NAME: Juliet Han
YEARS ROASTING: 9 Years
MACHINES: Probat GG 75, Loring Kestrel S35, Gothat 44kg
COMPANY: Blue Bottle Coffee, Oakland, CA
Being a part of Matchbook can sort of seem like a natural extension of a coffee roaster’s day-to-day. In a nutshell, our featured roasters do what most of them do dozens of times a day—and that’s roast coffee.
It wasn’t until we talked to Juliet Han, our featured roaster for the month of February, that we saw just how amazing it is that roasters even agree to do this, let alone share beautiful, intensely personal stories with all the folks at home drinking their coffees. Really, we’re asking people to share a part of themselves, and that can be really daunting. “First impressions of me can be awkward, and to be honest, I almost said no to this project because it would mean attention on myself and I kind of suck at that.”
We’re thrilled Juliet said yes to working with us, and we’re doubly thrilled to share her coffee. Juliet is the head roaster for Blue Bottle in Oakland, Calif., and that means she oversees and is responsible for a lot of coffee. “A big chunk of my job includes training apprentice roasters from the ground up (the most rewarding and challenging part of my job) and communicating with QC and roasters about coffee profiles,” she shares.
Juliet is part of a special group of coffee folks: the people who call murky coffee their first barista home. In the early 2000’s, only a handful of coffeeshops were pushing the envelope and championing the cause of specialty coffee, and there’s something in the water at murky, located in Washington, D.C. and shut down in 2009, that pretty much made everyone a devoted coffee professional (alumni include coffee heroes like Katie Cargulio and Reggie Elliott). “I met some of my closest friends there (co-workers and customers), started developing a palate for coffee, and quickly learned that I needed a job where I was on my feet and had a sense of urgency, which is really important when it comes to working in production (roasting).”
Before that, Juliet imagined she’d be working in music. “Pre-coffee, I wanted to work in the music industry. Not as a musician (I studied music in college and was a band geek since elementary school, but had a fear of performing in front of people), but wanted to work in music policy. I worked at music venues for years (I was a bouncer as well as a merch girl), and played with the idea of law school,” she shares.
Juliet’s roasting style is a wrestling of the differences between what the heart and the mind want. When she first receives a coffee, she’s immediately methodical and tries to gather as much information as she can. “With roasting, especially at a company that is growing with multiple roasters to teach and tasters to answer to, my approach is ask as many questions as possible, and then interpret that to the roast,” she shares. “If green info is available, and if we can have a sample roast done to taste (all the perks of working at a bigger company), I look that over, then where the coffee is going on the menu, write notes down on a post it or notebook (I'm big on writing stuff down), and then go for it.”
A lot of this approach comes from being in school—she’s studying up for a degree in food science, and she’s compelled to ask questions about the world around her. “I ask so many questions...in school taking a bunch of science courses, I feel like you learn a bunch of laws and theories that lead up to more questions.”
Juliet uses this method when teaching new roasters (a big part of her job). “…in roasting, it's asking the roaster more questions so that they come up with a conclusion of their own,” she shares. “This way is very confusing but can also be empowering once they have their results (aka, end of roast, and/or tasting the coffee). Being a 'lead roaster,' I can't be emotional or teach what my gut is saying, I have to be more methodical and have a more streamlined method. And I think this way of approach goes very personal into my life as I think about wanting to go to grad school and eventually (hopefully) becoming a Q Instructor.”
But then there’s the heart, which Juliet admits she struggles with. “I am an emotional, heart driven person; then I get upset by that, and always try to do "the logical" thing and in the end, it's my heart (gut) that wins over things,” she shares. She also does something we bet a lot of roasters do as well: “I also talk to myself, the roaster a lot under my breath, do I seem silly yet?”
And for those of you wondering what a former music industry type listens to: “I'm a top 40s girl mostly, I just need a good beat in the background to help me with work or studying. Guilty pleasure: playing Johnny Cash first thing when I have to open and I know the other roaster (the only other roaster) who is into him as well and it will last for an hour or so before someone changes it,” Juliet says, “Weird very personal habit: Playing Drake's "Take Care" on repeat when I have to really focus on studying for a long period of time.”
As funny as some of these personal details are, they’re also powerful and illuminating, and remind us here at Matchbook that to truly put yourself out there is challenging and scary. We can’t help but think of the other roasters and coffee professionals who may feel shy or hesitant to share their work with others—and how we can do better to create space for folks to share and be vulnerable. This won’t change overnight, but we hope Juliet inspires you to push a little beyond your comfort zone, and know that your unique story will resonate with others. We know this one will.