By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kéan Coffee
This week I sat down with Kean Coffee barista, Jessica Hurtado. Jessica shares with us her coffee journey which started with café con leche in her family’s kitchen and has taken her all the way to a coffee farm in Costa Rica. For Jessica, working in coffee and interacting with the coffee community has created an atmosphere of learning and joy found in pulling the perfect shot of espresso while working with the best people behind the bar.
What is your role at Kéan Coffee and how long have you been working here?
I am a senior barista and I have been at Kéan Coffee for a total of 3 years. I started working at Kéan Coffee when I also had a full time, 9 to 5 job and needed another job on the side in the evenings. I have always loved coffee and thought, “why not work at a coffeehouse?”. I worked in the area and Kéan was one of my favorites already, so I came in and dropped off an application. I did the afternoon shifts for a year before it became too much for me, but I ultimately came back to work the job I loved: being a barista.
What is your background with coffee?
Coffee is in my blood. Where I come from, my Mexican heritage, it’s a thing that you offer guests coffee at night, any time of day! It can be 10 pm and we will offer you coffee. I remember drinking cafe con leche, “coffee with milk”, at 10 years old. I learned later it was just instant coffee with milk, but it was something I grew up with. Coffee evolved as I got older, for example, I came to Kéan Coffee and had to develop my palate big time. I got to learn about different origins and taste notes, which is important to explain to guests. I technically just grew up on instant coffee, but it was always a staple in my house and will continue to be forever.
What is your favorite part of being a barista and what is something that you didn’t expect about the job?
My favorite part about being a barista is the learning aspect and how much there is to actually learn from seed to cup. There are so many techniques, from the actual farming and roasting, to grinding, to dosing– everything that goes into pulling a great shot. I love coffee so much that I love to learn about all its aspects. I really pay a lot of attention to the quality of the espresso shots I am pulling and how others pull their shots. If a shot is off, I either make it a point to fix it immediately or correct other baristas who may be pulling bad shots. Guests and new baristas can underestimate how much skill and knowledge goes into extracting a great espresso shot, but it’s so important! What I didn’t expect: This was my first service industry job. The coffee and learning aspect part of the job came naturally since I am such a learner and coffee lover. What didn’t come naturally was working with guests and all the different people, ideas, and opinions that come to the coffeehouse. It does require patience and great communication skills when you want to provide a guest with the ultimate coffeehouse experience by meeting their expectations and making sure everyone is happy with their drink order.
What is your favorite coffee to drink and beverage to make?
I love to make a macchiato. They are my favorite and I have my own special twist to make it a “Jessica Special”: Cinnamon on top, not-so-hot, with 2 ristretto shots. I also love to drink a good pour over of an Ethiopia natural coffee. I am also waiting for an awesome Mexico Chiapas coffee to make a return to our offerings table.
What are your passions outside of the coffeehouse?
I am very much a family and friend-oriented person and love spending time with them. My husband and I also have two Boston Terriers that we love to spend time with. They have a lot of energy, they’re very stubborn, but they are also my babies– until we have our own! My husband and I are also hoping to start our own pizza business in Santa Ana within the next couple years, so we will be pouring a lot of energy into that.
I heard that you’ve done a lot of traveling! Where have you traveled to?
I have been to a lot of places in Europe including London, Paris, Amsterdam. I have gone to Costa Rica, Thailand, and a lot of traveling in Mexico. I have been very fortunate to travel as much as I have. My favorite place in the world is Mexico: the culture, the food, it is all wonderful. My husband and I were recently married, and we will actually be going to Mexico City for our honeymoon.
Does your experience with traveling give you a different outlook on coffee? How was coffee different in the places you have traveled?
Since I love coffee, we absolutely made sure to visit a coffee farm in Costa Rica. We went on an excursion in Costa Rica where I was able to see the cherries on the coffee trees, remove the fruit/pulp from the seed, and attempt some old-school roasting in a small manual roaster. It was an awesome experience and a unique experience in that we were able to drink the coffee on the farm where it came from. They made the coffee in almost a pour over fashion with hot water and a cloth filter and it was so delicious. We were in Costa Rica for a week, and it was one of my favorite things we did. Any time we have a Costa Rican coffee, I am sure to make sure I have some. In all the places I’ve gone, I don’t think I’ve ever had bad coffee. In Paris, I always ordered a cappuccino and a butter croissant– a perfect pairing. Anywhere I travel, I try to visit a new coffee shop. I go to Mexico pretty often and when I go to a coffee shop and ask for a drip coffee, most often they can only offer me an Americano! American drip coffee is not something you can find everywhere unless you visit a coffee spot that is more US-oriented or influenced. It’s interesting. However, some of my favorite local coffee spots are Brot Coffee (they have some awesome toasts) and Hopper & Burr in Santa Ana.
Anything else you want to share about your journey?
So when I was working my corporate job, I worked at that company for 12 years. I just became very unhappy with my job and it got me thinking, “when did I feel most happy?” and my mind immediately went to when I worked part time at Kéan Coffee. So I told my now-husband, I think I’m leaving my job to pursue my passion. It was really hard because I was definitely taking a pay cut, but I had to choose between money and my happiness and I can honestly say, I have never been happier. I was becoming very depressed and anxious, but since coming back I haven’t felt any of that anymore. I walk into the coffeehouse and immediately get a burst of serotonin. My team and the people who work here are absolutely the best. Me and some of the other girls who work here recently threw a donation drive in Santa Ana and the Diedrichs (Kean Coffee’s owners), donated coffee, which really made the event special. We just really wanted to give back to our community. I hope what everyone gets from this is that no dream is ever too small or too big. Go after what makes you happy.
Thank you so much, Jessica, for sharing your story with us! It is truly inspiring to go after what makes you happy and have a passion for your craft and community, and it absolutely shines through Jessica’s own experience. Next time you visit the Tustin Coffeehouse, make sure to say hi and maybe even ask for the “Jessica Special.”
Interview conducted and written by Brittany Leslie on August 6th, 2021.