I became a shift lead and graduated up to supervisor barista. So it became my job to make a safe space for everyone. I wanted to always make sure that everyone was good. It was kind of my catchphrase that I'd be like, “Hey, you good? Hey, you need anything? You got it. Are we good?”

That informed a lot of where my blog comes from and how I interact in shops now is just making sure: Does everyone have what they need? Do I have what I need? Does everyone feel safe? Is everyone feeling heard? What can we do to make the shop better for everyone and make it a safer space?

Ashley: I do love that you're talking about this like it's so natural. Like it's obvious. I think that when we have these conversations, it's easy to think that these things are obvious, but I don't think that that's intuitive.

I don't think that a lot of people who ascend to a management position think their job is to take care of the staff. I think they think—I know that I did as a manager when I first started, I was like, “My job is to order stuff. My job is to increase sales. My job is to make my bosses happy.”

It's really refreshing to hear that instead, you stepped into that position and you were like, “Oh, my job is to care for the staff in a holistic way.”

Did that evolve for you? Or did that change for you over time? Or did you realize that maybe what you thought that meant was different over time?

Brittany: I think when I first started, I was very much like, “Okay, if I make sure everyone else is good, they'll like me.” That like, “Okay, if I take care of everyone, they'll be happy with me. They won't be mad at me.”

A lot of that stems from my own insecurities, my own symptoms of mental illnesses that I have. Then as I grew as a person, as I tried to better myself, I also realized that, no, that's part of management. That's part of me wanting to take care of people. If I take care of people, if I do my job as a manager and make sure that everyone feels good and feels safe, then the shop runs really well. Everyone is having a good time, including myself. And we all just have fun at work.

I think that most of the time, work should be fun, especially at coffee shops where, yes, customers can yell at you, but other times, there are days where we're all listening to fun music and making coffee and having conversations with regulars that we like. For the most part, that's the atmosphere that I want to create as a manager—is making sure that everyone has what they need and to do their job and do it well. And having the resources to do that.

Ashley: I love that you mentioned that a coffee shop job should be fun. I feel like people who are … I mean, I don't know why I'm veiling this—Augie's Coffee, and other union-busting coffee shops are like, “Well, if we have a unionized workforce, work won't be fun. We can't be like loosey-goosey, relaxy-waxy.” I'm like, “That's not true?”

It's interesting how that language has been co-opted by people who want to retain control. The idea is that, “I am the arbitrator of your experience. And when that’s lost, when you assume that control for me as a worker, suddenly it's not fun.” [And people like the management at Augie’s] threatened all these things. So I love that you mentioned that coffee jobs can be fun if people are well taken care of and their needs are considered.

Brittany: There are the people that do coffee just because it's a fun gig or because it's just a nice job to have. But for a lot of people who do love coffee and love making coffee and the industry itself, I think that a lot of us find our passion with this. And when you're doing what you're passionate about, you should be having fun and enjoying yourself.

I feel like when it becomes, “No, we're at work, you should only just be doing this head down and with your customer service smile on and nothing else,” that's not practical because you're a human being and you're doing something that you love. But also you're a human being with feelings and a life. You have to go home at the end of the day. If you are working at a job where owners are being like, “No, you can't have fun. You can't get paid a decent wage,” it's not going to be fun and you have to kind of go home and then come back the next day. It's just exhausting and a little bit depressing.

Ashley: It seems like this cycle that just feeds into itself—that you're at work and you can't be your authentic self or your boss is saying, “Leave your personal life at the door,” but then you're not getting paid enough. So then you go home and then that's depressing because maybe you're struggling to pay rent or you're struggling to figure out, “Where is money for this, this, and this going to come from?” And then it just keeps going.

And at no point it seems do a lot of employers realize their role in that cycle. I think that's one of the things that I really love about your blog. Like we were saying, it speaks not just to baristas, but it also speaks to managers and people who are in charge and gives them tactics to be like, “This is what you can do to help your staff feel like work is a good place for them to be.”

Brittany: I think there is a balance of like, I mean, you are in a professional environment, you are working in customer service, but then there are times, there have been days—I mean, I literally came into work the day after my marriage ended and I was not okay. That's not something you can leave at the door and just turn on your [customer service act]. It's like, okay, we need to make some adjustments here.

I think if you're a good business, if you have a good staff, if you’ve created a safe space that you can work around that, that you can have the kind of support for people to still do their jobs, but still feel like it's a safe space. They can communicate their needs and it works well still.

Ashley: Have you seen that in practice at all? Have you ever experienced a moment where—I guess I'll zoom outward a little bit—but have you ever felt there was a moment that you could be vulnerable about the feelings that you were having or the situation that you were in, where you felt like your staff or your bosses supported you?

Brittany: Yeah. Like that instance where I came in and I was just crying, I was supposed to be on cash [register] that day. My manager at the time who was just a gem of a human was like, “Okay, if you want to go back and work on dishes, we will try and handle the front as much as we can. And if we need you, we'll come get you.”

It was very much, “Okay, thank you for handling the front while I deal with this on my own.” In between some orders, one of my co-workers was like, “Hey, there's no one here. Do you need a hug?”

A couple of years ago, I was just having a really rough time. It was around Valentine's Day. My coworkers decided to buy me flowers from a pop-up that we had. They were like, “Hey, we know that you're having a rough time. And we all just wanted to make sure that you felt loved and that we value you as an employee.” And I was just like, “Okay, I'm going to go cry now.” I don't really cry in front of people, but I can't hold it back anymore. Thank you for loving me.

Ashley: I love that you mentioned the Valentine's Day story because you wrote an article about working on Valentine's Day and other holidays. I think that's what was really fun about digging into your blog. I was reading through a lot of the posts last night and this morning—it's not just about one thing, even though it's called the Non-Binary Barista. You talk about ableism. You talk about neurodivergency. You talk about the pain of working on a holiday that maybe you don't feel very good about.

You also talk about trauma and how trauma isn't linear, which I really want to break down a lot more, but let's talk a little bit about the diversity of the articles that you write. At what point did you realize that you wanted to talk about more ideas, and did you ever feel limited at all? Were you ever like, “Well, I called it this, I have to run with this?”

Brittany: Yeah. Very much so. When I first started out, I was like, “Okay, I can veer away and talk about neurodivergency or talk about ableism, but I have to talk about gender mostly.” As I evolved, especially now that I moved to Virginia—moving across the country is a lot, but it was more a lot than I thought. So I’ve been taking a break and trying to rebuild and work on this new life that I have for myself. But it was like, “Okay, I'm the Non-Binary Barista. And I deal with being non-binary, but I also deal with ableism and neurodivergency and how that affects my work in coffee and I don't always have to talk about gender.”

I want to talk about being a marginalized person in coffee, because I felt like when I first started in coffee, I didn't have these resources. I would've loved to read an article about how to get through Valentine's Day or how ADHD affects your work as a barista—I would've loved to read those articles when I first started out.

Ashley: I love that you have so many different articles because there are so many different situations that we can be thrown into where we maybe don't have all the tools or know what to do.

What your blog I think does really well is say, “I don't necessarily have the answers, but I know that this could be an issue. So let's at least talk about it.” I actually just did an interview with somebody else for a different podcast project that I do. They mentioned that while they were on bar, while it was really busy, they were allowed to listen to headphones. A customer mentioned to their boss, “Oh, that person's wearing headphones. That seems unprofessional.”

The boss was like, “That's my best barista. If this person needs headphones to focus and get their job done, then that's fine with me.” That was just a way for them to cope with the busy-ness of the coffee shop. That was the first time I had ever read something like that or ever heard something like that. What your blog does really well is give these practical situations that maybe not a lot of people are equipped to deal with, but at least it gives people a starting point to start talking about it.

Brittany: I've only worked in the coffee industry for four years. I know I don't have all the answers, but I want to at least start these conversations and let people know that these are issues that baristas deal with. I want owners to know that they can start this dialogue. I want baristas to know that they can have these conversations with their manager and they're not going to get fired for proposing an idea.

Ashley: Yeah, totally. I think one of the things—since we were just talking about that before—one of the things that doesn't get talked a lot about, and I think I've really only read it on your blog, is neurodivergency within the coffee sector, and specifically behind the bar. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about some of the articles that you've written on the topic and why this was important to you.

Brittany: Yeah. So over the last couple of years, I have been realizing that I have ADHD and I also have Borderline Personality Disorder. That comes with anxiety and depression. So that makes for a very interesting cocktail when I am in very stressful situations, but also informs just how I go about my life.

I remember having conversations with other baristas about ADHD in general, as I was realizing that I had it. The conversation, because it was usually with coffee people, was like, “Oh, well, it helps having ADHD when I'm working on shift because of this,” or, “Oh, it's really overwhelming when all the noise is going around and I get ADHD overwhelmed and I don't know what to do.”

It became this passion of mine. Like, “Okay, let's talk about neurodivergency in coffee because this affects a lot of baristas. It affects a lot of the baristas that I know personally, which means that there are many other baristas that I don't know that this will also hit home for.”

Ashley: Especially because there's such an expectation of how customer service interactions are supposed to go—they're supposed to be like this. They're supposed to be like that. You're supposed to do everything that customer asks you to do, et cetera, et cetera. But what you're writing highlights is that it's really easy to make accommodations that are not that hard to implement.

Brittany: Exactly. Sometimes, there are accommodations that can be met and people just don't know that those accommodations are necessary.

I have ear dampener headphones or ear plugs that I wear that I can still hear customers. I can still hear my coworkers, but it just dampens the sound. It makes all of my shifts so much easier for me. And most people don't know that those are a thing. I didn't know those were a thing until a couple of months ago.

Other times where my ADHD hyper-focus will kick in and I'll be working on bar and I literally can't hear customers talking to me because my brain just filters them out. I've had it where maybe a boss just doesn't understand that that's what's going on. They're like, “Hey, I really didn't appreciate that customer interaction just now. We need to fix it.”

And I was like, “What customer interaction?” So just starting that conversation of, “Hey, these accommodations are very necessary, but maybe you don't know that they're needed until we can talk about this.”

Ashley: Right. Like we were saying, you're not going to have the answers to everything, but the onus is on the people in charge to at least make it so that you can bring up an issue. Or that there is safety in a situation where you're like, “Hey, I'm feeling this. Is it okay for me to talk about it?”

Like you were saying, if you don't feel safe enough to even bring it up it often falls on the person who's affected—the barista, the person at the bottom of the workplace situation—to either bring up a situation that might feel potentially unsafe to them or to be quiet. Then their performance is reflected on poorly because that manager hasn't made the space to hear them out.

Brittany: Yeah. I’d also like to mention: What I may need as far as accommodations are not necessarily what the barista next to me will need as far as accommodations. So that's why I usually on my blog, I'm like, “Hey, start this conversation. Let's talk about this. Let's ask your baristas what they need, if they need anything.”

Ashley: Right. And that just opens up your toolkit too, right? You just get so many other tools that you can approach a situation with. And instead of feeling like, “Hey, I didn't like that customer interaction,” maybe your response is like, “Hey, look, I noticed this—is there something that I can do for you to help you in this situation?” Or even just saying, “I noticed this, let's talk about it.”

One thing that I think you talk about that doesn't get talked about enough in coffee is the idea of leaving your feelings at the door, especially in customer service interactions where part of the experience is your personality. You are almost an offering in a way. You're talking to people, you're talking to customers about their days, their lives. I think it’s virtually impossible to leave your feelings at the door. I was wondering—what does that evoke for you? What prompted you to write about this topic?

Brittany: I think it's something that I just think about a lot because I am very much an internal person. I can very much have customer service conversations very easily, but I will go and internalize everything that happens.

I just internalize a lot, but I think that my personality should come through in my job because I'm at my job for 40+ hours a week. I think customers are going to see me, and not just see me as just another employee at a shop they go to. If they see my fun glasses—I've had customers compliment me on my nerdy T-shirts or whatever—but my personality comes through and they're going to see me four to five times a week.

They sometimes see me more than their friends because they have to make an appointment to see their friends. They come into my shop all the time. I very much have to be comfortable with myself because I'm very much in a person-facing job, and so I'm perceived a lot.

Ashley: Right. You even mentioned a specific time where you weren't feeling very good during the 2018 Brett Kavanaugh trial. And before we started recording—I do this every time, where I mention [something we talked about] before we started recording, and it doesn't matter because people weren't listening because we didn't record it—but before we started recording, I mentioned the 2016 election and how tough that was for the staff that I was working with at the coffee shop I was at.

I think something that I want to pull apart a little bit, and I wanted to see what you think of this, is that being your authentic self and being upfront with how you feel is not mutually exclusive from providing good service. I think that's where that conflation happens, where people are like, “If you don't check your feelings at the door, then you're going to provide a bad customer service experience.” I think what you are writing is almost implying the opposite.

Brittany: Yeah. I very much agree that there is this notion that in customer service, you have to be happy all the time and therefore customers will be happy all the time because they'll match your energy. Sometimes customers come in and they are unhappy. Sometimes they're unhappy in a way that you can't really handle.

But other times there are ways … I've had people come in and one of them was thinking about dumping her boyfriend because they just weren't working. And so she was not okay. It was one of those situations, with me coming up and being like, “Hi, what can I get started for you?” would not help in that situation. Instead, it's like, “Hey, I noticed while I was taking your order that you were a little down, is everything okay?” And you start that conversation.

You start these relationships. Or during the 2016 election, I wasn't working in coffee at the time, but there was definitely this relationship between me and my customers, where I was like, “We're both not okay.” We recognize this and we can bond with each other about that. We're not okay.

Around the same time that COVID was starting to shut things down, me and my co-workers were like, “We're having the same conversations [over and over] about COVID and how nervous we are.” After a while, some of the customers started to notice that we were tired, even though we tried not to show it. We started this little game where it was like, “Hey, tell me something non-COVID related about your life while I make your latte.” And they would do it.

They were like, “Oh, I just got a new dog, or whatever.”

They were like, “Wow, you must have these same conversations all the time.”

And we were like, “Yeah, but you know, it is a part of life, but we’ve got to make it fun for all of us and do what we can to make the best of it.” I think that you can have the energy that you have without making it affect how you relate to people.

Ashley: Absolutely. I think it's like you were mentioning with the person who was about to dump their boyfriend, meeting them with this high level of energy—which I would say most bosses would define as good customer service—was not appropriate in that situation. So how do we think about service as a circular, holistic experience between you and the customer?

Because you're part of it too. You're 50% of it. So how do you bring yourself into a situation that feels organic and true and real, but still provide good service? Like I said, those are not mutually exclusive things. As I read your blog, that's what I think more and more about. We're trained to think, “Oh, always put a smile on and the customer's always right.” It's like, no, that's bad. That's not good. That's not sustainable.

Brittany: I think what gets lost in the customer service mentality is that not only is the customer human and they're allowed to kind of get angry or sad or whatever, but we're human too. And we are at a job. We can still maintain that professional integrity and that professional standard, but we're also human. There are going to be days when we're not feeling it.

I've definitely had customers be like, “Hey, how's it going, Britt?” And I'm like, “You know, I'm not really having such a good day, but I'm here at work and making lattes,” and usually customers pick up on that and it's not necessarily a downer like, “Oh, well I'm not going to tip them because they were having a bad day.”

Instead, they're like, “Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about that. I hope it gets better. Thanks for my latte.” Even just seeing each other at that point and being seen like that—it's okay, you're human. We can both have bad days, and it’s really validating and it makes it so that I'm not just putting on this mask all the time.

Ashley: This is the part of the interview where I'm going to ask you some meta questions and they might be weird, but whatever, let's go for it.

So I write a lot too. And I often think about why I write—what the point of writing is for me. I read this quote once by Anaïs Nin, who wrote a lot of erotica. I'm not 100% sure if it's from her, but I think one time she wrote, “I write not to capture something, but I write not to forget it.” [Ashley note: The quote is, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”]

The idea is that I'm not writing to generate new stuff. I'm writing to remember what's happening to me. I wonder as you're writing, what kind of thoughts come into your mind? What are you thinking about as you're sitting down and writing down an article or a story idea, or even the sci-fi/fantasy writing that you do—those are not the same. I know that I made a faux pas there. But how do you feel writing generates your soul? I think for me writing is all about remembering.

Brittany: I went to a writing workshop for a poet named Arielle Estoria and she actually summed it up really well. How she feels about writing is she writes down everything on the page to help heal herself and to put everything that she's feeling down on a page and sort through it in her own mind. And then she gives it to people. She shares her writing to heal, to help other people heal. Once it's released, it's not hers anymore.

Her healing has already been done in the act of writing. And ever since I heard that, I'm like, “Yes, that is exactly how I feel,” because there were so many times where, whether it's writing that I'm going to publish, writing that I'm working on, or just writing [because] I don't know how to process this situation, I'm going to write down all of my feelings that like, I need to just write it out.

I express myself so much better in writing than I do talking to people. Or like when I internalize it, it can all kind of get jumbled and lost. But when I write it down, it just makes so much more sense. It's exactly what I'm feeling. And I just feel better. It's a sigh of relief once I write it that then when I'm sharing it, I still have that insecurity that I think all writers have of like, “Oh, will people like it?” But at that point, it doesn't really feel like mine anymore. It's like, “Okay, I wrote it. I had all the feelings about it then, and now it's for other people.”

Ashley: I love that. I'm going to have to look up that author that you mentioned.

Something else that you do a lot on your blog is that you interview people a fair amount. I was wondering how you approach not getting information from people, but how do you approach an interview where you're trying to find out something new or different from somebody—maybe something that they've never said out loud, or something that they didn't even know that they thought until they said it out loud? Have you ever had moments like that?

Brittany: I, for the most part, I have taken journalism classes and I've kind of learned how to interview people. I really hate “how to interview people,” how you're taught in college or how you're taught through journalism, and I think some of the best interviews come from just having an honest conversation.

As I dove into the coffee industry, I realized that there were so many fascinating people that I was just like, “I want to be their friend. I want to talk to them. I want to find out what makes them tick.” And so at the beginning of the Black Lives Matter protests last year—I wasn't working in coffee, but I still wanted to connect with other coffee people. I realized there were people that were combining their love of coffee with their activism, and so it was just like, “Hey, I want to interview you. But I also just want to talk to you. What are you doing? How are you as a person combining these loves, because I just find that amazing?”

I just think that the best revelations come from talking to other people and having conversations and letting them talk, say who they are.

Ashley: There's something very generative about you—which is not a word that I think one could use as an adjective, but I'm going to go with it. I actually wrote this quote down from one of your articles. You wrote “Everything you do is better than what you didn't do.”

That seems to be true in a lot of the work that you do. You seem to be the type of person, again—this is where I get meta and try to analyze people—but it seems you're a person who tries things and you're like, “Let me just try and see what happens.”

And I admire that so much because it's so easy to get in your own way, but there's not a lot of risks sometimes. Like, “I'm going to make a cooking blog. And I only do two blog posts, and then I don't do it again, like so what?”

Brittany: Yeah. I have all these ideas that I'm going to go for it. I'm going to do it. Because I'm so excited about it. Sometimes they just don't work and I'm like, “Okay, that didn't work out, but it's fine because I have this other idea, right?” So I always have more and more ideas.

I've learned very quickly that it's okay, the worst that can happen is that it didn't work out. I have this other thing: Sometimes I worry that I'll run out of ideas, especially with my fiction writing, but then a month or so goes by. And I'm like, “Oh, but what about this? I could write a story about this. I could write an article about this.”

Ashley: One really wonderful thing that I love about your blog is that you'll have these very serious, very important blog posts. And then in the middle, you'll have these amazing brew recipes, but then you also have these fun, ridiculous experiments. How many pour overs can you stack on top of each other and still make coffee?

I was wondering if you have any fun experiments in the offing, anything you're coming up with soon?

Brittany: I'm actually working on a little coffee booklet where like, okay, so you're making coffee in the morning. You're tired. You don't really look at your grinder and you grind it on the wrong setting. I feel like so many people are like, “Oh, well crap. I just ground for a French press when I was trying to make espresso,” that I'm trying to make a booklet where it describes how to make coffee with different brewers on the wrong grind settings so you don't waste coffee.

I've been brewing V60s with French press ground coffee. And it's really interesting to have multiple filters or controlled channeling or really low temperatures or really high temperatures, because it really messes with your brain. Because in the coffee industry, we talk about like, “Okay, you have your three pours, you have your 30-second bloom. This is the grind setting for this brewer.”

But what if we could own it—like, we couldn't change the grind size and we still had to brew coffee? How do you make a somewhat decent cup of coffee? So you don't waste it?

Ashley: I love that. I can't wait until that comes out. Before we close out, is there anything that you would want people to know about you?

Brittany: You can find me on Instagram where I typically talk about not only just coffee and my love for coffee, but I talk a lot about my own issues with mental health, with being disabled. That's kind of how I live my life.

I'm also incredibly nerdy, so it doesn't really come up a lot on Instagram or in my coffee relationships. But when people actually meet me in person, they're like, “Oh wow, you love Dr. Who and Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars and all of these nerdy things. Wow. You’re a huge nerd.”

I'm like, “Yes.”

Ashley: I also love that you mentioned your fun glasses because they are very fun. I was wondering if you could describe them to our listeners.

Brittany: I have two main pairs of glasses that I wear. One is pentagon-shaped and they have little jester hands that hold the glasses frames in place. They have pearls for nose pads. Then I have another pair that are basically the Bi-Pride flag. The edges are purple, the inside are pink and where my nose goes is blue. They're very sparkly and fun. I love expressing myself through really fun glasses.

Ashley: That's delightful. Well, Brittany, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it.

Brittany: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

This Boss Barista episode is brought to you by Urnex.

One of Urnex’s latest advances is a range of environmentally friendly cleaners called Biocaf. Biocaf products are made entirely from plant- and mineral-based ingredients and are fully biodegradable. They're available for both commercial and household coffee equipment.

Urnex is also partnering with coffee pros—like me!—to highlight some of the best sustainability efforts in the industry with the Biocaf Sustainability Series. You can read my most recent piece on Onyx Coffee Labs’ switch to oat milk in their latest café, and learn more about Biocaf here. And be sure to read the dozens of pieces focusing on sustainability in coffee and beyond.

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