Editor’s Note: We love and value each of our team members and are so very blessed to have such a devoted and skilled group of individuals that have contributed so much to make Cafe Virtuoso what it is today. Therefore, we thought it was high time that you got to know these amazing people with whom you often likely interact. This week, Iah Gallardo, one of our production team members tells us how coffee became his devoted career path.
| By Iah Gallardo |
I was born in Washington State; Whidbey Island to be exact. I only lived there for four months before my family packed up and moved to Southern California. I don’t know what it is about people from Washington—or maybe it’s just an overly-perpetuated stereotype—but so many of us become utterly obsessed with coffee at some point in our lives. Clearly this also happened to me as I sit here and reflect about how much of my life and career has involved my favorite (and the majority of the world’s favorite) beverage.
I received my bachelor’s from UC Irvine in social sciences as well as in film studies, which both significantly contributed to my world view, but didn’t influence me on my career path as much as I expected it to after graduation. My career in coffee originated from the mindset and necessity to find a job to pay the bills after it sunk in that college was actually over.
A couple of my friends advised me to check out Starbucks due to the reputation it has as a great employer. Sure enough, a few weeks later I was hired and went directly in as an assistant manager. That was my first taste of working in the world of coffee, and since it was such a large company with a multitude of resources, I was able to learn quite a bit of background knowledge and of course coffee best practices. The unexpected side effect, however, was that it also unlocked an unknown drive in me to learn even more about coffee above and beyond the limited company-centric curriculum.
Coffee became not only my job, but it also became my hobby. I began educating myself by reading books, researching other coffee shops, tasting different bean varieties, roast levels, grinding, brewing and everything in between in order to understand the complex science behind every aspect of the industry.
I left Starbucks after some time and began working for Nespresso, which brought me to San Diego from Orange County. It was a very exciting time and I ended up working for the company for close to nine years. As with Starbucks, there were a tremendous amount of resources to learn from, but also similar to Starbucks, it was very understandably and logically centered around what the company needed you to know to ultimately sell its product. After a few years, that wasn’t enough anymore. Corporate life was literally sucking the life out of me and I knew that while coffee was still a huge interest of mine, working for a large company that didn’t afford me much of a work/life balance was not.
I came across Cafe Virtuoso in my habitual coffee research and went to check it out. I was immediately impressed with the service, the product and just the genuine love that seemed to naturally and easily exude from each of the baristas and everyone else that worked there. Laure, the owner was giving a tour, but abruptly stopped to check on me as I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights trying to take it all in. For someone who had been working in the coffee industry for over 10 years, I realized there was so much more to know and learn. The most amazing part is that nobody made me feel bad for asking a question. There was no snobbery or pretentiousness.
At that moment I knew I had to work here. There were no job postings at that time, but I emailed Laurie and not too long after was hired to help with deliveries. Over time, I began to take on additional duties, but the most fulfilling, challenging and exciting aspect of the job is now being part of the roasting team. Everyday there is something new to learn. My next goal is to become a certified SCA barista to help me understand even further the complexities and breadth of knowledge when roasting coffee. I also plan on becoming a trainer so that I can teach others how to roast and continue passing on knowledge of this trade that I love so dearly.
Coffee and service go hand and hand. To serve others and to make their experience memorable brings me tremendous joy and happiness. I actually think that all of us here at Cafe Virtuoso have that in us. The mentality is that we are all chasing perfection. We may never get there completely, but we get as close to it as we can, because we will also never give up. Having this combination of passion and humility toward something will push anyone to always do better and better, and I think that’s what makes us stand out in our craft.
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Having worked in coffee for over ten years, and with the passion and mindset to always strive for perfection, Iah consistently maintains Cafe Virtuoso’s high standards for service and quality products as one the main coffee roasters on the team. When Iah is not roasting coffee, you’ll find him relaxing at the beach, likely reading a book about coffee, or spending time with his pet rabbit, Tanner.