Crop Talk with Dustin Fleming
Welcome to Crop Talk, our blog series with Barnie’s Coffee & Tea’s Manager of Coffee Programming, Dustin Fleming. No matter which Crop Ex batch you’ve brewed for the day, Dustin’s the man who saw it through, from sourcing to roast.
Today we ask Dustin to tell us about his journey from Industry Newbie to Career Coffee Man.
How did you get started working in coffee?
I got started working in coffee while I was a sophomore in college. A friend of mine started a coffee catering company and needed help at events. Initially, my role was carrying and setting up equipment, taking orders from customers, prepping cups and just making small talk. From there, I began the long and arduous journey as a coffee delivery boy, a barista, a production tech and a GM. Now I am at the Manager of Coffee Programming at Barnie’s Coffee & Tea.
When did you start drinking coffee? How have your tastes changed?
Sophomore year of college I worked as an overnight desk assistant in the dorms. I’d go to class all day, then to rugby practice and then to work. After working from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. I’d walk to a third wave coffee shop and order their sweetest latte – I’m talking gobs of caramel, honey, vanilla and chocolate – with an extra shot of espresso. I think it was called a Honey Bear, and it was sweet and delicious. I became a regular and made friends with the baristas, who started slipping me samples of some pour-overs they’d made.
I specifically remember the coffee that changed my life. It was a washed Burundi that tasted savory, like tomato soup or bell peppers. After that, I started ordering pour-overs every morning and looking forward to when they would get new coffees in stock (although I did keep my hazelnut creamer). Now I tend to drink my coffee black, with some exceptions here and there.
What is your favorite memory of, or experience with, coffee?
I could talk endlessly about the amazing coffee I’ve had over the last 6 years or so. It would probably come down to a handful of truly amazing coffees – maybe a few spicy washed Kenyans – but the thing I’ve come to appreciate the most about coffee is the people. Any time I can convince someone to think a little bit more about what it takes to get that coffee from a war-torn region in Africa into their cup? That’s my favorite coffee moment.
Did you ever see yourself becoming a coffee professional? What did you think you would be doing instead?
I studied philosophy in college, and the typical joke is that a degree in philosophy namely qualifies you to:
- Go to law school, or
- Become a barista.
Initially, I never saw myself as a coffee professional or any kind of professional, really. College, for me, was a self-exploratory period to figure out what kind of person I wanted to become rather than what I wanted to do. Then came time to pay the bills, so I started looking for jobs doing something I genuinely enjoyed until I could figure out my grand life scheme. I fell in love with the story of coffee first — from seed to cup — then the taste and now the culture.
What are some major trends you’re observing in the coffee industry?
In my brief career, I’ve seen some big trends in the industry like cold brew, alternative milks and minimalism in the café. The most important trend I see, though, is shifting the focus onto farmers and producers. Roasters and baristas spend roughly 25 to 30 minutes, from the time we drop it in the roaster to the time its poured, with any given coffee. In reality, over 2,000 hours of work, from farming to processing to packing to loading and more, has already gone into making that brew possible. The people who put those long, hard hours in are the ones who really deserve the credit for great coffee.
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