Author: David Kelley
Dreaming of a full or part-time career? There are many options to explore.
As the old saying goes, if you love what you do then you’ll never work a day in your life. Of course, if you love coffee and everything related to it, and you choose one of the various coffee jobs out there, it’ll still be a lot of work—but you’ll definitely enjoy it.
From farming to marketing, a lot goes into making specialty coffee what it is. Most people don’t even realize how many professional careers the coffee industry has to offer beyond traditional barista jobs.
And yes, baristas can make a pretty good living too.
So, if you love coffee and want to turn that love into a living, then keep reading to learn more about the different careers in coffee and what it takes to make it in the industry.
Making it in the Coffee Industry
If you’re looking to jump ship from your current nine to five and break into the coffee industry, the first thing you need to know is that it all comes down to your knowledge on the subject of coffee and any transferable skills you have or are willing to go through training to acquire.
Essentially, you’re going to need to become a subject matter expert on coffee in general as well as the area of the industry you’re trying to corner. This is something that takes time and hands-on experience, including travel.
Sure, you may be a marketing whiz who has a considerable amount of coffee knowledge. However, it takes more than simply understanding the difference between roasts or the various types of specialty coffee drinks to really leave your mark.
Take Gabriel Beauchamp and Eduardo Trabada, the co-owners of Baraka Coffee Co., for example. Eduardo was an art director and Gabriel was an audio engineer, and it took living abroad in Ecuador and elsewhere to really understand the cultural relevance of coffee as well as what goes into making a quality coffee.
One thing they learned that stood out the most is how highly Europeans would speak of Puerto Rican coffee—which is where they were born and raised.
This is what set Barak Coffee into motion as they decided to return to their home and find the best coffee on the island. In turn, they created close relationships with various coffee farmers and leveraged that into small-batch specialty coffee that gives back to the island’s communities.
In other words, you need to be ready and willing to dive passionately into the coffee industry head first.
Coffee Jobs 101: What’s Out There and How to Get Started
There is a wide variety of jobs available to the coffee enthusiast, but all will require both passion for and knowledge of all things coffee.
Average Salary: *Varies by country
Arguably the most important job within the coffee industry is coffee farming itself. After all, you can’t sell, drink, or market coffee if there’s no one growing it.
Unfortunately, while this job takes extensive knowledge of farming, i.e., soil and weather conditions, pest control, and much more, the average salary for the local farmers around the world doesn’t exactly make up for a living wage.
Additionally, there are roughly 11 million hectares of coffee farmland around the world—most of which is located in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, as well as Hawaii and soon, California. In order, the largest coffee-producing locations include Brazil and South East Asia.
In terms of the average yearly coffee salary, it really depends on how many bags of coffee you can produce per hectare and the market prices per pound. Realistically, you’re looking at anywhere between $247 to $2,227 US.
You may be wondering why ‘coffee grower’ is on our list of careers in coffee at all.
The reason for this is to give insight into who is actually laying the foundation for your potential future coffee job. This insight will also help determine how and where your potential coffee company sources its beans, especially since the future of coffee will be reliant on sustainability for both the planet and trade practices.
Average Salary: $58,018
A green buyer’s job involves making important decisions about which beans coffee roasters should purchase to roast, market, and sell. Essentially, the green buyer is expected to travel around the world to sample various coffees and create relationships with the farmers.
While this job may sound like more of a vacation, we can assure you that a lot of hard work is involved. Deciding which coffees to bring back to your roasters isn’t based on taste alone. Buyers also must take into consideration things like pricing, contracts, inventory management, and working with coffee roasters to ensure that the finished product is always consistent.
Being a green coffee buyer also requires an in-depth knowledge of the coffee business, practices, trends, tasting, and administrative tasks such as processing protocols and the associated paperwork.
Lastly, to become a successful green buyer, you’ll need to start learning a few new languages since the job requires meeting with coffee farmers from all over the world.
Professional Coffee Roaster
Average Salary: $45,229
What is it exactly your local coffee roasters do?
They turn those ripe little green beans into magic. Or, in other words, they roast them to perfection.
Of course, roasting is a science—a form of alchemy, if you will. Therefore, it requires a thorough and intimate understanding of the chemistry behind coffee, as not all roasted beans will produce the same or even a worthwhile finished product.
You can expect to spend most days alone as a coffee roaster, usually during the wee hours of the morning, roasting different batches of beans. The job may also require that you are a certified mechanical technician or have an assistant since you’ll be working with a pretty heavy-duty piece of machinery.
Roasting coffee beans demands some serious attention to detail, especially as you’ll be monitoring the temperature, time, coloring, and more to achieve the desired roast level for each batch.
This isn’t a job you can just pick up either. You’ll need some experience in coffee production such as bagging and blending beans post-roast in order to transition into the position. Additionally, you’ll need to become more acquainted with the production process, you’ll need to become an apprentice of a Master Roaster.
Coffee Taster or Cupper
Average Salary: $18,00-$32,000
Coffee is on par with wines, spirits, and craft beers in that it’s a terroir product. That means factors such as soil conditions, topographical and geographical location, and climate all shape the finished product’s flavor profile.
Therefore, just as a sommelier specializes in the sensory examination and evaluation of wine, a coffee taster—or, cupper—is tasked with the job of objectively identifying the characteristics of what makes a particular batch of beans good or bad and everything in between.
As a taster/cupper, you will be required to constantly analyze cups of the same coffees, batch after batch, looking for the presence or absence of a defect. This would also include evaluating the cup’s clarity, body, flavor profiles, aromas, and anything else that pertains to the quality and consistency of each batch.
The highest level of coffee tasters are referred to as Q Graders. Becoming a Q Grader involves going through intense testing of the palate before being awarded the “silver cupping spoon.” Therefore you must be able to correctly identify any and all flavor profiles, beginning with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, as well as any blend components, defects, and be able to pick out a misplaced cup within a batch group.
Moreover, being a taster also means understanding what the coffee growers expect their coffee to taste like and which characteristics buyers are searching for—and understanding how to bridge that gap. This also means you’ll be expected to provide an objective review of each batch of coffee that allows every player within the coffee supply chain to better understand the variables and characteristics of what affects the coffee’s flavor profile.
Here’s a little tip for becoming a coffee taster: Before spending money on the Q grader exam and any associated courses, start tasting!
Think of your palate as a muscle that needs to be conditioned and flexed, and start trying different types of coffee at home—without adding milk, cream, sugar, etc. You’ll also want to start attending coffee tasting events whenever possible to learn more about how tasting works and how to detect the nuances of flavor profiling.
Once you’ve created somewhat of a foundation, check out classes and programs.
If you are a "people person," becoming a skilled barista can be quite rewarding.
Average Salary: $26,932-$30,000
The job of a barista is much more skilled than most people realize. Not only does the job of a barista require extensive knowledge of the different coffee species, varieties, and roasts, but they must also know how to perfectly prepare a large number of specialty and traditional coffee beverages.
On top of it all, you would need to do well in terms of hospitality service, as you’re expected to provide customers with an excellent product and experience. Part of that requires being able to educate customers and answer all of their questions while an even bigger part of that requires dealing with the unruly and caffeine-starved patrons who will likely give you a hard time.
Essentially, wherever a coffee roaster is selling their beans, you can guarantee there’ll be a barista or two there whipping up their creations to serve to the masses. Having said that, you’ll most likely have to spend your first year or two working in the trenches at a Starbucks on your way to becoming a top-level barista at a specialty coffee shop.
However, places like Starbucks offer training and require little to no experience as well as several other notable benefits for their employees.
Coffee Shop Owner or Manager
Average Salary: $45,515-$160,000
Being a coffee shop owner, manager, or assistant manager all require knowledge of coffee as well as the ability to perform administrative tasks. Plus, as a manager, you’ll be expected to know how to manage a staff.
Starting your own coffee shop requires the initial startup capital, as well as narrowing down your coffee niche to specialty coffee roasters or buying into a franchise store. It also includes all the heavy lifting in terms of filling up the shop with the proper equipment and more, and it can take anywhere between one to three years to see a return on your initial investment.
Becoming a coffee store manager, on the other hand, means you have the option of getting hired at an already established venue. In this case, you’ll likely be required to have management experience within the hospitality industry and you’ll be expected to implement strategies that increase sales, motivate the staff, manage operational expenses, minimize the potential for loss, build relationships with green buyers or regular distributors, and onboard new employees.
Coffee Production Jobs
Average Salary: $67,514
Coffee production jobs, namely being a coffee production manager, is more of a middle-man position—but one that comes with a lot of responsibility and pretty decent pay.
Working in coffee production enables you to become a major part of the supply chain. You’ll either be required to manage a production plant and oversee packaging for various coffee roasters as well as shipping and customer service responsibilities.
You may even be responsible for hiring professional coffee roasters, depending on the size of the operations.
Ultimately, it’ll be your job to ensure that production efficiency is maintained throughout each step from receiving the batches of coffee beans to roasting, packaging, and shipping them out—and then dealing with customers and shops who need your support.
Production jobs typically require production experience, as in prior work experience in a supply chain. However, you can probably make your way up to the big seat with a business degree and just the right amount of coffee knowledge.
Jobs in Coffee Sales and Marketing
Average Salary: $60,000-$70,000
As a sales representative in the coffee industry, you’ll need to be prepared to sell a coffee company’s goods or services—whichever specific items you can niche down to.
However, a sales position is more than simply selling specialty coffee to local coffee roasters. You’ll also be required to keep up with the various product trends, build and maintain customer relationships and their associated contracts, and be one step ahead of your competition.
If you already work in sales, then you know the drill. Just be sure to brush up on everything there is to know about coffee.
Marketing—which goes hand in hand with sales—is an umbrella of positions as you can work as a marketing manager, brand manager, graphic designer, copywriter, and so much more.
If you become part of a coffee marketing team, you’ll be in some part responsible for identifying target audiences and appealing to them, as in creating a demand for a coffee company’s products. You’ll also be required to analyze market trends and work with advertising professionals and other professionals within associated fields to develop promotional campaigns and more.
If you already work within the marketing realm, it shouldn’t be too hard to shift your expertise over to specialty coffee.
The possibilities are virtually endless when it comes to careers in coffee. Of course, if you’ve already got a set of transferable skills, then your work is mostly cut out for you.
However, you shouldn’t be intimidated by starting from the bottom in the coffee industry. Coffee itself has a long history of reinvention, and Gabriel and Eduardo aren’t the only ones who left big-time careers to get into the magic bean business.
Be sure to shop Two Bit Rush Coffee Roasters' coffees. We offer a selection of single origin coffees, curated blends, and flavored coffees. Roasted daily and delivered fresh.