NAME: Kiana Cruz
YEARS ROASTING: 2 Years
MACHINES: Loring Kestrel 35s, San Franciscan 75, Petroncini 7.5kilo
COMPANY: CoRo Coffee Room, Berkeley, CA
Kindness is difficult. It requires both a lightness of being and a deepness of understanding that can be difficult, especially in customer service situations where you're often dealing with difficult people or you might not know what's happening around you at all times. Speaking to Kiana Cruz, who is December's Matchbook Coffee Roaster, you feel this emanating sense of lightness from her and yet also a deep, deep capacity for kindness.
It's kind of difficult to describe what talking to Kiana is like—but we’ll take a stab at it. It's like being comforted and soothed in one way, but to feel genuine and deep passion in another. Her passion is spoken quietly but rings loudly; it comes through in thoughtful ideas and a willingness to be sensitive and empathetic.
Kiana is a barista in the Coffee Room at Bay Area Co-Roasters (CoRo for short), and fell into coffee like many baristas do. She was 16 when she took her first job at Starbucks, stayed there for four years, went to school, and then decided to go back into coffee. She cites her inquisitiveness as one of the reasons that she's stayed so invested in coffee. “I was naturally curious as a child, so anything I was interested in, I tried to go for it and I think that still resonates with me,” she shares, noting that if she finds something compelling, she won’t just scratch at the surface. “It's all or nothing for me.” Before coffee, her curiosity first led her towards dancing, which she spent the formative years of her life doing. “I did synchronized ice dancing for a number of years—that’s a fun piece of random knowledge about me.”
After leaving school and working a few coffee jobs, Kiana landed at Paramo Coffee in San Francisco, where she met one of her mentors, Gabe Boscana (who was our featured roaster in October). After she was offered a managerial role, Kiana says that Gabe was one of the first people to see past her insecurities and into her potential. “At that moment in my life I felt like I couldn’t do this…I felt like I didn’t know enough and questioning myself,” she says. “Gabe acknowledged my struggle—it was the first time I ever reached out to someone and he gave me the time of day and advised me through the process as I tried to break down the barriers of thinking I wasn’t good enough.” She then stops, and thinks for a moment. “It’s probably the single biggest act of kindness that’s kept me in the industry.”
After Paramo, Kiana moved to Equator Coffee, where she started her roasting career. However, things started out kind of rocky. “I was pretty much thrown into production roasting immediately,” she says. “The first couple of months of roasting I thought I’d never be able to do it.” She cites Ant Walach, another former MCP roaster from October 2017), as a guiding light for her during those tough months. “I felt like I was just going through the motions, and Ant really helped me learn.”
Kindness is inexorably tied into Kiana’s coffee career. She talks about her anxiety, which has sometimes clouded her passion and drive for coffee, and how Gabe and Ant’s ability to see through it transformed her coffee career. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t still struggle. “A lot of people remind me that I’m not my anxiety. I am much more nuanced beyond that—and sometimes I forget and people have to tell me.”
Perhaps this is why kindness is so important to Kiana. The folks around her gave Kiana the confidence and assurance to keep going in coffee, and she strives to do that for others everyday—it’s part of the reason she returned to barista work and being behind the bar after her time at Equator. “I missed being around people and serving something I truly love,” she shares. “I really missed being front facing and providing something for people.”
As we wrap up our conversation, I was reminded of another coffee professional who speaks about kindness—Umeko Motoyoshi, VP of Coffee for Sudden Coffee and creator of umeshiso.com. Because one of the reasons kindness is difficult is because it’s talked about as an simplistically inherent trait; the words ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ are often used interchangeably and kindness is associated with small gestures like opening a door or picking up the check. But Umeko one said something about kindness that I had to look up after this interview: “I think of kindness as a skillset. It’s not, for me, an effortless state of being or something that you just achieve and then say, ‘OK, I’m kind now.’ It means the ongoing work and action of considering the emotional impact of your decisions.”
Kiana said something similar: “Kindness is about seeing the humanity in people. I always hope that the love and passion emanates through me when I serve. I believe kind actions can speak volumes. I always hope people feel that with me, and that they feel embraced.” This is why kindness can be difficult—it’s different in every situation, and it’s not a trait as much as a way of seeing the world. When you drink Kiana’s coffee, which is from Rwanda and is reminiscent of baking spices and caramel (did we mention it’s perfect for the holidays and pretty much just perfect whenever?!!?) we hope you feel embraced and loved. Maybe you’ll share a cup with a colleague or a co-worker and find a moment to connect. You’re part of the Matchbook family now, friend, and we’re gonna love you no matter what.