By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kean Coffee
In this week’s Beyond the Beans interview series, we get to know Newport Beach barista, Samantha Brewer! Living up to her last name, Samantha has been brewing coffee and bringing smiles to guest’s faces with her cheerful attitude since 2016. She has recently returned over the summer to Kéan Coffee after finishing up her studies at San Francisco State University and we are so happy to have her strong barista skills back on bar. She tells us about her history with Kéan Coffee and how communication plays a role in the coffee industry.
Being from Newport Beach, were you a Kéan Coffee guest before becoming a barista here?
Yes, I had friends that always wanted to come here for coffee. I’ve definitely spent a lot of time here since the high school I went to is just down the street. It was walking distance, so coming here before or after school was really easy. It was very convenient. I didn’t even drink coffee then! I would get a chai frappe every time.
How has your coffee journey changed from your first day here as a barista to being a Senior Barista?
Well, I started here at Kéan Coffee because I was looking for a job and had already worked in the coffee industry for a while: I worked at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf for about 4 years. I found myself without a job and I knew another Kéan employee, Ike, and he encouraged me to apply here. I had an interview and the job felt so “meant to be”. I have been here [in between school] ever since. I feel like I have a much better attitude about working for Kéan Coffee rather than Coffee Bean because it’s so nice to actually know the owners. Working for a corporation, you feel so disjointed from higher ups and that disconnect makes it hard to communicate issues and it takes even more time for that issue to be resolved. At Kéan Coffee I feel so “heard” and it’s so nice to be connected to the owners—we are able to see them and talk to them! That’s something I really appreciate about this job.
What is your favorite part of working in the morning?
I am a morning person! I love the fast pace of the morning rushes. I know all the morning guests really well. I don’t even think it happened intentionally that I was scheduled for the mornings, but I’ve just always worked mornings and fell into being a “morning person” now. Throughout my time at Kéan I have maybe worked in the afternoon close to 10 times. It is funny to see the difference in the afternoon crowd and the morning crowd: The afternoon tends to walk in more leisurely, not really have a set idea on what they want to try that day, and intend on spending time at the coffeehouse. The morning crowd knows exactly what they want, and they are set to take on the day with their drink. It is really nice to have seen the same regulars over the years I’ve been here. When I returned from school, they made a point to ask me how my studies went and I’m so happy to say, “I did it!”
What’s your favorite drink to make and what do you personally like to drink?
My favorite drink to make is a mocha, from a latte art perspective. The mocha sauce really adds a lot of contrast. I am always working on my swan design; it is absolutely a work in progress. My favorite drink is the daily brew. I like to be well versed in the beans and know what I’m helping people find when they are at the bean table. I really think our drip coffee is the dark horse on the menu. Our espresso is really great but drinking coffee as a drip really helps me get to the core of that origin to pick out what the taste notes are for each coffee. If I want something sweet, I always get a dirty chai. The espresso and chai balance each other out so nicely.
Congratulations on receiving your Bachelor of Arts in Communications!! What drew you to pursuing that degree?
Thank you so much! I was really floundering as a business major- it was uninteresting to me and I wasn’t a fan of the math aspect of it. However, I knew that I had the ability in me and was very committed to the idea of finishing school. I took a semester off and returned to take Interpersonal Communications and loved it! The subject matter was great, it really clicked, and I enjoyed everyone in that class. It was a class that I found actually applied a lot to my life and my current job, and future jobs! I got an A and was really motivated my next few semesters at OCC. Another class I loved was Public Speaking. Communication is so important, and I found that every lesson I learned was so relevant to everyday life. Once I took more classes in Communications and got into the swing of things I really believe “I can do this” and now have my Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from San Francisco State University. It feels so satisfying.
Do you think that communication plays a big role in the coffee industry?
Absolutely. I think it is key. I take a lot of pride in my guest service. I really do my best every day with communicating with our guests. It’s so important to make connections and I feel like I really thrive on register. I’m going to be very happy when our lobby opens, with time, but it’s still nice to have that sense of community that never goes away. It’s great. I think we as baristas are that final step in the communication chain in the coffee industry. It’s so important to educate the guests if they are interested in the coffee because the bean goes on such a long journey before it makes its way to us. Communication really comes in handy there too because it is so necessary to have this knowledge and share it with people when we can.
Speaking of communication, I know several people on our staff are musicians or feel strongly connected to music as their way of communicating. Does music play a role in your life?
I tried to learn piano when I was in college: it was one of the classes I took! It’s like learning a language. I took this class the semester the pandemic hit, and that class just couldn’t make it as an online class. Having access to a piano would definitely help. I almost feel too old to be learning a new instrument, but I guess I would still be interested in learning how to play. I enjoy music though. If anything, I might have an even greater appreciation for music being not as talented as others in it. I enjoy certain stations that are played here at the coffeehouse, specifically the Funk station.
I know you’re a huge fan of the music artist Lana Del Rey and that you met her while working at Kéan Coffee. I bet that was a very special moment for you.
That was honestly one of the best days of my entire life. I feel like I manifested meeting her. She just walked in the door and walked up to my register. I was so speechless… speaking of communication, I was trying to find a way to explain to her and convey to her how much I love her and how much her music has spoken to me but I couldn’t find the words. I think she got the gist, and I’m sure she meets speechless fans all the time, but I talked to her for a brief moment. She took a picture with me. It was such an incredible moment. I really can’t believe it. It made me think I should just make a list of all the musicians I really care about and write them a letter to have on hand at all times to be ready for these moments. She was really sweet.
What else would you like to share about your coffee journey?
Overall, I feel so welcomed back by Martin and Karen, as I have left two separate times to pursue my education. It’s incredible to be a part of the Kéan Coffee family and know that you stay a part of the Kéan Coffee family. I feel like if you put in the work, you are seen and recognized and will always be welcomed back. It’s an incredible feeling to have a team that you know always has your back. Kéan Coffee family will always be around.
Thank you so much, Samantha for sharing your story and the importance of communication with us all. You can count on here to give you the best coffee recommendation and she can’t wait to see you at Kéan Coffee Newport Beach. We are so happy to have her back at the coffeehouse as a part of the Kéan Coffee family. Her hard working and caring attitude shine through every morning and we are so thankful for her.
Interview conducted and written by Brittany Leslie, October 29th, 2020