It’s been a couple months since we have had the chance to feature a local barista on the blog, and we’re excited to pick back up again with Chelsea Riggs from Cafe Kindred! I sat down with Chelsea last Saturday as she was ending her shift, and our conversation meandered from coffee to community to government.
Where are you from, and what brought you to Café Kindred?
I’m originally from Northern Virginia. I grew up all over the East Coast, but my family settled in Centreville when I was in third grade. I went to high school and everything out here. I went to California to go to school…I stayed out there for about two years…I was in the Bay Area, living in Oakland and Berkeley. And then I moved back here in 2012 and moved in with some friends in Falls Church, and yeah, I worked at Starbucks for like two years. And then in about February 2015 – yeah, going on 2 years now – I started working as an insurance agent. I got the job from a customer who came in like 3 times a day, and she was like, “Come work for me!” And I hated it. It was absolutely miserable. [. . .] So I started working here in June of last year. I was calling around to different coffee shops…something that I really liked about Starbucks was that they were so big on coffee education, but it made me kind of sad because it’s like now I know all this stuff about coffee – how it tastes and the roasting process – and it could be so much better.
I started working here, and it’s been awesome. They’ve been open – it’ll be two years in April – so it’s super small, very independent, and it’s something that we’re really proud of. We’re really involved with the other local businesses in the area. Jen and Gary, the owners, they’re married. They’re longtime restaurant industry people, super involved with the community. We have people from Bikenetic – they’re a full service bike shop down the street – they come in all the time. We sponsor their bike team. Action Music and CD Cellar – they’re Falls Church staples, they’re institutions in this community – they had their holiday party here, and we’ve got a bunch of vinyl records. A lot of the vintage stereo equipment is on loan from Action.
It’s like there’s a music theme here. What’s that about?
Gary’s Irish, so there’s a lot of British music. They love The Smiths, they love Paul Weller, that sort of sound. We’re also really into punk. We love punk around here, which is kind of what really drew me to it initially. I came in, and I was like, “This is dope.” I come into work, and The Libertines are playing, and I’m like, “This is awesome.”
How long have you been into coffee? Did it start with Starbucks, or was it before then?
It was Starbucks. I didn’t really drink coffee before working there. I was very interested in it, but caffeine just affected me like very strongly since I never really drank it before. It doesn’t do that anymore, sadly.
What have you learned about coffee since coming here?
Vigilante provides our beans here, and they are killer. They’re so fantastic. They work super closely with us. So I came here and I went through their barista training program which was like 6 weeks, pretty intensive, like learning the cupping process…I had never done a cupping before. But I learned how to actually properly steam milk and pull a shot. [. . .] It’s been really cool learning about the process of acquiring the bean, like meeting the farmers…they told us all about their trips down to Central America and Africa, and it was just fascinating. They form relationships with these farmers, and they’re so involved in every aspect of the process. [. . .] It’s just so cool getting to know these people and learn their passion for coffee and what they do.
What is it about Café Kindred that is unique to the DMV coffee scene?
You know, Jen and Gary are super personable. They’re super funny and easy to get along with and really form relationships with their customers. We don’t allow laptops on the weekend, so that’s a pretty big one. We get a lot of families coming in, young kids…there’s a little play place (in the corner as you walk in). We actually started doing a trivia night. My friend Sarah and I write questions and read them out, and it’s super fun. We’re just super community-oriented. We had a really, really successful toy drive over Christmas. I can’t even tell you how many massive bags of toys we collected.
Do you participate in any barista competitions?
Yeah, oh man, I went to my first one like a month ago, and it was the most embarrassing thing ever. So it was at Mom & Pop’s in Mosaic – it was the first Virginia (latte art) throwdown – I had never used their espresso machine, and I’m used to being on the left side of the machine, so I was like, “I have to get to the left side!” And I found out after the fact that the left side is a little bit wonky. But I turned on the steam wand, and I vortexed the milk just straight out of my pitcher. I still had enough to pour a flat white with, which luckily is what we were pouring, but my hands were shaking so bad, and the announcer was like, “That’s a powerful vortex!” and I was just mortified. But it was really fun. Those are just great events. It’s really cool to meet people in the area who are interested in coffee and passionate about it. You know, really network within your industry. It’s cool to win, but it’s really just fun to hang out.
What was it like learning how to do latte art?
I started getting into niche coffee stuff towards the end of my tenure, I guess, at Starbucks. So I started doing free pours. I was doing the worst rosettas ever, but I was so proud of them. [. . .] You know, I was doing it all wrong. It was great for the equipment that I had available to me, but it’s nothing compared to this machine. And I had also been out of practice for like a year and a half…like I had not touched an espresso machine. It was a huge ego blow, I’m not gonna lie.
How’s your latte art now?
It’s better. It’s definitely much better. I’ve been keeping an album and stuff, and I’ve been doing winged tulips, and they’re getting really good. But I’m also super hard on myself. I love it though when you drop it off at someone’s table and they’re like, “It’s so pretty!”
So what do you do in your free time when you’re not here?
I’m in school full-time (NOVA), so that takes up a lot of my time. I’m in undergrad, and I’m doing my associates in Liberal Arts, probably going to major in history or philosophy. I don’t know…I’d like to get into government work. It’s such a nightmare right now. And I can understand why people would want to leave – I totally get that – but I think more can be done by sticking around. I’ll admit that after the election I was like, “I’m leaving the country! I just can’t stay here; I can’t be a part of this. There’s no hope.”
We go off on a tangent about the current political climate…
So with a degree in history or philosophy, how would that translate into working in government?
I’m not quite sure. I’ll probably have to go to grad school. I would like to get an understanding of how we got to this point, and philosophy has always been super interesting to me.
In addition to school, what else do you like to do?
I hang out with my friends a lot. I watch a lot of documentaries (she recommends The 13th on Netflix). I also like kind of trash tv. I really like Penny Dreadful. [. . .] I also really like cross-stitching. That’s something I’ve been taking up a lot lately. Especially, I’ve made a lot of politically themed cross-stitches. Your standard “Not my president” and weird caricatures of Trump, but in thread.
Do you just give them to friends? Do you sell them?
Yeah, I give them to friends. I’ve been thinking…I started this pretty big sampler that I might cut into patches and sell them for like $5 or however much people will pay for them and then match that and donate it to Planned Parenthood.
Is Planned Parenthood something you’re really passionate about?
Yeah, it’s one of those things that if I don’t go into direct government work, I’d love to work at a women’s health nonprofit. You know, it’s just so important that we don’t go back to the way things were before Roe v. Wade. That is absolutely vital.
Last question: What’s your favorite thing to make, and what’s your favorite thing to drink here?
I love the cold brew. I drink that all the time. Our hot coffee is really good, so I drink that as well. Right now we have La Trinidad – it’s a Guatemalan coffee – and it’s killer. The milk chocolate notes are so pronounced in it…and I always see that on a tag, and I’ve done a lot of coffee tastings and stuff and I’m like, “Ok yeah, I see how this could be interpreted as milk chocolate.” But this one, it’s like ridiculously creamy. It’s bananas. I love it.
I like making hot chocolate a lot. That was the first time I poured a successful tulip, and I use the term “successful” very loosely. That and flat whites, and when I can get a cappuccino really down and I can make it look pretty, that is just the most satisfying thing. I just like my job a lot. I like doing everything. I feel really, really lucky. I get to hang out with dope people and participate in my hobby, but it’s my job.
Thanks so much to Chelsea for being our featured barista for the month of February, and we wish her luck at the next latte art throw down! Do you have someone you’d like to nominate to be our next featured barista? Let us know in the comments!