Kathryn Baker – Sacred Grounds

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

Co-owner and founder of Sacred Grounds Coffee Company - Arbroath

What got you into coffee?

Kathryn co-founded Sacred Grounds with her brother Ian and friend Jamie in 2015 and describes herself as relatively “new to it, learning as I go along”.

Kathryn has always loved good coffee but worked for a long time in hospitality and knew “how bad coffee can be because most restaurants and cafes don’t care much about the coffee they serve.”
Ian, Kathyrn’s brother had done barista training and his friend and cycling buddy Jamie had roasted for 10 years for Artisan Roast in Glasgow. “Ian approached me about being a co-owner of Sacred Grounds roastery because of my business management skills, having owned and run my own cafes, catering and baking businesses.  We were mapping out our business plans when Jamie heard that Fatima, the small roaster he’d grown to love at Artisan, was up for sale. So we bought it and parked it in my dad’s garage for three months while we finalised our plans and found premises to roast from.”

“I wasn’t meant to be the public face of Sacred Grounds. It’s just ended up that way because I love coffee and I’d had enough of hospitality. I was considering going back to museum curation, which was my first career, when Ian asked me about setting up as a roaster. We all started off roasting part time, but now I’m going out to customers and getting new customers in. I’m expanding my knowledge and barista skills so I can talk about the coffee and I’m full time running Sacred Grounds”.

What do you love about being in speciality coffee?

“I never feel like I’m doing a ’day at work’. I love doing a job that doesn’t feel like doing a job. I love the control of being self-employed and the business management side of it. Going out and speaking to people and explaining why speciality coffee is what it is and seeing that little click when customers realise how our coffee is different and stands out from other coffee in Angus.”

Kathryn knew when they started Sacred Grounds that speciality coffee hadn’t yet arrived in Arbroath and the surrounding area. But she hadn’t expected that educating customers and “enthusing people with my passion for coffee” was going to be such a big part of the job. 

“I spend a lot of time explaining to customers why our coffee is fruity and not burnt, the background of our single origins, why what we do is different, why they shouldn’t pay for burnt coffee that doesn’t do the best thing by the farmers who grew it, why roasting lighter tastes better, why they should grind at home before every cup. I love the education piece without being overly geeky or arrogant. Maybe it comes from my curator days.”

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

“Go out and do it. I ummed and ahhed and it’s the best decision I ever made. If you love coffee do it. Hunt out the jobs. Speak to people in the industry and tell them you’re available. 

If someone said that I’d be in coffee 20 years ago when I was at school I wouldn’t have believed it. But now it’s so different. Persevere. Get your knowledge up - you learn as you go. Be open and prepared to learn. Read everything you can. But you have to make that first jump off the cliff. It’s really rewarding and there’s something nice about being able to do something that you love. Not a lot of people are that lucky.”

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

Even as recently as 2015 when Kathryn started Sacred Grounds she was really aware that there were very few women in specialty coffee in Scotland. But that said, she had a lot of help and support from women locally who had set up businesses and were leading the way. “I think it would have been different being in one of the cities. I don’t know that I would have had the same level of support and it probably has a lot to do with where I’m at - as well as Lisa from Dear Green getting in and forging the path for the rest of us!”

Generally speaking Kathryn hasn’t had many bad experiences. Quite the opposite as she relishes the fact that “in the coffee world, no-one is stand offish, people want to help.”

She cites that Fiona Grant’s (Glen Lyon Coffee) Roasters’ Retreat has been great - “Fiona’s really open and has been a really good sounding board”.

“I don’t roast but when I spoke with Cath at Steampunk it was really helpful. Cath explained that she’s got too many things to do running her business to do everything and her colleague Kirsty roasts well, so she can do that.”

However, Kathryn has found it challenging sometimes and cites the ‘male hipster’ image of speciality coffee as over-shadowing the image that customers’ have. “But with my fellow women who are leading the way, I think it’s changing. I think women are very good at hospitality, creating an ambience, and certainly when it comes to the barista side we’ll see a lot more women coming into it. The support women provide each other is from a place of genuine compassion and understanding, rather than ego stroking which men may do. I do wonder what it would have been like in coffee five years ago when there were virtually no women in coffee.”

“Because I’m relatively new to coffee and didn’t start with a lot of knowledge, the slightest set-backs can have a big impact on confidence.” Kathryn talked about times she’s been talking to men about coffee and they stop talking to her entirely and start talking to Jamie and Ian. “I feel I’m not an idiot and I’ve never encountered this treatment with the women I know. The women I’ve met in coffee never judge. Some of the men I’ve met in coffee judge.”

But these types of experiences are rare compared to the day-to-day enjoyment Kathryn gets out of Sacred Grounds. “Now I’m older I don’t get as intimidated as I would have when I was younger. Now I just think ‘young guys, you will learn’”.

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

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