Claire Whitt is Nossa Familia Coffee’s Head of Training, and also teaches the barista school at p:ear, a local Portland nonprofit that provides mentorship to homeless youth. This 8-week certification, which Claire has largely helped develop, equips students with the barista skills to go on to work in a café. Here, she shares her story of how she teamed up with p:ear to make their vision a reality.
When I was younger, before I started college, I used to stand at the counters of coffee shops and admire the baristas. They had this certain type of charm, and a way of making the customers feel like we were part of a special routine in their daily lives. It seemed like they had this community behind the counter that opened up to the customers through the conversations they had over that morning cup of coffee. This community is what really attracted me to the world of coffee. I started working in coffee to put myself through college, and I was able to gain financial independence in doing so. I could completely support myself while also building friendships and network within the local coffee scene.
Once I moved to Portland, I realized that this sense of community really translates throughout the coffee world. When you find the right spot, a coffee shop can feel like home. When I started working at Nossa Familia Coffee, I really felt motivated by this idea, and soon enough I found out about a very unique program with p:ear, a local Portland organization that offers mentorship, job and life skills training to homeless youth. Nossa Familia has offered the barista school to p:ear students for around four years, and I started teaching the course about a year and a half ago.
As I initially sat down to build our curriculum for the class, I approached it as a focus on technique and the hard skills that are required to be a successful barista. Espresso extraction, proper milk steaming, latte art, customer service, etc. How do I teach these kids to make a good cup of coffee in a way that is approachable and makes sense? As time went on, it became apparent that yes, these hard skills can be taught, but what makes the class meaningful is that it starts to open up more doors into a larger community that these youth maybe were not a part of before. They are learning about the global community of coffee through understanding how it is grown, who the people are that grow it, and why taking care in brewing it really honors all of the hard work that was put into it before. They are also becoming a part of a local coffee community, one that is really strong in a city like Portland.
And now, all of us at Nossa Familia and at p:ear are ecstatic that the p:ear barista school is opening their own walk-up retail window inside their headquarters’ gallery space, at the corner of Northwest 6th & Flanders in Portland. With this new space, our students’ connection to the Portland community becomes stronger, and that conversation with customers over a cup of coffee is now something that they get to participate in.
Homelessness is a marginalizing identity, and carries with it so many stigmas. What a program like this does - and what p:ear aims to do - is to approach each person as an individual, rather than a statistic. We aim to harness their strengths, support them in identifying goals and aspirations, and create that sense of community that we all need to feel encouraged and seen. It’s one thing to provide food and shelter, to fulfill the basic needs of each person that walks through the door. Through my experience teaching this class, real growth happens when they have support to follow their dreams, to express themselves, and to find that charming barista within themselves.
Every student that graduates from the 8-week barista certification course has the opportunity to interview for a position at the retail window, where they can gain on-the- job experience to build their resumes and become more comfortable in that environment. Please, come enjoy a delicious cup of Nossa Familia Coffee at the p:ear barista school window, along with the conversations that come with it!
The p:ear barista school retail window will celebrate its grand opening on September 16, 2016, from 8am to 1pm, and is located at 338 NW 6th Ave.