By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kean Coffee
This week we were able to sit down and talk with Kean Coffee Tustin senior barista and shift lead, Monica Tenorio. As a staff leader, local activist, mom, and student, Monica is constantly impressing us with her work ethic and the amazing attitude that she brings to the team and our guests each day she is at the coffeehouse.
What is your position and how long have you worked for Kean Coffee?
I am a senior barista and shift lead and I have been working at Kean Coffee for 4 years now!
What is your personal history with coffee? Did you know much about coffee before working with us?
This is my first job working in coffee and introduction to the coffee world. Before working here, I didn’t even know how to grind coffee. I never drank it. I just grew up drinking homemade teas that my parents made. Coffee was something my palate had to get used to and when I first started drinking coffee, I realized I liked bolder coffees, which came as a surprise to me: They’re so flavorful and rich compared to something that is more light and fruity. I stick to the earthy taste notes and sandalwood notes. I still surprise myself with the coffees I end up being really drawn to. I remember when training at the Roastery, it was so crazy to see all the science and exactness that goes into espresso, importance of the crema and extraction of the shot, and the chemistry of milk steaming. There are so many variables that go into espresso that you wouldn’t know were significant until working behind the bar. I love espresso now. When I clock in, the first thing I do is grab an espresso and little bit of almond milk and chug it like water.
My crew. Honestly, the people that work here really make up a big part of why I love working here so much. I’ve never worked in a place where everyone is so united and care so much about one another. Even when we leave work at night, we reach out to each other to see if we made it home safe, things like that. We all play a significant role in each other’s lives, especially now. When anything happens to my coworkers, I get emotional because they are like family to me. I don’t want anything bad to happen to them. During this pandemic we have gotten even stronger and if it weren’t for Kean Coffee I probably would have been depressed. I consider myself a very empathetic and emotional person, so I wasn’t sure how the pandemic was going to affect me, but my team has really given me strength and I have found strength in myself that I didn’t know I had. I thank my team for that. We always greet each other with kindness and love.
What is your coffeehouse essential and coffeehouse treat?
My essential and treat is a hot, small, “dirty” (meaning it has espresso added to it) chai with almond milk and a little bit of cardamom.
When you are not working at the coffeehouse, I know you have been taking classes. What are you studying at school?
I am studying Environmental Studies because I want to do conservation work. I am also into law, so I think I will be combining that in my future to be an advocate for areas in the environment that people want to destroy. I get inspired every day by watching how people treat our Earth and especially when I see those trying to desecrate our sacred water and land. Earth provides for us and the least we can do is respect and care for her. As a parent, this is a concern for me: I want my son to be able to enjoy the trees and the mountains and swim in a healthy ocean. When he was born, I saw the world differently and wanted to do my part in creating a better future for him. I speak up for those who don’t have a voice, including the Earth. I attend marches. I started getting involved in social and political movements that are important to me, such as getting children out of ICE’s cages. It’s hard to not overwork myself but I try to use every moment I can wisely to focus on school while also focusing on my son and his education to make sure he succeeds in school as well and doesn’t fall behind.
I have also heard you know how to fire dance! When did you first get into that? Tell us more about your hobby?
I like to call it “flowing” rather than dancing. I have been doing it for about 5 years and have been a part of two different conclaves. A conclave is what you would call a group of fire dancers. I spin the staff and the poi (poi involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns). This first got introduced to me through a group of friends. When I first saw someone spinning poi, I thought it was mesmerizing! The first time I ever spun, it took control of me and became something that I wanted to do every day. I imagine the feeling would be similar to what surfers feel. It’s like the same sound too: the waves, the wind, the fire. It’s just you and the fire. You don’t see anyone else. It’s a really nice way to get away. Another hobby I have is camping and I love to do that any time I am free. Sequoia is not too far from us!
What kind of music do you like, and have you attended music festivals?
I love camping at festivals. There is something awesome about waking up to the sound of a bass. I think my top two favorite festivals are Burning Man and Desert Daze. I like all types of music, but I haven’t ever been able to get into country music. I have two favorite artists: Pink Floyd and Manu Chau. Manu Chau is world music, very reggae and ska inspired. He can sing in 7 different languages and he has cool political songs. I got to see him live once and it blew my mind!
This is my favorite song by Manu Chau, Primavera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBLLU-cC0b0
Burning Man was awesome because the two times I got to go, 2016 and 2017, I got to go as a performer. We performed right before the main act, the burning of the “man”. There were some of the best conclaves from all over the world performing. We performed in front of almost 75,000 people.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and how did you use it?
Be patient with yourself. Don’t feel overwhelmed if you haven’t accomplished something by a certain point in your life, or if you haven’t gotten exactly to where you want to be. Everything comes at its own pace and when the time is right.
Thank you so much for a wonderful interview, Monica! Monica has a kind and adventurous spirit and truly treats the Kean Coffee Tustin team like family and creates a loving atmosphere for our staff and guests. We are proud to have someone on our team that is so environmentally and socially conscious and helping us remember to treat our Earth well, as Earth provides for us in return. At Kean Coffee, we strive to reduce our environmental impact in a variety of ways, and support the cause by offering Organic, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance certified coffees.
Interview conducted and written by Brittany Leslie, February 18thth, 2021.