The Apprentice: an interview with Bethany Hargrove

Bethany Hargrove

Two years ago I tried to overcome my disappointment with not qualifying for the semifinals at the United States Barista Championship by going to a local latte art throwdown. I was no more fortunate in the throwdown, but I did make a friend in a fellow competitor. Bethany Hargrove, like myself, was a first-time USBC competitor representing a small coffee company. In the short time since, Hargrove has gone on to become an accomplished latte artist, USBC judge, and, most recently, apprentice roaster at San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee. I caught up with Bethany to try to find out what it’s like to transition from retail to production and Portland to San Francisco.   

First of congratulations on your new job! Tell us about what you’re up to at Wrecking Ball.

Thank you! I came to Wrecking Ball to apprentice with Trish Rothgeb. I had few expectations when I started this job, but it’s been amazing. I’ve learned a lot about the back side of coffee business that I knew had to exist but hadn’t really considered before. Plus learning how to roast coffee from someone who is not only very skilled as a roaster and a teacher, but is generally one of the best people you’ll meet– it’s a dream.


Prior to this your career has been focused on the barista side of things. What’s it like to work on the other side of the bar?

It’s different. It’s more different than I expected. I expected a bit of a learning curve, having been a barista for 6 years, but it was steeper than I anticipated. In a cafe, there are about a dozen things that require your vigilance at a time– and that’s just the inanimate objects. I’m a classic extrovert so going from a rotating cast of dozens of people throughout the day to just one or two team members has been challenging, and focusing on one big task at a time instead of chains of small tasks has been new. It’s all good for me. Mono-tasking is a weakness of mine, so packing and roasting is helping me hone that.

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You just moved from one coffee Mecca to another. How do Portland and San Francisco stack up to each other?

It’s kind of like comparing onions to shallots. They’re both great in slightly different ways. San Francisco coffee companies generally have better branding and/or marketing. And yeah, VC money, so everyone’s build outs are incredibly beautiful. Portland coffee companies tend more toward scrappy DIY attitudes, which shows in merchandising, buildouts and hospitality style, which with perspective gives even the busiest Portland cafes kind of a small-town vibe. I miss it.


You’re one of the rare baristas that’s been successful in both barista and latte art competitions. Why do you think there’s so little cross-over?

They’re just such a different vibe. Latte art competition is like rock-paper-scissors– you can watch the other person, and try to figure out what he’s doing so you can counter it, or you can just do your thing and be confident it’ll work out, or not.

Barista competition, on the other hand, is more like a triathlon. You have to train all these different skills and transitions and then put them all together on a specific day. Or maybe it’s more like a play, where you’re the director, producer, and cast, but the script got lost in the rules somewhere and you have to find it.

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Since we first met you at the 2014 USBC in Seattle, we’ve seen you accomplish some incredible things. What advice would you give an up-and-coming barista trying to make this industry their career?

Be kind, be confident, and be yourself. You never know who’s going to be a potential employer or colleague. Remain open minded, because maybe you’ll accomplish your goals a different way than you planned. Don’t worry about other people– walking around with a chip on your shoulder is a great way to burn out. (Been there, almost done that. It’s not worth it.) Don’t be afraid! Opportunities exist– sometimes they don’t look like you expect, and sometimes they’re a fake-out, but nothing ventured, nothing gained and you’re too smart to be afraid!
Photos of Bethany Hargrove by John Letoto.

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