Cole McBride calls himself an accidental coffee professional.

The award-winning barista didn’t intend to get into the coffee industry, but that’s what happened when he and a friend took a road trip from Nashville to Seattle in the early 2000s. The car broke down in Idaho, so they continued west on a bus.

McBride loved Seattle and got a job in a coffee shop. Even though he didn’t know it yet, his c career in caffeine was underway.

“I really discovered I had a passion for hospitality and service,” says the now 34-year-old, who focused on being the best barista he could be. He even built his own coffee lab at home.

McBride began participating in national and international barista competitions. In 2018, he won the United States Barista Championship, a 15-minute competition where the barista must prepare and serve espressos and cappuccinos, as well as a personally designed signature beverage for four sensory judges.

The ultimate unifier

McBride knows coffee can bring people together and enjoys connecting with his customers.

He has seen strangers become friends over coffee, and has even attended over 20 weddings of couples who met in coffeeshops.

While a cup of coffee is a small luxury, it has big rewards.

He says we need to start viewing these roles not as part-time jobs but as a respected career option.

“For how much happiness that $5-to-$6 can bring a person, I think it’s a really magical thing,” he said.

Adapting to changing preferences

McBride starts his day with a 16-ounce drip coffee. He also drinks espresso every day.

“I have a really fond passion for espresso; it’s just really magical,” he said. “It’s so hard to make it perfect and repeat it to make it the way I would like it to be. It’s so challenging.”

Back when he started as a barista, customers had really long, modified orders like you’d see on TV shows like “Friends” or “Frasier.” 

Instead of these complicated orders, the current trend revolves around milk alternatives.

“Three years ago, everyone wanted almond milk, now they want oat milk,” said McBride.

Baristas are getting creative in designing their own signature drinks too, making a cocktail-style coffee that doesn’t contain alcohol.

One of McBride’s signature drinks is an “espresso old fashioned,” which has bitters, fresh cherries and citrus and is served over ice. 

“One of the things that’s great about coffee is there are a million different styles and none of them are right or wrong,” he said.

Everyone’s order can be different.

“It’s totally OK with people having their coffee anyway they like it,” McBride added.

Making a career in coffee

He loves his industry, but says that one aspect is still challenging.

“I’ve been doing this for 16 years, I won the United States Barista Championship and every day someone asks me what I’m studying in school,” said McBride. “I’ve done my masters in coffee essentially and every day someone asks me what I’m going to do when I grow up.”

He says we need to start viewing these roles not as part-time jobs but as a respected career option.