Beyond the Beans: Kristin Lerner

By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kean Coffee

Meet Kristin Lerner. She has demonstrated her coffee skills by becoming certified through the SCA as a Brewer and Barista. We knew of her talent even without the certification, as she has been a long-time member of the Kéan Coffee family and trainer at our Tustin coffeehouse. Her years of training new and experienced baristas, world traveling, and having a sparkling personality make her an amazing teacher and communicator. Her expansive knowledge allows her to not only tell you what makes our Rwanda single origin so wonderful and the proper brew methods, but also about Rwanda itself and what makes that country so special to her.

Where did you coffee journey begin?

In 2008 I was in nursing school and my first year I knew nothing about coffee, but I got a job at a coffee bar they had on campus. I started learning more and more about coffee and became more interested in it as I drank it more. I became one of the managers there for four years before going to work at Kéan Coffee in 2013. 

You always seem to have a smile on your face and a great coffee recommendation. Our guests can tell that you love your job. What is your favorite part of being a barista at Kéan Coffee? 

First off, my favorite coffee drink is always a black coffee. If I’d like to treat myself, I will get a half syrup Napoli, a dirty chai latte, or a Nutella cortado. I always have a smile on my face because I love what I do, which is part of why I didn’t continue with nursing and stayed with coffee. It is so important to love what you do everyday and to love the people that you’re working with. Not only do guests put a smile on my face everyday but so does the team that I work with. I also just really like trying the coffees. Every time we get a new coffee, I try it out and see what I like about it and make recommendations to guests based on what they are looking for.

Being a trainer, what is your favorite thing to teach others about coffee? Also, what do you say when someone tells you they don’t like coffee?

 I think one of the biggest things I like to train baristas on is showing them the entire seed to cup process and the lengthy process of growing the coffee and the journey it takes before coming to us. It’s such a thorough process and so much hard work goes into a quality coffee. I love teaching people that baristas are professionals. It isn’t just another college job anymore; some people stay in the coffee industry for their entire life. You deserve to view your job professionally and also get treated as a professional as a barista. It is a craft. If someone says they don’t like coffee, I assume that they haven’t tried a quality coffee or just haven’t found what they like. Coffee has such an expansive range of flavors and profiles. If you don’t like the caffeine, there are also so many wonderful decaf options. 

How did you get your SCA Barista Level 1 Certification? Could you explain the process to us?

I had been wanting to obtain my Barista certification for a very long time and then the opportunity finally opened up through Martin and Karen Diedrich to get my SCA certification through Klatch Coffee and training with Barista champion, Heather Perry. I had the pleasure of taking the class along with our Roastery trainer, Brittany Leslie. It was a three-day training experience. I thought I already knew a lot about coffee, but I learned twice as much than I expected in three days. I really tried to take what I learned and integrate it into Kean coffee’s training program. I wouldn’t say it was difficult for me, but it was extremely thorough. You really have to stay focused and be prepared to drink a lot of caffeine. 

Speaking of journeys, since we just went over your coffee journey, you are a world traveler! When did you begin travelling? 

I started traveling when I was a little kid going on road trips with my family but when I was 16, my family actually moved to the Swiss Alps region in France. My dad has a French background and wanted us to learn French for a year. That really inspired my love for traveling internationally. We got to travel to different countries, a week here, a week there, while we lived in France.

What countries have you been to and where would you like to go?

I have kind of been all over. I have been all over Central and South America, to Africa, all over Europe, the Caribbean. The only place I have not been able to travel to yet is throughout Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Those are all on my list. I would love to do a three week trip: one week in Australia, one week in New Zealand, and one week in Indonesia, probably Bali. 

Is it exciting when we have a single origin on the table from a country you’ve been to? I know that you have been to Rwanda. What brought you there?

Absolutely. It really is fun because I can say I have been to that country and have seen the culture and experienced the people and how they live. A lot of the time when you are driving through these countries, the ones that you see as single origins on the table, you can see along the hills acres of coffee farms. You don’t really see that here. It’s fun to have an idea of where it all started and then to experience the end result, the cup of coffee. When I stayed in Guatemala for 3 months one summer, I got to see so many coffee trees. We have different Guatemalan coffees on the table all the time and to have witnessed those regions was such an experience that I love to share with the guests and really has an impact on how I view what I do and how I describe coffees to the guests.

Scenes from Kristin’s travels in Guatemala

I also spent a month and half working in Rwanda in a hospital. My university had a program there and since I spoke French, I was able to be a translator. A lot of what I was doing was working in the NICU and helping deliver babies, but I also got to see a lot of the country itself. We drove through a coffee farm and I got to see a lot of the coffee trees they had there. It was such a beautiful area and now we have a Rwanda on the table to remind me of that! I was so excited to see it and try it.

Kristin in Rwanda

As you know and have described, coffee is an international community. How has the coffee community impacted you?

I honestly think that is one of my favorite things about working at Kéan Coffee. We get so many different guests from all over the world who have heard about our coffeehouse and they want to experience these coffees that we have. I love hearing about where these guests are from, what is the biggest coffee trend there or what has their culture taught them to like best, and their language. For example, a lot of our European guests tend to order an espresso or macchiato and guests from South East Asia tend to favor our Americanos more. It is fun to learn more about different cultures from everyone and even practice a new language when I have the opportunity, even just a few words here and there. It makes the job even more fun. 

Kristin closed out our interview stating she is so thankful for Kéan Coffee and can’t imagine what life would be without her experiences as a barista and interactions with our guests, which has turned her into an even more independent and sociable person. As part of our management team, she has initiated and brought energy and changes to our team that makes us all better and stronger. For our multi-lingual guests, please feel free to share a new phrase or expression with Kristin in your language. She will be more than excited to hear it.  

Interview conducted and written by Brittany Leslie, September 18th, 2020

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