GUEST POST: Linn Tsang is Searching For Representation

Linn Tsang of Pressure Profiles talks about being an immigrant in Berlin, Instagrammability, and the pleasures of editing audio

We’re now in the third week of the Boss Barista takeover: For this project, I’ve invited coffee creators, fans, and drinkers to make an episode of a podcast and share it on this channel. To accompany their audio, each creator has also written a companion article, which will be shared on the Thursday after their episode goes out.

Linn Tsang just launched her podcast, Pressure Profiles, telling stories of the hospitality industry in Berlin. I asked Linn a few questions about the Berlin coffee scene, what it’s like to be an immigrant working in service, and how to step out of your comfort zone to tell critical stories.

Ashley: How would you describe your coffee podcast project in 20 words or fewer? 

Linn: It’s a project I started in search of representation within the hospitality industry.

A: What is the coffee community like in Berlin? What has your experience within the community been? 

L: The coffee community in Berlin, from my point of view, is not so strong, but I also think there’s a divide between the specialty coffee scene and the “regular” coffee scene, where the specialty coffee scene is dominated by non-German workers and I think the “regular” coffee scene is more German. People who move to Berlin from abroad can often apply for jobs in the specialty coffee scene without basic German language skills, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of exploitation happening here. 

Specialty coffee is not commonly known here, and very different from working in a city like Melbourne, for example. In Berlin, you spend a lot of time explaining why we charge more money for our coffee than other cafés around. People often ask for a “ganz normale kaffee,” and get offended by our pricing. I see mostly people with an interest in sustainability, home brewing, and food in general happily buying coffee at specialty coffee shops. And to be honest, many people go to these shops because of the interior design and the Instagrammability (is that a term yet?) of the space.

There’s quite a small group of people in the community that you’ll see taking part in cuppings, for example. During the pandemic, I think there’s not really so much of a community to talk about. I know a lot of passionate people working in coffee here but I also know many people who are being exploited or overworked. Many people left or were fired last year. I guess we are a small group of people within the industry who are trying to create a community, and I’m hoping Pressure Profiles will help in creating it. 

My personal experiences have been good and bad. I was exploited and badly treated in my first job when I came to Berlin. I keep all the emails from that time, because my boss tried to fuck us over and break the law. A good thing about Berlin is the rights you have as an employee, but if you don’t know about them, you might be tricked. Since then, my experiences have been good. I count myself lucky that I ended up working with the people I’ve been working with because there is A LOT of exploitation in this industry. And a lot of racism and sexism. 

A: What sort of stories do you hope to tell? What were you not hearing people talk about that you wanted to highlight on your show? 

L: I want more representation overall and it’s up to me to create a diverse platform where different stories can be heard. I want to discuss the different struggles different people are faced with and what we can do to better our industry. I hope to learn from the people I talk to and talk to people like me and people very different from me.

The idea to start a podcast with a focus on representation was born out of a personal need. I was looking for a Berlin-based hospitality podcast, but the ones I found were all in German. Being an immigrant and knowing the specialty coffee scene here is heavily dependent on immigrants, I first felt excluded, but then I told myself, “All right, I’ll make this podcast then.” Instead of being angry and complaining about the industry, I decided to try something different.

A: Your podcast touches upon being an immigrant in Berlin—why was this important to highlight? What stories weren’t being told? 

L: It’s important to me because Berlin is a cultural melting pot, yet, if you don’t speak the language, it can be quite hard to be here, at least in the beginning. Employers count on immigrants not knowing their rights, and that is often true. Everything has to be done in German, and many times you are turned away or ignored if you don’t speak German or have a translator with you.

And let’s be honest, Berlin is a place where many feel free and comfortable to be themselves—however, there is also a lot of racism. I can no longer count the times people have questioned why my friends (or myself) are in Germany if they can’t speak the language: “In Germany, we speak German!”

I no longer interact with customers like that, but if you don’t feel like you have the support of the people you work with, you might feel like you have to defend your life choices and that can feel really tough. Unfortunately, the stories I wish could be told might never be told. I have heard too many exploitation stories, but the industry is small, and your reputation can get tarnished quickly if you speak up. People are scared to be sued. And people work with illegal contracts that they don’t know are actually illegal.

A: How do you formulate good questions? 

L: I don’t spend a lot of time formulating questions. I reach out to people I think have an interesting story or point of view and I do a little bit of research and ask a few basic questions in preparation for the recording. When I record, I have a few things noted down that I wish to talk about, but I try to let the conversation lead me—maybe there are more interesting things to touch upon than I had in mind!

A: What have you learned, doing this project? What are some of your favorite or least favorite things about making a podcast? Did you learn anything surprising? 

L: It has been such a roller coaster, learning podcasting from scratch while studying and trying to maintain good routines during a pandemic. My favorite thing was learning how to edit audio. It’s a calming feeling, knowing you can go back to a conversation and press delete on something that you said and you wish you hadn’t. I am also happy that having conversations via online platforms is pushing me out of my comfort zone, or expanding my comfort zone somewhat; it does get easier and I feel less anxious with every conversation.

A: I’m always interested when someone says that they’re out of their comfort zone—where is your comfort zone normally, and how did this project challenge you? 

L: This is a tricky one. My comfort zone is quite small. People tell me I can come across as intimidating and aggressive, but I’m an introvert and I’m an empath, so being in the world has always been a challenge for me. For example, I didn’t want to create a podcast—I don’t like the idea of being someone other people listen to, because I doubt myself all the time. Despite being an introvert, I feel most comfortable in my role as a worker or at home, with a friend or two, or with my partner. I don’t like big gatherings and I spend a lot of time with cats—I do cat-sitting as a side gig.

A: What do you want people to know about you? 

L: The only thing I want people to know is that I am doing the best I can. Maybe I’ll say something ignorant at some point; I don’t know everything! I am really working on my internalized learned behaviors. I wish more people would put in some actual work in learning more about how to be inclusive and open-minded. All I want is for people to be empowered, to feel valuable, and some groups need more exposure than other groups. People like myself need more representation. 

Special thanks to Chobani for making the Boss Barista takeover possible.