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Mollie Harvey – Coffee Apprentice

To mark National Apprenticeship Week 2022, we talk to our own coffee apprentice – Mollie Harvey – about how a stint at Starbucks became the first step on her coffee career ladder, and find out how someone who originally hated coffee (her words!) now wants to become a coffee taster.

“I was heading for a career as a maths teacher or financial investigator, but after college, I wasn’t sure if that was right for me after all. I applied for a job in Starbucks, which opened my eyes to the amazing world of coffee. I never knew there was so much to take on, but as soon as I started learning about origins and processing methods, I was invested.

“After nearly two years, I started hosting coffee tastings at the store I worked at. I wanted to learn more so decided to do an in-depth training programme. Then, I saw an opening for a Senior Coffee Specialist at Lincoln & York. While I didn’t consider myself ‘senior’, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, so I applied. Afterwards, Chris Tough – who is now my line manager – got in touch with me about a coffee apprenticeship, and I accepted the offer.

“I was nervous initially, but I had no reason to be. The team welcomed me from the start and taught me so much. There was a lot to take in at first – getting to know the team and the building, together with an introduction to cupping, blend matching and other lab procedures – but people were so supportive I didn’t feel overwhelmed.

“I’ve learnt to properly taste and Q Grade coffee, to roast coffee, match blends, calibrate machines and grinders, and that’s just the beginning. On the business side, my apprenticeship involves research, plus general topics such as laws and regulations, workplace policies, market forces and stakeholders, and IT skills.

“There have been quite a few moments where I’ve thought ‘wow you just did that’! One of them was when I worked with La Cimbali on calibrating some of its espresso machines for a customer. The first time I got it perfect was so exciting.

“The first time I tried Q Grading a coffee, I thought my scores would be miles out from everyone else’s, but they were actually really similar and it reassured me that I am tasting the same things!

“Coming from education to an apprenticeship was tricky at first. The workplace is more structured around my role, and I had to figure out how to fit the study part of it alongside the job.

“Another big challenge for me was – and still is – confidence. I didn’t have the knowledge or experience I needed at first, so I struggled if people came to me with questions. It has improved massively through speaking to other people and customers, and with a lot of help from my team.

“My apprenticeship is really flexible. I can take as much time as I need, as long as it’s more than a year. We’ve estimated around 18 months. After that I can focus on training for my Q Grading.

I’m not sure yet which part of the industry I’d like to focus on. One of the really interesting parts for me has been learning to calibrate espresso machines and grinders so that might be the direction I go in.

“I’d recommend the apprenticeship route into the industry. It offers so many opportunities for growth and development within the company, and the opportunity to get hands on with what I’m studying.

“Being a barista turned out to be my way into a career in coffee. It’s important to talk to industry professionals and taste as much coffee as possible, as well as staying up to date with news and markets. My apprenticeship gives me the chance to do all that – as well as getting the training I need for my future.”

Espresso Q&A

What do your family and friends think about you being a coffee apprentice?

Whenever I tell someone what I do, they’re surprised and they often don’t know what it means. They’re intrigued and usually jealous, because it’s an amazing job. They also ask me for coffee recommendations, and of course I’m the designated coffee maker.

Do you remember your first taste of coffee?

I actually used to hate coffee! I drank it properly for the first time when I started work at Starbucks. I enjoyed learning about it and making it, but couldn’t stand the taste. After tasting so much throughout my time as a barista, I gradually started to enjoy it more – and now I can’t get enough.

What’s the funniest or strangest thing you’ve learnt about coffee?

In 1555, when coffee was introduced to Turkey, it became so meaningful that, under Turkish law, a lady could divorce her husband if he couldn’t provide her with enough coffee. I think that’s totally reasonable!

What does the rest of the team think about working with Mollie?

Coffee buyer Chris Tough is Mollie’s line manager. He said:

“When we were looking for an apprentice, Mollie fit the bill perfectly with her experience of being a barista, coupled with a passion for the industry. She’s fantastic, and her enthusiasm for coffee makes it very easy to work with her.

“Taking on an apprentice brings a different perspective to any business and – particularly in the coffee industry – a fresh way of thinking about how to drink it. One of Mollie’s favourite drinks is cold brew coffee and those cold drinks are representative of a younger demographic starting to drink coffee out of home.

“For others thinking about a career in coffee, I would say the most important thing would be a passion and interest in the product. It’s such a unique industry, a lot of the learning and skills are developed as you go.”

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