A Chat with Vini Arruda
Who is Vini Arruda?
Vini Arruda: I’m originally from South America, born in Brazil but lived in Chile, and currently living in Dublin, Ireland, for the last 10 years. I’m a husband and a father of a five-year-old. I’ve been involved with the coffee industry for bit more than ten years.
How did you get started in the coffee industry?
VA: My first job was as a barista, I started from scratch – very much working behind the bar and learning by doing.
Did you master the art that is latte art? Do you have a favorite pattern?
VA: Oh yes, definitely! A double swan, there are so many. At the time there was this place in the city centre, they were looking for baristas and I was passing by, I knew how to make coffee but I wouldn’t call myself a barista. So then I went inside, immediately they asked me to do a trial and make a cappuccino, probably the worst cappuccino ever made. But I got the job. I was taught by a brilliant Chinese guy who was the head barista – he taught me pretty much everything I needed to do about the standards in the coffee in that place. Secondly, the place was just in front of the university. I was the only barista for the afternoon shift, so I had to learn how to deal with dozens of students who were on their coffee break very quick, had no more than 15 minutes to fly over that machine to make all the drinks as consistent as possible. It was very challenging. My career started, like many in the industry, from being a barista.
What happened then, when I realized that being a barista wasn’t only a person who is behind the machine making coffees. I signed myself up for the Irish Barista Championship, everyone thought it was crazy, but I said “I know, I will do it!” That pushed me to learn more about coffee and then I asked myself, “how can I learn more about coffee?” When I found about SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) and the education paths where you can learn everything about coffee properly. I started that journey and in less than a year I was given a full diploma in coffee through SCAE and that’s what brought me to be part of the first ever Barista Camp in Europe. I signed up as a volunteer and that was my first experience at Barista Camp.
What does Barista Camp mean to you?
VA: What I was looking for at the time was sharing experience and to learn. I was a new AST (Authorized SCA Trainer), the first in Ireland, and I needed to connect with my colleagues and learn from them. For me that was the perfect opportunity to be part of other modules and assist ASTs who have more experience and learn from them. That was probably the main objective at that time for me.
Tell me about your overall experience at Barista Camp.
VA: I was lucky to attend the first four Barista Camps, so since 2014-2017, the overall experience is just an incredible opportunity for networking. I think it’s a brilliant idea that you put great ASTs, volunteers and knowledge into one place, and everyone is focused on learning, sharing experience, interacting, and having fun. The experience has always been great - each one has been different as I was involved first as a volunteer then as a lead AST for one of the modules and responsibilities changed. The core of Barista Camp stays the same: it’s a great place to engage and to learn.
What was it like to be a volunteer at camp?
VA: It was great! We were a team of a few volunteers assisting at the time Simon James, a great AST based in Australia, he’s the lead creator of the brew crew for the brewing module. The main goal is to support the lead AST to run the class smoothly; there’s a lot of students. We were the peace of mind of the AST, that everything is working in the background and it’s happening. Mainly the practice times and assessing the students. It was a great experience.
How does that compare to being a Lead AST teaching a module yourself?
VA: Leading the module is actually really challenging. I was lucky, I would say, I had one of the biggest classes ever. It was very intense planning, again without the volunteers it wouldn’t have been possible. As a leader, you have students from all the world who you can spread the word of who you are, how you communicate, how you educate and teach - that’s a brilliant opportunity for an AST to lead any of the modules at Barista Camp. Again it’s a lot of responsibility because, in the end, we are representing the same institution and we want everything to go well, and all the students who made the effort to be part of the Barista Camp, they leave with their expectation fulfilled.
As an AST, do you feel fulfilled once you’ve completed teaching the modules and seen the students’ results?
VA: Definitely, yes, that’s the biggest reward and feeling of achievement. It was never about passing, it was about the learning. Sometimes you fail but you learn, it happened to me a few times. The main reward is when the students come up to you afterwards and thank you for what you’ve done for them and how much they’ve learned – there’s no price for that.
After volunteering and leading as an AST, where did your career go from there?
VA: One of the next steps of my career was becoming Coffee Development Manager for one of the biggest roasters in Ireland. I was working with them for five years and being the coffee expert of the business, supporting the trading and everything to do with the coffee itself, incorporating the SCA standards in the company. Trading, roasting, blending, creating products, in charge of the quality team, etc. It was an intense position. It was a commodity coffee roaster. I know that we are aiming for high quality and standards in the industry but that part of the industry exists and we can’t ignore it. Just before I joined that business I became a Q-Grader, that was one of the big steps and achievements in my career.
You’re now working at the Specialty Coffee Association as an Education Manager at the SCA. What does your role entail?
VA: It’s a dream come true. My career was based on the SCA, and the SCA was supporting my career in every single step. I took the decision to embrace the SCA as part of everything that I was doing. Today being a member of staff, behind the scenes. and supporting those ASTs and the work that I used to do is just wonderful. As an Education Manager, I work with the education team, a great team of people whose focus is to elevate and create the standards of the education program that we have. One of my biggest responsibilities is to manage some of the content creator groups and I’m deeply involved with the curriculum for some of the modules of the Coffee Skills Program.
Are there any conversations from camp that have stuck with you?
VA: Wow, there are so many! Every camp had its own highlight. I’ve had the chance to meet some incredible people, not only students but colleagues too. I think the biggest highlight is that camp helps me to make my coffee family bigger. These people are people that I’ve actually met every time I’ve worked or attended a coffee event. We’re still in contact, some are working closely with the SCA as volunteers for some of the content creator groups. There are no specific conversations, it’s just the fact that I’ve met them, and they are part of my coffee family right now.
Is there anyone you met at camp that played an important role in your career progression?
VA: I could name a few actually. I have to say one person who was very supportive of my career, and I got to spend time with her at camps is Annemarie Tiemes. There’s Paul Meikle-Janney, Tim Sturk, Simon James too - the list is long.
What’s your fondest memory of camp?
VA: There is one, it’s personal. At Barista Camp Greece, there was a girl from Ireland, and she was attending as a student. The very first day I arrived, we hadn’t started working, I went down to the beach for a quick dip in the sea – as you can imagine coming from Ireland, you just want some hot water! She was there and we were swimming together and chatting away. I have this image in my head where she was talking about her career and some thoughts she was having, what to do next etc. Unfortunately, the reason why I cherish that moment is because a few years later she died very young. I think I will always remember that conversation we had, she was a young person full of vitality and energy.
If you could give advice to Vini Arruda at Barista Camp Greece 2014, what would it be?
VA: No matter what you do in life, if you do it with passion and love you will succeed sooner or later. I wouldn’t do anything different because I think at the time, I was on the right path that led me to where I am now.
Do you have any advice for future Barista Camp attendees?
VA: It’s worth attending camp, you won’t regret it!
Vini is at Barista Camp in Anavissos, Greece from September 10-13, 2019. For more information visit the website here.