I pulled open the door, never knowing if these things are "push” or “pull.” My Chuck Taylors glided into the sounds of Miles Davis spinning. She embraced me. I ordered my usual, sat at the bar, and observed. She bounced from espresso machine to interacting with customers, maintenance tasks, delivering coffee-filled blue China to upstairs customers, then back to me. Blair Rabun, talented barista in Greenville, SC, gracefully multi-tasked; personifying the essence of a woman in the work industry. I am highly intrigued by her recent project, “Women in Coffee”: "a visual collection dedicated to female coffee professionals and all women working to find their place in a specialty industry", Blair describes. We sat down and had an intimate conversation during her shift.
Liv: What is your role here?
Blair: We are all essentially baristas and do everything. Recently, I took on more responsibilities of doing educational tasks like training and continuing education so we can continue growing on our knowledge and techniques and be as best as possible.
Liv: How many women work here?
Blair: Six. And when we opened, all of the staff were women (except the owner).
Liv: Did he do that intentionally?
Blair: Yes! It was all intentional. When you think about what is needed for this job- cleanliness, awareness of how you represent a business, what you want to portray as a brand, and to customers- these are qualities highly natural in women, so our first original staff were all women. All really great baristas.
Liv: Have you found yourself facing adversity working in this industry?
Blair: It's been okay. I have been really fortunate to work with men who are fully supportive of my ambitions. I have experienced more things from customers. I remember working at this Farmer's Market as a barista, having a role as a hiring manager. I hired this guy and not too long after, a male customer walked in. He was inquiring about something and was seeking someone with authority. I was standing near my recently hired male counterpart; we were both equally available. The male customer immediately went to the male not even having a thought that I could (and was) more experienced or equally appropriate to come to.
Liv: I, and many other women I know, have experienced similar situations. Imagine watching someone scan the room; knowing in a professional scenario, you're likely to be the last pick because people allow biases to make professional and personal judgments.
What made you start "Women in Coffee?
Blair: I get so excited to see women in this industry. It may not seem like it, but this is a male dominated industry. Anytime something becomes a "craft" or something people can compete for, sadly, it becomes male dominated. So, I started this to inspire women in the industry, women who are not, and women who might stray away from it, for that reason.
Liv: How are you hoping to inspire women who are not in the industry? You inspire me!
Blair: I love to see how other women interpret this craft. I am a barista, but I am also an individual. I am using these tools to shape my own craft. It is interesting to see different styles to one's work. I hope to encourage that principle of growing on an individual level to master a craft.
Liv: So, we all have a craft; how did you find yours?
Blair: My first memory of coffee was, you know when you go to the grocery store and those things filled with coffee beans that you pull down? My dad used to do that all the time. I remember just loving the smell of coffee beans. I used to tuck them in my pocket. My dad taught me how to make his coffee; he drank his coffee black. These were my earliest memories and I later studied anthropology in college. I liked how much of a process it is to this industry. From the farmers, to the people who package it, to us. I am fascinated with that process. My professor introduced me to someone in the industry and I moved to Maine and worked for their roasting company. There are a lot of bad things that happen in the south. The north is always more progressive with crafts; it took craft beer longer to really find its place here and that's still growing. I want to be a part of something positive flourishing in the south.
Liv: Were you raised around women who also had the drive and passion to find their craft?
Blair: I had two awesome great grandmothers. My great grandmother, Ursula, was born in 1912 in midstate Georgia; she lived until she was almost one hundred-two. She lived through wars, the great depression, and would show me her ration books. She was amazing and ahead of her time. When my mom and aunt got married, she would ask them "Why would you take your husband's name?" She recognized how much women were capable of building things on their own. My other great grandmother was amazing as well. When her husband passed, she continued to run their hardware store. They lived in a small country town and it was much needed in their community.
Liv: That's interesting it was your great grandmothers. I think we sometimes don't give that generation enough credit. The women who were fully aware of the importance of their roles in our communities, and strategically lived their lives to excel in those roles are the foundation for so much.
Blair: Yea. They always did things on the forefront in settings where women weren't always (especially during those times) present. Ursula worked for Georgia Power company. My other grandmother, a welder before taking over the hardware store. They both were great at their own crafts.
Liv: How do you think they would feel about "Women in Coffee” and you as a woman?
Blair: They would be excited that I carry that spirit. I am grateful that I had them. I decided I wanted to be a barista and I am. I say I want to do something and I do that. That's my way of showing all women that you don’t always have to let things happen "to you”; you really can make them happen "for you.”
Blair Rabun and her project “Women in Coffee” are light to the power of pursuing a path designed for one being via manifesting a craft. As I continued to observe all the different ways to pouring coffee, the variety of techniques, and how everyone crafted coffee differently, I was inspired to carry over this symbolism in my life. Everyone blogs differently. Everyone does not sing the same. No one is the same person, but there is so much time wasted ignoring our own individuality and our true calling. There are many forces that oppress the idea of individuality. Who would you be to let them stop you?
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