Drink, Life, People, Top Feature

What I do: the coffee QC manager

Amy Finn supervises Soho House & Co coffee on America’s West Coast. Here’s what happens in a typical day

I have the longest job title of anyone I know – coffee quality control manager, West Coast North America. Basically, the role boils down to: ‘make coffee taste good’. Partly that’s about sourcing great ingredients, partly it’s about making sure the equipment is on-point, and partly it’s about educating bartenders, baristas and servers.

Even something as straightforward as taking the customer’s order is a kind of art. Speciality coffee has become so nuanced that a customer might not know for sure how to describe what they want. It’s up to us to decipher that for them.

I look after Soho House West Hollywood, Little Beach House Malibu and Cecconi’s. I try to get around the sites for as much of the day as possible, but LA traffic makes that a challenge.

When I arrive I obviously say hi to everyone, then make a beeline for the espresso machine. It needs to be calibrated just right so the shots run to specific times. This is mostly about fine-tuning the grinder. It’s a highly sensitive process; if the day starts out cool and the temperature is 50OF, you set up one way. But later, if the clouds break and the mercury shoots up to 70O, it needs adjusting again to keep the espresso perfect. 

The only way to get it right is by collecting data – basically, tasting a whole bunch of coffee. I start the day with a tea, so I’m not wired, and thereafter use a spit cup. Just like wine-tasting.

During busy times I work on the floor with our baristas and servers, making sure everything runs smoothly. Nobody should wait any longer than three minutes to receive a drink, served in the correct vessel.

Latte art is something we put a lot of thought into. House style is ‘free pour’, which means hearts, rosettas, tulips. We don’t use so-called ‘etching’ to make cats or teddy bears. Unless the guys are feeling cheeky, that is.

Coffee drinkers in LA are increasingly switched-on to milk alternatives – almond, hemp, soy – which makes foam and especially latte art quite difficult. Luckily we have a talented team, and an awesome supplier of raw, organic almond milk who delivers daily. It’s so much better than the boxed stuff.

You can tell a lot about someone by which coffee they order. I always make a point of memorising people’s choices – partly because it’s a nice way to show you care, but also to guess at who the customer is and what their tastes and habits might be. If somebody orders a dirty chai latte (which includes a shot of coffee), for example, you know they’re seeking an experience as opposed to just craving that straight hit of caffeine.

I adore the training element of my job. Beyond showing staff how to make coffee, I try to help them figure out the mechanics of how they learn. So afterwards they can go out into the world and learn a whole bunch of other things. Being part of people’s lives in that way, through coffee, makes me really happy.

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