LaChrista McArthur Did Her High School Capstone Project on Coffee

LaChrista McArthur Did Her High School Capstone Project on Coffee

The Charlotte-based coffee consultant threw herself into the industry at a young age—and now has a wealth of thoughts to share about loyalty, robot baristas, and the best coffee cities in the world.

My guest today is LaChrista McArthur, a coffee consultant who’s based in Charlotte, North Carolina—at least for now. LaChrista has traveled the world learning about coffee and offering her expertise to folks who are opening shops. But her knowledge and insights extend beyond menu-planning and latte art (although she can pour latte art with both hands, because she’s ambidextrous). She advises on hiring and showing care for staff, and helps people build inclusive spaces by asking questions like: Is a bar that’s three feet off the ground actually usable for all people?

In this episode, LaChrista and I make some bold claims. We decide on the best coffee cities in the world; we talk a lot about robot baristas; and we advise people that maybe, just maybe, they don’t need to own a coffee shop.

This is a chewy episode—we jump between topics, and explore a wide variety of ideas. With more than 10 years of experience in the industry—starting when she was in high school—LaChrista has a lot to share. Here she is.

Ashley: I was wondering if you could start by introducing yourself?

LaChrista: Absolutely. My name is LaChrista McArthur. I am a coffee professional—I think I'm coming up on 10 years now. I'm in North Carolina, specifically Charlotte. And it's great here. I am leaving, [though]. I’ve got to get out of here, but the coffee community here is great. It's fantastic.

Ashley: Where are you going?

LaChrista: I don't know yet. I miss England. Just only a lot. [Laughs]

Ashley: Just only a lot.

LaChrista: I think my time there was fantastic.

I just recently visited Chicago. I was just gonna like, up and move, pack a suitcase and go. And I still have a mindset to do it, but I just have to wait. I think Chicago or England.

Ashley: I feel like we could do a whole podcast debating the different coffee scenes that you should explore. Like where should you go? And you've traveled a lot. That's actually one of the questions I had written down for this interview, but let's start all the way at the beginning—where we start all of our coffee journeys, and I always start every episode of the podcast:

Did you grow up with coffee in your life?

LaChrista: I did not. I actually was not allowed to drink coffee. My mom was a stickler for, “That is something you drink when you grow up.” And it's like this reward, now I'm an adult, maybe I need it now. She was on to something, but I couldn't have it.

So I'm sure there was some element of like, “I want that because I can't have it.” And then I needed a job and kind of fell into it that way. I did my whole senior project on it—and if you're not familiar with that, it’s like a high school capstone project that you like have to pass this thing to graduate, and that is a requirement here in North Carolina. Like you can’t not pass it.

Ashley: You—when you were in high school, you had to do a capstone project and you were like, “I'm going to do mine about coffee”?

LaChrista: Absolutely, yeah. So I got into art school—I got into some really good ones here in the U.S., but I've always had this kind of like, “What happens if I get into a school over there [in France]? Let me just apply.”

And it was like, you've got accepted, and this is how much money we'll give you, and whatever, we think your portfolio is fantastic. Ah, all the things. I was in class in tears, but then I also didn't quite realize at the time—money's a real thing.

And I was like, well, how am I gonna pay for this? After a week or two of just falling down the rabbit hole of trying to develop a budget, but I'm also only 17, and I don't know what I'm trying to calculate. I was like, I'm gonna have to work when I get there, and a lot of my friend group, a lot of them worked in coffee—they were like Starbucks baristas, or your local town [shops], in the morning before school, you go there and get your little cup and you come to class and you think you're cool and whatnot.

But I would go to a shop and I would feel very included. I didn't feel like the odd kid out. I grew up already being like one of only so many Black kids in a school system, or one of two Black kids in all of my AP courses, so like, it was a very familiar kind of thing, but in this space, it was still present, but it was a little different.

I felt like I found a place where I could be myself fully. I was an odd little Black girl in class. So in this space, it was kind of embraced. So I was like, “Well, coffee seems cool. Let me figure out how I can be a part of that.”

So I decided to do my senior project on specialty coffee, did a lot of research, we had to write this proposal, and you had to prove that you knew enough to take on this topic.

It got approved, I had to then find a mentor and I reached out to a lot of shops—the closest specialty shop that was near me was Summit Coffee, and I will shout them out forever, cause they took on an uneducated—in terms of coffee—influenceable teenager and did such a fantastic job of teaching me the ropes.

But I got all this wealth of knowledge at 17. I did not end up going to France, which is the sad part of the story, but I did gain this wealth of knowledge and it sparked this light and this fire of intrigue with this industry. And from there, I still did art school but in different cities and different programs here and there, but there was always access to employment, which was kind of securing.

Ashley: That's a good point. I don't think people talk about that enough—that like, being a coffee person means doors open for you globally in this really cool and fun way.

LaChrista: Oh, for sure. I think when I talk about, and I know you said you had a question about my time overseas or just travel—I didn't move to England for coffee things. It just worked out in a way where I had experience and when I was there, it set me up for success.

I moved there because of family—my family situation. I actually moved there with my grandmother. It was kind of this beautiful story of like, “Hey, you want to come with me? I got a job.” And I was like, “Sure? I guess?” Who says no to a free, complete relocation to the U.K.? Um—

Ashley: No one say no to that.

LaChrista: Exactly. It was this beautiful experience and then I was like, “I gotta get out the house. I need a job.”

The closest thing to the house was—I could walk there, and this very beautiful, movie-esque scenic countryside walk, and it was fantastic—to this cute high street cafe. She was a florist, and she had a cafe in another town nearby, but wanted to start one here, but she wanted a really good coffee program.

She wanted some really good coffee skills going into it. So I did that for a little while, and then I figured out how I could get to Cambridge. Because we were really out in the country. There were horses that would go by my house in the mornings—it was country. It was a very different country than what I'm used to here in North Carolina.

Ashley: So you like traveled before COVID and then COVID happened while you were in England?

LaChrista: Yeah, I think I was doing the coffee shop stuff in January, with them specifically. That was—I met them in January. We got everything rolling come end of January, and then it was my birthday, then COVID hit.

They were like, “Yeah, go home and don't come back out.”

Ashley: I wanna get little bit—you did your senior project on Summit Coffee. Then you went to art school and you were making coffee during that time?

LaChrista: Yeah. So for a handful of years before I moved to England, I was just yeah, I was working barista jobs. I did a stint at Starbucks, which was an interesting time, to go from learning specialty and then working at Starbucks. That was a hard one for me. I worked in a handful of different types of shops. I also worked like three jobs at a time that whole time.

So I wasn't just a barista. I was also a stylist or a contract photographer or a nanny—like a whole bunch of things, but there was always something coffee-related in the mix, a lot of different types of shops. In the mix, I realized the one way that I can make money in this is to get better. I didn't feel like I had learned everything for my senior project.

I was like, “Well, one day I would like to own my own shop and one day I would like to do X, Y, and Z. So how do I, from where I'm at now, how do I get there?” The only thing that kind of clicked for me is, “Well, I need to be strategic about where I work. At least while I can, where I can be strategic.”

Sometimes I just needed a job, because [I was a] broke college kid. But when I had the ability to choose, I would go here because when I went there, they handled volume really well. Or this shop does really good signature drinks. Or this shop has multiple locations and each one has a very unique and exciting aesthetic. So I handpicked along the way where I could, and learned as much as I could from different people.

Ashley: I love that. I love that you were able to identify places where you were like, “This is the thing I want to learn from these people that they're executing really well,” or executing on a high level. Being able to identify that seems pretty high-level. So—but did you always have in mind that you were working towards a goal?

Like, were you working towards one day opening your own shop or one day being a coffee educator? It seems like you did have a goal in mind as you were doing all this.

LaChrista: I mean, I do. I get really intrigued with certain things and I will learn as much as I can, and when I feel like I've learned enough to be efficient in it, or at least some level of good, I'm like, “Okay, cool, let me apply that to this skillset that I already have, and now, how can I add something to now advance that skill that I just picked up?”

I've been like that my whole life. It's like this internal competition with myself. I think I was like—I was reading and writing way too early and I was in a learning center and I saw a kid—I was like four or five—I saw a kid writing with their left hand, and I was like, “Oh, I gotta do that.”

I went home, and I remember I had writing books where you trace the letters. So I did it with my left hand and taught myself how to use my left hand.

Ashley: Are you ambidextrous now?

LaChrista: I am.

Ashley: That's pretty cool.

LaChrista: But yeah, I picked up writing with my left hand and then when it came to art, I was like, “Well, I need to make sure I can use both hands efficiently here in this space too.”

And then when I got into coffee and realized I was good at latte art, I was like, “Can I do this with both hands?” So I just would test myself. I realized I'm kind of that way in terms of like learning, even now in coffee. And just like trying to impart that understanding of, like, you can learn certain things in different spaces and how to merge all this knowledge.

Because I feel like that can be a bit of a difficulty for a lot of people sometimes in terms of, “Well, I'm good at beverage development, but I don't really know how to apply it with managerial skills” or, “I'm good at social media, but I don't really understand how to make that shift into full-on marketing.”

Ashley: Yeah, I think you're right. I think it's really hard for people to number one, identify what they're good at. But secondly, like you were saying, to know what that means. How do I use it? How do I harness it? Especially in coffee where like—I think this is a good time to switch to this idea, but I think in coffee we don't do a lot to develop people to have careers.

We often assume that barista work is temporary, which is like a, the wrong logical fallacy to put down. If we assume that these jobs are temporary, then we treat them as temporary, but we don't have to do that.

LaChrista: And I think you made a good point where leadership doesn't feel it's their responsibility, but I think that plays into ownership and who developed the business plan and the business model in terms of how are you providing career growth and professional development.

I don't think that at this point in coffee, if you are starting a coffee shop, if your business plan does not include professional development, don't open yet.

Ashley: Yes! You made a Reel about that. And I was like, yes, that is amazing because I think a lot of people open up coffee shops because they think they're going to be fun to own. I don't know. I've had a lot of people come up to me and be like, “I think I want to open a coffee shop,” because they think it's cool.

And I'm like, “What? Well, actually think about what you're doing,” but I think you're right. If you're not, if you're opening a coffee shop and you have no plan for what employee development is going to look like, even if you know what your limit is—even if you're like, “This is the amount that I can give employees based on like the size and money and blah, blah, blah,” but being really conscious of that.

And like you were saying, if you have no plan for like what the future looks like for people, then don't open.

LaChrista: Right. I mean, it's a society issue. We don't feel responsible for other people anymore. If you create or foster a space, you are now inherently responsible for people's—not for their entire lives, but you are responsible for this portion of their career.

I think there's also this disconnect in terms of like, “Okay, you started a shop and you want loyal employees, but are you giving them something to be loyal to? Are you being loyal to them?” People are always so hellbent on employee loyalty, but it’s not, that's not what the term should even be.

It should be, “Is this a loyal establishment? What are you doing to make sure that your staff is taken care of?” If your business plan doesn't include professional development, if it doesn't include some kind—and it could just be a $20 stipend to go see a movie for some self-care.

If you can't even think about those things, if there's no heart to do that, or even just a mind, just an inkling to do some kind of, “Let me take care of the people that have trusted me with their employment,” because I don't think people realize how big of a deal that is. I think it's taken for granted.

I think we spent so much time ingraining into people that a job is a luxury. You're lucky to have a job, so you'll take what I give you, whereas that is so far from the truth. And I don't think that employees, I think baristas and coffee people don't realize—I think you hit it on the head earlier. They don't realize the power that they have in the situation.

So making sure that on both sides, are we as the employees asking the right questions? Are we setting ourselves up for success? And on the managerial side and ownership side, what are you doing to make sure that those answers are there when those questions are asked? What policies are in place to make sure that these people are taken care of?

Ashley: I love that you talked about loyalty because I think you're absolutely right. Loyalty is often seen as this one-way street that an employee gives to an employer, but very rarely do we see an employer give that sense of loyalty to employees. And I think that's baked into kind of an American capitalist system, even thinking about the way that we quit jobs, for example.

Like, we expect employees to give us two weeks’ notice, but if you get fired, there's no expectation that an employer gives you two weeks or tells you like, “Hey, I'm going to fire you. Like here's a couple of weeks so you can find another job.” That's not how that expectation works. We put so much importance on the idea of loyalty, but we don't often look at that as a reciprocal, that's—is that the word? Did I say it right? I don't know.

But you see what I'm saying. Like it's not a two-way street. And one of the reasons I think we're talking about this at all in coffee is that coffee shops are like human-centered places.

They're reflections of the community. That's why this is so important, I think, specifically in the coffee industry, because I think it's easy for us to talk about these topics and for people to be like, “Why does this matter in coffee?” And it's because this is like a human-centered profession. It's one that involves community buy-in.

People come to coffee shops to see their community members and if we can't do it in other industries, like if we can't do it in coffee, then I tend to think it's not possible in other industries. So that's why I think it's so important to talk about it in coffee.

LaChrista: It is so easy to take care of the person standing next to you, you know? I mean even if when it comes down to like just the slightest of ways. It’s like, when you are a barista and you're on the floor, it's a communal space, and we all have to do well together and make sure that we are setting each other up for success, and like, “How can I help you?”

Whoever's leading the floor, you know, they're making sure each portion of the floor is being taken care of. Are we switching people out? Are we doing X, Y, and Z? There is a level of understanding for the humans that are present on the floor at that level. So why is it not higher up?

Ashley: Yeah, you're right. It's super easy to show care. I think you're absolutely right. Especially because you're confronted with people's humanity constantly. And I also think, too, one thing I like that you said was if you don't incorporate a budget for professional development, or if you don't think about people's futures, then don't open a coffee shop.

And I think that's actually something we need to tell people more. You don't have to open a coffee shop. You don't have to. You absolutely don't have to. And I think that there's this idea, again, going back to this idea of American capitalism, there's this idea of entitlement when it comes to small business ownership, that you deserve to own a small business, but you absolutely don't.

I'm just going to go ahead and say that. You don't have to.

If you don't see your responsibility as an employer to people, like real actual people.

LaChrista: That part. I feel like, as a kid, you get all these really cutesy stories of like, you know, if you see the kid fall and help him, or—there should just be a level of care that anyone has for just fellow humanity.

But if you decide to take on the responsibility of taking on this space and then inviting people into it, the only option should be take care of it.

Again, and it's been just a manipulation of control and understanding who has the authority to dictate what this, what the level of treatment is, and I think, just like—it's American consumerism, and the corporate mindset of like, “Well, you have to work your way up a ladder, but in order to work your way up, you have to do X, Y, and Z,” and work these insane hours, and do clopens—which are like when you close and you open from back to back, and like working these insane shifts. And like what people don't quite realize is like, it's not all fun and games being a barista.

It is a lot of manual labor. It's a lot of mental labor. These people are, if they are doing that, and some, just a few people or one person gets to benefit from that, that’s—one thing I will say: I applaud baristas who start their own shops because I think there's a level of understanding, or like, if you aren't a barista and you start a shop, but you work in the shop, that should be a requirement.

Ashley: I agree. I agree. I actually had somebody come up to me once and they were like, “Oh, I'm thinking of opening my own coffee shop.” And I was like, “Cool. This is what I think—I think you should work in a coffee shop first. Have you ever worked in one?”

And he was like, “No.”

And I was like, “Oh, you should probably work in one for like, six months. Just so you understand like, the ins and outs and, you know, like what the business needs.”

And he's like, “Oh, I'll just hire someone.” And I was like, “What if that person calls in sick? What if you need to fix something, or just the fact that you should have like basic empathy for your baristas by understanding what they go through daily.”

I don't know. Have you—I'm sure you've worked at coffee shops where like the owner is never there.

LaChrista: Oh, for sure. I've worked in a handful of those, and it was a very interesting dynamic between the owners and the floor staff. There would be instances where, “This shot of espresso doesn't taste right.”

Well, don't degrade or belittle the staff if you can't do it, if you can't fix what you think is wrong, kind of situation.

So, whenever I get asked to consult a place, especially if it's a new shop that's building from the ground up, I always [say], “You're gonna work the floor.” That's not a question.

Ashley: Do you find that people put up resistance to that?

LaChrista: I haven't experienced that. I think I've chatted with people who have an idea or a hope to open a shop and they just can't seem to wrap their mind around the concept because, again, with American consumerism, if you are an entrepreneur, or if you are a small business owner, and you have the luxury of just being able to open it and hire people, that's the goal.

You know, no one preaches about, you know, you should want to work in it. You should want to understand what it means to work for this establishment that you're creating.

Ashley: What are some of the other things you talk to people about when you're consulting?

LaChrista: A lot of understanding and being respectful of this, of the culture you've implanted yourself into.

So not only—I think we spent so much time talking about, “Oh, gentrification's a bad thing,” but then we still open shops in gentrified areas, or we're part of the gentrification process. As soon as you put a specialty shop in a space, I don't think people quite understand like, you have now amplified gentrification to a certain degree, because you have now added the thing, this hub where people who are not from this environment, or this space, or this neighborhood, now they can come to.

So understanding how to reflect where you are planting your business, and how to reflect the community that you have now taken from. That's a huge part of what I do. A lot of helping people understand that you can't just solely hire baristas. So helping people understand what the capacity is to make sure that there is some kind of give and take.

They're giving their time, but what are they taking away? So a lot of making sure that there is some kind of sustainable relationship in terms of like, “Well, okay, we don't have the luxury of giving you health insurance, but we might can pay for dental or vision or here's a massage voucher…”

Ashley: Right, like here's a metro card because you live in a place with public transit.

LaChrista: Exactly. Exactly. Just understanding, like making sure that people understand that it’s a career, whether people want to acknowledge it or not. It is still a job.

You know, making sure that like, to the best of your abilities, are you making sure that the lives of your employees are the easiest that can be while they're at work? So I like, one thing that recently, it kind of tickles me…

What is it? The PUQpress? It's a fantastic tool.

Ashley: Everyone get a PUQpress. There should be no tamping. We should be done with that.

LaChrista: I had some pushback recently. I was training this staff, and it's a beautiful location. There's food, there's cocktails, and the counters are really high. So I'm 5’9”, so I had an advantage of where I could still tamp properly.

But it hurt me, so I reported that. I was like, “Well, we can't change the counter, so the next best thing is to make sure that your staff isn't leaving here every day needing to go ice their wrist, and do the whole procedure,” because everyone there was not as tall as me.

Taking into account things like that. I consult with buildouts and making sure that they are disability-friendly and/or inclusive in terms of, like, body types. There's so much to coffee that I think gets overlooked—that's a lot of what I've been doing lately, just making sure that it's a space where everyone can feel included and like they have a chance.

Ashley: Yeah, I think when you say coffee consultant, I think it's easy to be like, “Oh, you do like menu development, or…” And you probably do some of that stuff too, but that feels … not obvious. That's not the right word for it, but like, that's a given.

Like, okay, we’re going to talk about a menu, like you can go to most coffee shops, you can see what a menu is, you can figure it out, but I think there's a lot of inherent stuff that we don't talk about enough. Like you were saying, making sure bars are size-inclusive—like I've worked at so many coffee shops where it felt like the distance between our two counters, like our back counter versus the front counter, was maybe two feet.

Which is not a lot, or like making sure that the bar is actually low enough so that you can tamp comfortably, or just get a PUQpress, like, just do it. I'm gonna say that again. PUQpress, please sponsor me. Like, I'll sing your praises.

But like the idea, you mentioned that like you met some resistance there, and I have to imagine there's some of this level of like, “Well, this is how it's supposed to be done,” or like, “This is the art of it,” and it's like, “But why are we holding on to that?”

LaChrista: Right. If the model doesn't work, why keep it?

Ashley: Yeah, we can throw it away. We have the power to.

LaChrista: I also feel like if there ever was an industry to be as unique and creative in terms of making sure people are taken care of—we work in an industry that allows the luxury to change things. There is no one set way to do coffee. There is no one set way to make a signature drink.

There is no one set way to be a barista. So why are we trying to follow this one very specific, very white, very money-centric model of how to do it effectively and efficiently and inclusive and making it holistic, like, why is there only one model that seems to be the one that everyone wants to use?

Ashley: I mean, I can guess an answer.

It's because the same people are getting the advantages money-wise to open the same coffee shops.

LaChrista: We're not allowing for diversity in it, so then you'll never see it, and that goes beyond race, that goes beyond sex, that goes beyond identity, it goes towards, well, if everything is getting to a point where it's venture capital, capitalist-backed, then that leaves no room anymore for actual organic communities to like thrive in terms of like starting a business in this space because—it doesn't have to just be a coffee shop.

It could be a bakery that has a really beautiful coffee program. We're not leaving room for that anymore really.

Ashley: And I think that's like an issue of sustainability in our industry…

LaChrista: For sure.

Ashley: …too, that if everything kind of narrows into this, like idea of sameness and we're starting to see that direction of sameness where coffee shops are really starting to look the same everywhere, and I think it really limits us in terms of sustainability.

Because coffee can look so diverse, so different, so exciting. It limits our creativity and it also, I think, posits the wrong enemies.

So with that idea in mind too, robot baristas.

So, on my newsletter [I have] talked a little bit about robot baristas and the idea of technology and coffee, and I think the misunderstanding about robots and coffee is that I think it's bad actors who are maybe looking to robots as replacements for labor.

And again, that goes to the idea of like the sameness of coffee, everybody pivoting to this, like one singular point—but you had a Reel on your Instagram. Um, but I saw it and you talked about like, “Hot take: I actually think robot baristas could be really beneficial,” and I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit.

LaChrista: Absolutely. So it was—I still stand firm in that. I think it's this one really delicate coin. I think that …. So what happened? This is what happened.

Ashley: Tell me what happened.

LaChrista: I was in the airport, and I was in, I guess I won't say which one because then that will directly pinpoint which, who it is. But in the airport, I saw, and I was like, oh, okay, whatever.

I'm still in this very like, screw technology in terms of replacement in coffee, in terms of jobs. But, I see this thing, and I was like, “Whatever, I'm gonna ignore it, and I'm gonna go find an actual coffee shop with baristas.” I go get a coffee, it was terrible, I leave the airport, I'm in town, I'm doing all these coffee things, I'm leaving.

I go back to the airport. I'm in the same, I think it's the terminal. It's so late at night. I'm exhausted. My flight isn’t for another like hour and a half. I hadn't really eaten because it's late. So I'm like, I'm a little hungry, but I'm not going to eat food because nothing's open. And I was just sitting there and then I was like, “Dang, I guess I could go try this robot coffee.”

And like I walk up to it. There's people there. [And I’m telling myself] like, “You're gonna—you're gonna do it?”

And I'm like, I don't know like something to me, it's just like “Oh, I'm like betraying all of the things I've said so harshly against this service of a robot.”

And I was like, “You know what? I'm gonna do it.” And it really was partially because I needed something to wake me up. I trusted some of the brands that were on the advertisement because personal connections, but also like professional opinions—I trust them. And I got a matcha. I got a matcha with oat milk and some vanilla.

And... it was really quick, the little thing waves at you. It's cute. I can't even lie. It's adorable, but then I had this like ‘aha moment’ where I was like, I understand. I get it, and I think that introducing robots and coffee is a very unique beast in itself because obviously it can take jobs if done improperly.

In terms of these environments where it is a struggle to get specialty-coffee-minded baristas, where there's a want to perfect their craft, in an airport, in a hospital—having access to robotic coffee in those spaces only, I see it as a benefit.

You're now giving access to this [to] what could be a very different demographic of people—you're giving them specialty coffee. There is now an introduction to “Oh, I just had this cappuccino with oat milk and I'd never had one before.” Now there's probably an intrigue and something that has been lit where once you leave the airport, they might try to go find a specialty coffee shop and have an interaction with baristas.

It can be used in a way that benefits this industry versus, you know, sucking the life right out of it.

Ashley: Right. I agree. I think you're totally right. It introduces specialty coffee in places where we might have trouble getting access, or we might not be able to like reach customers in a way that we really want to. I don't think you have a robot barista make you a latte at the airport and think, “I only want robots to make me coffee.”

And I think you're absolutely spot-on. The way that we've internalized the idea of robot baristas is that they're going to take our jobs—and again I do think that is a legitimate fear. I think that there are absolutely bad actors who see that as a replacement for labor and they don't really understand robots as like a tool for the industry at large.

So while I think that's like a warranted fear, I think it's also limiting our ability to think globally about, how do we make our industry more accessible? This is one way to do it. Like it's not the only way, but it's one kind of interesting one.

LaChrista: Absolutely. I do think that like—also coming from a background where I mean, as a Black woman, like in the South, there is not a lot like—just a Black person and coffee. That's a very unique experience. There, there isn't a lot of access. So I had to go find my own education. I had to go find my own courses.

Like I just took the Q course and I just found out what the Q course was this year. And I've been in coffee for almost 10 years.

Ashley: What's the Q course, for people who don't know?

LaChrista: The Q course is essentially—in the specialty coffee realm, there are a handful of people who essentially grade coffee. Is it specialty quality? Not just, “Is it a good coffee, based on my own personal preference”—is this a good coffee, based on the standard that we have set for the industry.

There are people who actually will, who grade your coffee. They grade it green, they grade it, roast it. You know, dictate whether or not this is just consumable coffee or is this actually specialty? Is it very good? Is it good? Or is it excellent?

Ashley: Basically, it's like a calibration. Like everybody who passes the Q grader course is like, they are calibrated on this scale of how we evaluate coffee, like from 0 to 100.

LaChrista: Yes.

So like, 10 years in this industry, and like—not just me, but we as people of color, we as quote unquote “othered,” there is still a need for access. So if we are still needing access, I think about the consumers—there is a lack of education, there is a lack of access that's approachable.

I think of my mom, who is this really, like, she's kind of to herself, but she's a very strong Black woman. She doesn't feel comfortable always going to specialty coffee shops, but you put a robot in a hospital that she might be doing something at, she'll go to that.

Ashley: That's a good point. I didn't think of it that way, but like, the idea that like a barista might be intimidating for someone who maybe doesn't understand or have like a lot of familiarity with like the specialty coffee industry, [it] would be like a good way for that person to engage with that without the pressure of like, “I have to talk to a person who might make me feel stupid,” or who might be like, “Oh, you don't know what a macchiato is.”

LaChrista: It also goes down to like—we talk about aesthetics so much in coffee, and like, is it coffee or is it aesthetic at this point? But, I think of that as well—certain shops take the baristas out of it. This does not invite me as a Black woman into this space. This does not invite the Black community that is a block away into this space.

It's not welcoming for us. So, I mean, and even beyond robots, you put self-serve coffee machines in—a quality one—in a gas station for people who may not speak the same language as you, who may not understand … Having those different avenues to get quality coffee is something very necessary.

Ashley: I'm going to do some quick questions because we didn't talk too much about travel. What's your favorite city you've traveled to get coffee?

LaChrista: Oh my god. That is so hard. I feel like one of the biggest things in terms of travel for me, because coffee has now apparently become my entire life, I travel for coffee. So—

Ashley: I'm looking through your Instagram, I'm like, and I see Copenhagen, I see Paris, I see Louisville, I see Miami, I see ... I only see that one picture from All Day, so I assume you went to Miami. I see so many different, different cities, and I imagine it has to be hard to choose, but yeah.

LaChrista: I will say, I can choose different cities for different things.

Ashley: Give me like, three for three reasons.

LaChrista: I would say London for the visuals and the intensity of the community. They are tight-knit and they have a true sense of community there. I'd like, obviously Charlotte, because this is where I am, and this is where I, this is where I fostered most of my career.

So I feel like, I hate to use the term “family” in coffee, but here it is very familial for me, specifically. Like I consider the coffee community here as part of my family, like if something happens, someone gets sick, I'm gonna treat them as if they're my cousin. I loved [the] Miami coffee scene. There is a sense of home that they create there where you are invited in and you are just like, wrapped in a hug and just treat it with all the best food and some fantastic Cubanos.

Ashley: You’re going to win talking about Miami here, because I'm from Miami, so.

LaChrista: I mean, I loved it. All Day is fantastic. But even if you get outside of Miami, there's Boca Raton. There's I mean, there's so much that you think that Miami is just this one space, but it's really just like, I don't know what to call it. Just the, that whole area of coffee is just fantastic. Everyone was so nice and like just warm.

I think when you have nice weather and an ocean with warm water. Yeah.

Ashley: It's not hard. It's not hard to be nice.

LaChrista: Exactly.

Ashley: So we're going to say, are we saying London, Charlotte, Miami, or?

LaChrista: I feel like every community that I've visited has a very unique something that makes me want to go back.

Ashley: Is there anything you want people to know about you listening to this episode that we didn't cover?

LaChrista: I guess it's something that we all already know. I guess the one thing I always try like, to like finish a conversation off on, especially if I'm talking to coffee people, and there's a want to know something new—it's not a matter of new. Nothing in coffee is new. I think that if we remember that and we just remember to focus on making sure that you are doing right by yourself, because I think we forget about that in this age of where it's taking care of everyone else.

Yes, take care of everyone else, but make sure you're taking care of you. Prioritize yourself. Also, there is a career in coffee. I feel like you don't have to spend all this ridiculous money to go to these different expos and coffee festivals. And it is a luxury and it is it can be beneficial, but it's not requirement in terms of creating a sustainable career.

I think if you find out what you're good at, use that to your advantage. This is a very niche market already, so why not just be niche within it?

Ashley: Yeah. I always think specificity is ignored—like be more specific, get more into it.

LaChrista: You want to be a social media manager? Do it. If you want to run around the globe and do coffee content, start in your community. And like, I think what people also forget is this is a very unique community where a lot of us, I won't say all of us, but a lot of us like to share. We like for this to be a very community-focused industry and we're trying our best to make sure that's the case.

So reach out! If you have questions about how to do something, reach out now. Don't reach out too much because people do this for money, so be willing to offer to pay, because people have to pay bills. But, there are so many lanes of making sure that you have access to do what you want to do on this.

If you are curious about competition, reach out to people who've won. Or even just competed. If you want to figure out how to be a roaster, reach out to roasters and see if you can just shadow. I feel like we get so scared of asking a question, like the worst thing anyone can tell you is no.

Ashley: I think that's a really good note to end on. So LaChrista, thank you so much for joining me.

LaChrista: Thank you for having me.

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