For Bettr Barista Coffee Academy’s Training Manager, Natasha Shariff, coffee is in her blood. Making the career switch from chef to barista, Natasha tells Doyenne.sg about her continuous journey of discovery and realising potential with coffee.
“It takes years of practice to hone our skills and become truly good. The sharpening of this knife requires great attention to detail, persistence and hard work.”
Before becoming a barista, Natasha Shariff studied hospitality management and culinary arts in the United States, then spent many years in various F&B positions with five star hotels and private restaurant groups.
Little did she know that joining the specialty coffee industry was actually a viable career, not until two years ago.
Doyenne: What did you know about coffee before becoming a barista?
Natasha: Coffee has always been in my life, I’d like to think it’s kind of in my blood. My mother spent part of her childhood in a coffee shop as my great grandmother ran a kopitiam.
10 years ago, when I was studying hospitality management and culinary arts in San Francisco, I would frequent the Blue Bottle pop-up on Linden Street.
There, I had “wow” moments at how amazing their pour overs and New Orleans iced coffee were. I was impressed by the quality and care they had for each cup.
As I sought it out on all my travels, I knew I always had a soft spot for good coffee. But it was then that I knew it had a special place in my heart.
I never thought that becoming a barista was a viable career. But it was only a matter of time before I took the plunge to discover it even further.
“As I sought it out on all my travels, I knew I always had a soft spot for good coffee. But it was then that I knew it had a special place in my heart.”
D: Why did you make a career switch?
N: I began my foray into the specialty coffee scene when I joined a restaurant group as a chef in Singapore. In this role, we purveyed our coffee from a local micro roaster, which fuelled my interest for specialty coffee.
I’d spend most of my lunch breaks walking around the city searching for that perfect cup of coffee. I visited every specialty shop I could find to taste their coffee, slowly forming my opinion on what I thought was good or bad.
I made the career switch to be in coffee, because I was quite burnt out from the restaurant job. I was tired of just grinding away every day just for a paycheck. I wanted change, and it had to have a social cause behind it.
Luckily, my friend Zhang Tingjun (currently the Executive Director at Mercy Relief) told me about Bettr Barista. I went for an interview, and the rest was history.
D: What was your most satisfying experience thus far?
N: Recently, I went on a journey to discover and learn things about myself and coffee, which made me a better barista and also more appreciative of the craft.
I competed at the Singapore National Barista Championships 2016 and finished sixth place – it was both satisfying and heart breaking. I made some classic rookie mistakes, but on the flipside, combatted with composure beautifully as a first time competitor.
D: Do you think female baristas face challenges in this industry?
N: There is enough literature out there that women are not equal to men, and the coffee industry is no stranger to this disparity.
Perhaps we females are just afraid of stepping up to the plate. Most women would rather help a male barista succeed versus trying on their own – I would rather help myself and other women succeed.
More women need to realise that they can direct and lead too. It is possible when they put their minds to it.
I do think there should be more equality on this front, in terms of opportunity and how we approach women who are already in coffee.
Take roasting for example; how many women roasters can you name? Why can’t there be more women baristas, roasters, teachers, business owners?
D: So what makes a good barista?
N: Baristas are akin to bartenders – we are craftsmen. It takes years of practice to hone our skills and become truly good. The sharpening of this knife requires great attention to detail, persistence and hard work.
We are a unique genre in the beverage industry because we don’t get the same acclaim that bartenders do, even though the art and skills involved are just as rigorous.
We are also probably the only people in the room who can talk for hours about just how amazing every aspect of coffee is!
At Bettr Barista Coffee Academy, Natasha is changing lives through coffee. Under the Holistic Training Programme, the team works very closely with women and youths at risk. Pop by and try their coffee!