Conversations from the Specialty Coffee Expo: Rachel Apple

Name: Rachel Apple
Company: George Howell Coffee
Position: Quality Control
Based: Boston, Massachusetts
Expos Attended: 2

JJ: What all have you done here at Expo?
RA: A lot of my responsibilities have kind of fallen outside of Expo. Being a roaster in the host city is kind of tricky. A lot of our preparations happen beforehand to make sure that we’re ready for 15,000 coffee professionals to descend on us. That’s where most of my energy has been, making sure that the coffees that were chosen to be served this week were all tasting great roasted and then great brewed in our cafés. Then making sure that our staff knew all the things that they needed to know about the coffees. Once we’ve been here [during the Expo], um, what day is it?

(laughing)

JJ: Today’s Sunday.
RA: Sick! So Wednesday is when everyone started coming in. We had this Honduran delegation come in and it wound up, we thought there was going to be 10 of them, and host them at the roastery, and I think about 35 rolled up. So, trying to be a good host and show them our operation and be really transparent about what happens to the coffee once it gets to us. Some of them hadn’t been to a [consuming] country, or might know of George Howell, but hadn’t gotten to meet him before. We did some tastings of a bunch of different coffees and showed them our facilities and talked a lot about what are our standards for buying and things like that.

Thursday we had an open house at the roastery, an open invitation for anyone to come up and visit, like any of our wholesale accounts or coffee friends.

Friday, we have again, a lot of coffee friends or people that we work with that need help with their booths so we’ve been trying to run around and work booths for different shifts for people. So Cometeer, which actually won one of the Best in Show awards, it’s a recyclable pods company, but there’s no grounds. What they do is brew the coffee and then freeze it—which George Howell is all about freezing coffee—in these completely aluminum pods. So you can pop it in a Keurig machine, and it basically just dilutes as it warms up, so then you’re left with a completely clean empty cup that you can immediately recycle. The way that they brew preserves a lot of the aromas, the sweetness, and the terroir of the coffee, and you don’t get a weird, stale, weak cup. So we’ve been really involved in that company for years, and we’re really proud. This is their release weekend. We’ve been working with them and their booth.

JJ: And you were on a panel, which I attended.
RA: Oh! Yeah! Ever Meister invited me to be on that panel about generational mentorship, kind of how we can better learn from one another and, I haven’t had time to process that yet.

JJ: I think we all haven’t had time to process anything. How long have you been working at George Howell?
RA: I started in July of 2016. I moved to Boston from Oklahoma and I knew that when I moved to Boston I wanted to work for George and thankfully they found a place for me here.

JJ: Do you work closely with George Howell?
RA: (laughing) Yeah. We work together about four days a week. We cup together, we taste together, we look at roast profiles together, we run around on the Expo floor together. He is very influential in my day-to-day.

JJ: For new folks coming into Expo or going to their first tradeshow, what sort of advice would you give to them as they’re exploring their career and different options?
RA: That no matter how scary it might feel, if you see someone that you admire or recognize, just get in there and say hi, introduce yourself.  Our industry is made up of so many gentle giants. You know these people and you know their work, you see them from afar on Instagram, or read about them in books. So many of them are so warm and welcoming, and want everyone to love our community so much. Just go say hi.

I once heard Colleen Anunu speak on a panel when I was brand new to the East Coast. I felt like I had lost my coffee community that I had been building and been a part of in Oklahoma City. Two months later I went to a conference and saw her speak and I had seen her work from afar, she blows me away with all the things that she’s done in coffee and she was like you, “Send someone an email. If you want someone as a mentor, ask them to be your mentor. If you admire someone, or something about someone, ask them about it. If you need advice or are curious about a job that you want and don’t know how to get it, find someone who has it and ask them how they got it.” That was really impactful for me. Then I just went up and talked to her, now I feel fortunate to call her a friend. She’s someone that I extraordinarily admire and is special to me, and she has fostered not only a passion for coffee and to be better in this industry, but interpersonally. Don’t be afraid of perceived barriers.

JJ: Are there any trends that you’re seeing right now within coffee, whether it’s science or interpersonally, that really excite you?
RA: Two things, one of each. One, I feel like people are warming up to the idea of freezing, which is…not intentionally a pun. But, we’re seeing how the beautiful coffees that we source, roast, and brew can be preserved and enjoyed longer term by freezing, which is really exciting to me. Also, I am seeing a lot more diversification and representation of marginalized people and minorities, and I hype for that. This Expo, I mean, there’s still a lot of monochromatic things that go on in coffee in America, but there’s starting to be voices from other demographics being heard and I’m here for all of it.

JJ: Is there anything else you wanted to mention about your experience here at the Expo this year?
RA: It’s kind of what you said earlier, about just getting to meet people you really admire, making new friends, new connections, getting to see how other people experience this community in different ways. Just reaffirming a passion, right?

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Read all of our conversations from the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo.