At first glance, one might imagine Baratza to be just a simple coffee grinder manufacturer. If you’ve been around coffee on any level – from home brewer to enthusiast to barista to cafe owner, you already know the Baratza name — they’re everywhere. But those in the know have discovered there’s more than meets the eye with this coffee grinder manufacturer. The World AeroPress Championship has partnered with the wonderful folks at Baratza, and we wanted to tell you all about them — particularly one woman who not only acts as the Marketing Director, but carries much of the heart and soul of the company by connecting with the coffee community. Here we introduce you to Joyce Klassen.
When we asked Joyce to tell us what her job title was, she put it into air quotes. “I’m technically the ‘Marketing Manager’ but that’s such a corporate title and we’re so not corporate,” she said. “A lot of what I do is community work. I’m the eyes and the ears of Baratza. I’m paying attention to how we as a company listen and pay attention to what our customers are doing, what they want, and what’s going on in the industry.”
About 5 years ago, after having spent portions of her career in software and HR Consulting, Joyce found herself talking with a friend (co-founder Kyra Kennedy) about helping with a coffee catering project, and it resulted in Baratza asking her to be in a part time position, focusing on social media, just as social media was exploding. As the company has grown, her role there grew with it. “When I say I’m ‘Marketing’ I have no background in that — my job has evolved and I’m here to support our community. Nothing is scripted. That’s the great thing about Baratza — If we’re getting the message across and supporting our customers, we know we’re doing a good job,” she told us. “We don’t sweat the small stuff. We aren’t getting caught up with the ‘right’ wording and logo placement — we aren’t a marketing machine — thank God!”
Baratza was co-founded by Kyle Anderson (Chief Engineer and Product Designer) and Kyra Kennedy (Operations). “One of the cool things about us is that we’re a fairly virtually run company,” Joyce explained. She lives in the Bay area and works from home. Kyra also works from home in a neighboring town near the Bay, and Kyle’s home in Bellevue, Washington serves as the Seattle-area office where they also have warehouse space. “The fact that we’re a virtual company works for everybody. We’re small, yet we design, manufacture, support, and run a grinder company on an international level without losing sight of who we are. Kyle and Kira have been great leaders in setting an example of a great work life and style.” Joyce continued to tell us about Baratza’s company values: “We don’t want to operate like a big corporate company. I love that this lends itself to being able to focus on family and travel. I don’t have to ‘show up’ anywhere at a certain time, I just have to do my job well.”
We were excited to find out what her homelife consists of, and it’s no wonder that Joyce has a passion for travel, food, and wine. Joyce grew up in Ireland (we’ve been lucky to hear her lilting, Irish accent throughout this interview and our time working together), and prior to her life in the Bay area, she has lived in London, Australia, and with her husband and children in Chicago. “We love the Bay area. It has everything: climate, food, coffee, wine. The ocean, the mountains, it just has so much going on,” she told us. “I’m very into food and things that have to do with taste.” We asked what she does outside of work, and she laughed, “I like to tell people my sport is cooking and eating.” She went on to list all the blessings of middle-California — The Farmer’s Markets, the access to fresh produce year-round, and it being a diverse melting pot of so many types of people. “I sometimes forget what a bubble we live in, but I feel fortunate to live in this bubble. It’s a great place to raise a family. I like to tell my kids ‘we’re on an adventure,’ and to be open to the possibilities of what life hands us. That’s how I ended up here.”
Joyce told us more about the food. She loves cooking and the produce she has available to her lends itself to experimentation and being able to try new and inventive recipes all the time. “We had friends visit from Ireland and I hosted a big party – for snacking I bought oceans of tomatoes, big, small, heirloom…I simply drizzled them with olive oil, basil and sea salt and they’re still talking about it.” One of her recent favorite cookbook authors is Yotam Ottolenghi, out of the UK. “My theme right now is the Otto approach. He serves mostly vegetarian – his partner is Israeli and he uses a lot of fantastic spices and yogurt.” We could tell we’d hit a sweet spot when Joyce rattled off a recipe she’d recently created on her own using broccoli rabe, spring garlic, Persian lime curry rub, leg of lamb, Swiss chard, sumac, and kefir.
“I love nothing more than having a huge party and watching people meet new people and engaging in great conversations, while eating great food and drinking great wine!” Joyce went on enthusiastically. “People who are into coffee are also into food and wine. There is a great crossover of interests. We travel quite a bit and always ask our sellers where we should be eating. We get all these recommendations — that’s one thing I love about coffee: Wherever you are, there’s a community of likeminded people.”
Having learned so much about Joyce and what makes her tick, we had to ask her about AeroPress competitions and what it means to be supporting our endeavors. “What we love about the WAC’s is that it’s the freeform of a really simple product that pulls both coffee professionals and enthusiasts onto a level playing field. That isn’t something available with Barista Championships and Brewers Cup,” Joyce explained with ease. “We [Baratza] also go with our own flow in the industry, and we do what feels right for our customers. We’ve always observed people’s enthusiasm for how approachable AeroPress is. And people who use AeroPress to brew also use Baratza to grind, so we go hand in hand.” Joyce also explained co-founders Kyle and Kyra have also been longtime friends of [AeroPress Inventor] Alan Adler and his family, and noted the similarities between AeroPress and Baratza. “We like to say wherever you are in your journey we have a grinder for you. You can also journey with an AeroPress. Some start with the receipe Alan gives in the package, and many grow and change how they go about brewing with it as they travel in their coffee journey.”
Another way AeroPress and Baratza complement each other, is the niche that each have found within the specialty coffee industry. “Over the last 5 years we’ve become the home grinder of choice of baristas, roasters, and cafe [owners]. That’s why we support coffee competitions — it’s our way of giving back to those who have helped build our brand and who do that on a daily basis. Sure, we’re sold in Crate & Barrel and Williams Sonoma, but it’s the smaller companies in specialty coffee who recommend us to customers every day,” Joyce explained. Baratza is also listening to what specialty coffee wants. Joyce gave a few examples: “We became the first grinder to grind by weight, by talking to baristas, roasters, and cafe owners. Cafes also started asking us for this feature for a commercial grade grinder, which is why we developed the Forte.” She also put a strong emphasis on service that Baratza provides. “You can’t open up other grinders – [if they break] they go into a landfill. But Baratza has customers with 10 year old grinders who are able to use our troubleshooting guides and availability of parts if there is a need for repair.” (http://www.baratza.com/dont-dump-it-fix-it/)
Baratza also has a strong concern for recognizing challenges faced by women working in coffee at origin. “Kyra and I especially have an interest in supporting IWCA, Grounds For Health, and Cafe Feminino.” Joyce told us. “It’s so easy to say ‘oh yea, we do grinders’ and then realize you’re just a small part of this massive industry — our lives are so different from what women deal with in other parts of the world. We understand where women are involved in any aspect of the growing of the community where they are, things tend to be successful and focused, so we like to look at what we can to do help that growth.”
Hopefully now you’ve gotten to see just a slice of Baratza and Joyce Klassen — and why we recognize there’s more to this grinder company than meets the eye.
Café Feminino http://www.coffeecan.org
IWCA Women in Coffee http://www.womenincoffee.org
Grounds for Health http://www.groundsforhealth.org