Sarah Allen delved into the barista underground from an unlikely entry point: “I became a teenage boy for six months,” she says. As a grad student at U of O in Eugene, Sarah focused on subcultures and sought out to follow the type of teen that fits the profile of those who have become high school gunmen. She volunteered in a classroom, and chose a boy and his group of friends to shadow. In such a study, the researcher shouldn’t typically affect her subjects, but she says, “having that attention on him actually made him gain confidence.” Lucky for us, her effect has been much the same on the coffee industry.
“I feel exceptionally happy as a writer to live and work within the community I write about,” she says.
Sarah grew up in Berkeley, California and worked as a music critic for a paper in the Bay Area for a time until she went to grad school. In 2001, she started writing for the trade magazine Fresh Cup, and later became further enmeshed in barista culture when she became a trainer at Zoka Coffee in Seattle for a year, helping baristas prepare their presentation element for barista competitions. “This was the time when everyone thought baristas were college kids who were trying to buy beer and didn’t really give a shit about what they were doing,” she says. “Then there was this group especially from Seattle and Portland who were really invested in [being baristas] as a career, and that was what I was really interested in.”
Sarah and her husband Ken Olsen, who is also a writer and acts as Barista Magazine’s publisher, quit their day jobs and founded the publication in 2005. “We decided in the beginning we weren’t going to rely on professional freelancers. I wanted all of our writers to work in the coffee industry.” (more…)