Kelley Bader: The Sprudge Twenty Interview


Welcome to The Sprudge Twenty Interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2022 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty.

“I nominate Kelley Bader who has fought to get everyone in my coffee shop PPE, stood up to the management, taught us about unions and how to get organized, and showed us how working together is better than working separately. We were all fired from our jobs and the coffee shop closed down but Kelley helped us find our voice, and helped us keep going. We have since started our own coffee cooperative called Slow Bloom and he has been integral to that operation. He helped find contractors, he worked with the city, he worked with lawyers for our labor case, he helped find our equipment all while working a teaching job and going to school. He is a true gem and should be honored as such. We really couldn’t have done this without him. He lights up the cafe with his presence and he encourages us all with his resolve, resilience, and ingenuity. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you how amazing he is.”

Nominated by Jina Imani

Do you have a coffee-making ritual? 

So in my own time I like to wake up and make a 225g pour over with a Kalita 155. Just a small cup. A big part of the ritual is going to sleep the night before thinking about the coffee I’m going to drink in the morning. The second best part is drinking the coffee.

What is the quality you like best about coffee?

If we’re talking about quality in terms of flavor and sensory experience, I’m a big fan of high acidity, and a big fan of coffees from Kenya in particular. But if we’re talking more about abstract qualities of coffee it’s the way coffee grips onto memories so well. Memories of old friends and new friends, of traveling to new places, of waking up at unholy hours of the night to something you’re definitely going to regret, of the people you serve and serve alongside with, of bonding with those same people over how terrible a small few of the aforementioned customers were to you, of bad coffee in good diners while you make embarrassing phone calls to the love of your life, of the way your grandfather still drinks coffee with anisette and how you’d never touch the stuff let alone smell it, and how it’s just water and seeds at the end of the day but you still find it in every corner of your favorite memories.

Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.

At the moment I’d have to say Dopesmoker by Sleep.

Do you have a favorite item of clothing to make coffee in?

I have these painters pants that I actually bought for painting, but they’ve since become my roasting pants because they make me feel like I’m really getting down to business. And I like to feel that way when I brew coffee as well.

What was the last cup of coffee you enjoyed?

As of writing this right now, I enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee from my school’s vending machine halfway through a seminar. It was a can of something hazelnut flavored. But prior to that I’ve been enjoying some coffee from Luminous we’ve had at our shop. It was a passion fruit carbonic maceration honey process from Colombia that tasted more like Sunny Delight than coffee, which is cool because I’m coming to suspect that no one actually likes the flavor of coffee.

What is your idea of coffee happiness?

Good wages and collective worker power. Good coffee would be nice too.

What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?

I think we have a lot of performance in coffee right now that’s super well-meaning, but it comes from trying to point out or speak to large global issues that we rarely have the power to do something about on the same scale that we witness it happening on. I don’t want to reduce everything to the totalizing, ubiquity of late-stage capitalism, but I think we all feel the squeeze of it on various intersecting levels and know that there’s little to do about it aside from social media posting UNTIL we get organized and get serious about doing something on a scale that’s accessible to us.

For example, I can’t make coffee environmentally or ethically sustainable, but we in our city can build up worker power where there’s a real shot at making a more sustainable shop in a specific, localized time and place that could develop into a tool that builds more organized power in more places in the world until we see more and more of a reality that is sustainable for real people and not just the very few people who have been calling the shots.

So lately I’ve been considering, when we spam buzzwords like that perhaps we should be asking, what are we actually trying to sustain and for who? Because all of this is already not sustainable for the majority of people working on the bottom end. And maybe it’s good that we don’t sustain what we currently have if that’s the case. All that to say, there’s not a single issue to care more or less about; from environmental sustainability, to racial, gender, and sexual equity and representation, to ending the exploitation all the way up and down the chain, they can only be addressed if and when we get serious about organizing workers and get over thinking that what we tell people we think or care about is more important than what we do. And I don’t mean that as a critique of discourse; I think language is powerful and important, it sways our world in a lot of ways we take for granted. But if it isn’t getting more people real food on their tables and roofs over their heads I think we can switch it up.

Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your life?

Years ago I was working at a roaster in town, a very well loved second-wave type of shop. More of a cafe with sandwiches and dark, “I like my coffee old-fashioned” coffee. Which isn’t to say it was bad, I loved the coffee. But the other new roaster in town was pushing into third wave, was frequently referred to as the hipster spot that really only had a couple years in it. Needless to say, it had a bad rep at the shop I was at. My bosses saw it as stuck up and I can’t say they were wrong. I never went there because I thought I might get fired, but one day someone dropped off a bag of some natural Panamanian coffee, Elida Estate I think. We brewed it just to see and I had this moment of deep regret and betrayal that my shop had lied to me about the coffee at this shop. It was a pretty straightforward fruit bomb of a coffee, but I’d never had anything actually taste like the tasting notes on the bag in my life. Until that point I had never had anything like it before, it was incredible. Two months later I got hired there and then seven years later I organized a union with my coworkers and now it’s gone.

If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?

I think green buying would be really fun, I love to travel and taste coffee and I’d love to go to origin regularly as part of my job. But honestly, I could work any job in coffee as long as there’s no boss.

Who are your coffee heroes?

Chris and Becca at The Tulip House in Redlands CA, roasting and brewing literally the best coffee you’ve never heard of.

If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Probably Anthony Bourdain. I’ve never noticed him talking about coffee in writing or in any of his TV series, which isn’t to say that he hasn’t, but I’d like to hear what he has to say about it. I think he’d have a lot to say about this whole specialty coffee world we got.

Do you have any coffee mentors?

Roasters that have helped me a lot: my buddy Robb at Windmill Coffee and Noah at Chapman. But my lords and saviors are now and always Chris and Becca at the Tulip House in Redlands, CA (goats only).

What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?

That none of this is real. Your boss pushing you to sell a $9 anaerobic coffee to someone who clearly doesn’t know or care what that means and just wants a $2 drip, the coffee bro coming in to flex on you because your Acaia Pearl can’t play Snake 2 on it and his can, the other bro who makes it a point to ask you about your TDS like either of us really knows what thats actually all about, the SCA barista comp your general manager is making you pull doubles for so they can train and dump thousands of dollars from the money you made for your company into a signature bev that no one but paid judges are going to even like. It’s all pretend, and that’s totally fine. It’s fun to pretend, I do it in coffee all the time. TDS is a cool metric. For fun. But pretending stuff that’s not important is really important doesn’t pay the rent for real people working in coffee and it often takes the spotlight away from what’s really going on, which is people struggling to make ends meet.

Where do you see yourself in 2042?

I hope I am working in coffee on some level, I hope I’m teaching nearby, I hope I have the same community of friends I’ve had for the last ten years, and I hope I’m still in Redlands, CA and my city is full of more worker-owned cooperatives that have livable wages and strong worker power.

The Sprudge Twenty Interviews are presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2022 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty.




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