Emiliya Yordanova - Machina

Photo: Jess Shurte

Roaster and Quality Control (plus doing some barista work) - Machina Roastery - Edinburgh

What got you into coffee?

Working in a coffee shop was Emiliya’s first job when she was living in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2009.  “I randomly ended up working for - and with - some people who were really excited and passionate about coffee.”

At that time Emiliya didn’t drink coffee. “I thought it was disgusting and bitter – and it was then. People put sugar in it that made it sweet and bitter which I thought was even stranger. What we were serving, although it wasn’t specialty coffee, was so much better than anything else available and prepared with care. We were cleaning our espresso machine, tamping well, steaming milk properly, doing latte art. The coffee itself was 90% Arabica, pretty dark from an Italian roaster, which at the time was a source of pride and really impressed people. The scene there has evolved a lot since then!”
It was this team’s care and knowledge that got Emiliya into it. “The desire to learn and improve and in the meantime create a nice atmosphere and be nice to people, giving them something better than they expect - that was the vibe of the place. Rather than pushing people away by being condescending - which is easily done when you are trying to create quality. One of my colleagues, who originally trained me competed in the Bulgarian Barista Championships, which really brought us together as a team. He won and then represented Bulgaria at the Worlds. That was the initial spark that made me think...I could stick around.”

Emiliya went to Uni but says she knew she wanted to stay involved in coffee in some way. “In my last semester while doing my dissertation I was convinced by my Head Barista to do the Barista Championships while working at Avenue G (in Glasgow). I got to the semi finals - and I got my degree! The Championship was really intimidating but it really settled me on wanting to explore what it’s like to work in coffee as a career. The Championships showed me there’s so much more to the coffee industry, and to being a barista.”

What do you love about being in the speciality coffee industry?

“It’s always changing and it’s always evolving. I love the fact that I can learn so much.”
Emiliya has a lot of love for coffee and breaks it down to three areas. 

“The community is definitely exciting to be a part of. I don’t think many other industries have such a friendly community within the professional scene. People who can exchange ideas and hang out and be in the best sense competitors who are also stimulating each other. 

The possibility of always having something to learn – the different aspects of coffee itself, the craft of it, the science. There’s a certain amount of ‘mastering something’, striving towards becoming knowledgeable enough to deal with certain situations. When I’m working on bar I really enjoy having a good and efficient workflow while making tasty drinks and delivering a good service. You have to really know your product, equipment and environment to be able to deliver good drinks in good time with good service all at the same time. So many elements to know about. And you have to have a good team working well together - physically and on an ideological level. There needs to be a common goal within the business that everyone believes in, otherwise you’re just making hot drinks. The more you learn the more you realise how complex the world of coffee is - our goal is to help people enter it, and a strong core idea that a team can get on board with is essential to how that communication works.

Learning about coffee itself. I’m now roasting and doing quality control which involves learning about processing, varieties and origins. When you’re a barista this area is very romanticised - you work with different coffees and you get to know them in terms of flavour, or reading about how and where they were grown, it makes you want to know more about the process - how DID it end up tasting the way it does? Roasting feels like a step closer to understanding. Tasting lots of samples, being part of a selection process for what Machina buys, and deciding how to make it taste exciting. Getting to know the range of quality and avoiding being led by perceptions of what certain origins and processing methods can deliver has been a challenging learning curve. ”

Emiliya says her eyes have been opened to the range that is available. “Often specialty coffee baristas are spoiled by how much good coffee is around. We think it’s everywhere and we start nit-picking. But it’s important to keep the context in mind - all coffee needs a home. Being able to find coffees that fulfil a specific purpose I find really interesting. Great green coffee is much easier to turn into great roasted coffee, but what happens to the rest? Very new to that side of the supply chain myself, I can’t really say much, but I hope to learn more in the future about how quality fits into a social and economic context. There is the notion that specialty coffee is always the best possible scenario for everybody involved, but things are rarely as simple as that."

Taking a product and making the best of it can be – as a barista or roaster - without attaching any personal preferences is what Emiliya really enjoys. “You need to know your personal preferences in the first place so you can detach yourself from them. Roasting or brewing will always involve a level of preference as there are many ways to make something tasty, so in a way you’re always sharing what you think is the best version of a coffee. It’s just important to keep in mind who you are creating a product for and thinking about whether your idea of quality is the same as theirs. How you approach that gap I find an exciting challenge.”

What would tell someone who was considering a career in coffee?

“Be curious and be open to new information coming your way. There are a lot of myths in coffee and a lot of very strong opinions, so it can be hard to navigate at first. Be flexible in your perceptions and look to learn from people that aren’t afraid to say that they don’t know something, rather than make something up. Rules in coffee change all the time, so being able to keep learning and adapt is something that you can always work on. At the same time, don’t be afraid to stand behind something you believe in.

Work hard. Go to coffee events. Speak to people. Volunteer, compete, coach, judge. Taste a lot. Not just coffee, taste everything and think about it and build up your flavour library. There’s so much learning material available now – books, blogs, video, podcasts. It’s almost overwhelming so try and get advice from someone you trust or look up to on where to start. 

You gain knowledge through qualifications but you don’t get paid more just because you have them. Experience and attitude is often more important – it’s still a combination.”

What’s it like being a woman in the coffee industry?

Emiliya’s immediate response is that, “I suppose it’s like being a woman in most industries. Often you end up underestimated or overlooked because of how society has conditioned people. It’s worth acknowledging that anyone can be biased toward people they meet.” 

By way of an example, Emiliya talks about being in a customer-facing or business environment when someone comes in to make an enquiry. “They look for someone who can help them - and they assume that the person they’re looking for is a man. It’s something I’ve started noticing more in the last few years.

I think I noticed it more after I became the person that was in charge of some things – head barista in a coffee shop - and it was my responsibility to deal with all things coffee. But in many situations, people would purposefully look for a man.”

And when Emiliya thinks back over her career “there are plenty of times in the past when this happened, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. My initial thought would be that yeah, they probably can help them better than I could, I obviously don’t know enough. Most of my employers and colleagues throughout time, however, have been incredibly supportive - I’ve been entrusted with responsibility and offered opportunities which pushed me to learn and to start believing in myself a bit more. I’ve been very lucky”

“Building some confidence in my knowledge took some time and wasn’t without challenges. I led a lot of training classes a couple of years ago and you never knew who would turn up - a self-proclaimed coffee geek, someone that got a voucher for a class for Christmas or someone who was just curious. So, the mix of people with different expectations was challenging to handle, but the most difficult thing I found was when I had to prove myself worthy of leading that class to people attending. It could be my gender, or the fact it was people much older than me, or my accent, or who knows what. In a group of people very quickly you can find out if someone is open to learning and able to be taught - or whether they’re resistant and have a cloud of ego around them. 

Often these characters would be enthusiastic about coffee and talk about how much they knew and what they like. A little technique I developed to earn their trust - so the whole class wasn’t negatively affected - was to start the class with a practical demonstration of debunking a coffee myth. I needed to establish an atmosphere where I could lead the session in a way that everyone could benefit. It worked every time, and usually the ones who had a stiff, condescending vibe would soften up and ask questions. In a group of people who don’t know each other, there are often dominant personalities who want to take up the space. But it’s a space to be shared by all attending and everyone should have the chance to learn.”

Emiliya talks about how she’s inspired that women in coffee in Scotland support each other. She also references Barista Connect as one of the events that had a big impact on her. 

“It was really great to feel so supported, to get together with other women in the industry and it didn’t matter where you worked and in what position, everyone was open to conversation and sharing knowledge. That event really made me aware of how male-dominated other coffee events are. It felt like such a safe space. It was really empowering meeting inspiring women and hearing their stories. It’s actually a place where you can ask questions and be yourself. It really affirmed the fact that having role models is really important. 

And if I can be even a grain of sand, the tiniest bit, if I can inspire someone in a way, that would be amazing. To show to other women that they shouldn’t be afraid to try and be more. That there is a space for them and if they’re interested in something they should pursue it."

Emiliya observes that a lot of higher positions in coffee are usually held by men. “They may be more vocal about what they want to do. I’ve been in positions where I’ve really wanted to do something at work in coffee but I was too afraid to ask for it, or even try. And seeing other women do that is really empowering, I’m very grateful to all the strong knowledgeable women that have shown me there’s nothing to be afraid of”.

And to finish, there’s something that bugs Emiliya about how people interact on a day-to-day basis and that is directly related to gender. “For some reason a lot of men in the industry feel that they should give women hugs, when they would shake hands with men. Why is that a thing? It happens so often - men I barely know, but they know my partner very well, and choose to shake his hand but go straight for a hug with me and sometimes a kiss...I mean I like hugs, but in a professional setting if I’m getting one it’s only fair that men get one too!”

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

No comments:

Post a Comment