Welcome to The Sprudge Twenty Interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2019 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty.

Nominated by Kara Herman and Ben Lytle

Haley Lytle is a co-founder at Cryptozoology, a quality-focused multi-roaster coffee bar located in Denton, Texas. Lytle is one of several nominees featured for their exemplary expression of service and hospitality in a specialty coffee environment. A working barista and entrepreneur, Lytle’s work in coffee helps advance the culture in ways large and small. Here’s more from a nominating essay by Kara Herman:

“Haley specifically thrives on efficiency and makes it an art. She is able to communicate with customers while knocking out an order before the customer even walks away from the bar. (Almost every time!)… She has been incredibly encouraging and inspiring to me. I am only a few months into joining the coffee community so I am very glad to be learning from her… She makes sure that our team is efficient, happy, learning, and exhibiting the best customer experience possible. She has a gentle way of teaching and showing me how to do certain tasks better and explaining why it will make an overall difference in what we are doing. High-quality drinks and exceptional customer service are our goals and she makes sure it happens while having a lot of fun… She goes above and beyond but has no idea.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

What issue in coffee do you care about most?

I care about hospitality being restored because I feel like it became the norm for baristas to have a mean edge. What seemed to manifest from that was a lack of making customers feel welcome and being given the opportunity to fall in love with coffee, whether your thing is vanilla iced lattes or pour-overs. I would also love to see more racial diversity in the coffee industry because the market still seems to be directed toward a certain kind of person who looks one way, knows certain things, and is well-spoken in English.

What cause or element in coffee drives you?

I love getting to serve people and make them feel known. We love to memorize people’s names to further dignify them as real people. I definitely love coffee itself and the nuances there, but it’s amazing to see how customers can feel your warmth and love translated even when you’re standing on one side of the bar. The fact that we can change the atmosphere is magical to me.

What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?

Again, I would say that service can be overlooked a lot. A lot of baristas don’t know how to simultaneously be personal, efficient, and knowledgeable about their profession. This includes being passionate or mindful about coffee beverages of all types, making every kind of drink the best drink it can be, including flavored lattes that have been criticized as uncool. It also includes being hospitable to people that are new to coffee, speak a totally different language, are disabled in some way or who don’t care to be passionate about coffee the way you are (and this includes your own baristas who don’t want to make coffee their career). I think we have a secret set of things we expect customers and baristas to know without actually being patient and kind in helping them learn things they’re probably too afraid to ask about for fear of feeling dumb.

What is the quality you like best about coffee?

I enjoy that coffee can make your eyes pop because the flavor can be so impressive. I like that even my dad could taste a good, light roast coffee and say, “I can drink this black! I don’t even have to put cream or sugar in this!” I once had this coffee that tasted so strongly of tangerine (like its bag said), and I really tasted that. I had drank a lot of good coffee before then, but I never experienced such a strong note that I both saw on the bag and experienced for myself. It’s amazing how coffee comes from a fruit, and that means constant change. What a world!

Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?

I still don’t get the concept of a “god shot,” but I did fall in love with coffee over time. I started drinking all kinds of great black coffee, and I just never stopped. But like I’ve already mentioned in the previous question, the pour-over I made of this one coffee blew my mind when I tasted that clear tangerine note. Wow! That made me think that baristas really weren’t lying when they said they like the taste of coffee!

What is your idea of coffee happiness?

Oh boy. Happiness is contentment and gratefulness. Things can always be worse. I’ve experienced enough anxiety to last me a lifetime, and it’s amazing what being grateful can do. My mom once told me in 7th grade, “You just never know what people are going through.” And boy is that true! Every person you see is having a hard time in some way—even if that person is really mean. That’s what’s so awesome about coffee, even though the service industry is challenging. I can love people just by fixing up and serving them a drink. And that’s something to be grateful for. I get to do something I love and simultaneously make others feel loved.

If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?

I think I like exactly what I’m doing now. Owning a coffee shop with my husband in Denton, TX is a big ole check mark on the list of things I would say are a list of dreams. I can’t be happier nor do I feel like any other position would satisfy me more. I get to own a shop but also be behind bar a lot (pretty much all the time). And it’s hard but so great.

Who are your coffee heroes?

My husband, Ben Lytle. He teaches me something new everyday and is a huge example of leadership in the coffee community.

Also, Elle Jensen. My husband and I went to Denver, CO for our honeymoon about four years ago. We sat down at Amethyst for the first time and had no idea how big a deal that shop was/would be. Elle served us our coffees that day, and she was probably around 26 at the time. We discovered she owns Amethyst, and it’s her shop that influenced our shop’s menu of “any coffee any way” where you can order the same coffee as either an espresso or pour-over.

Last, Tim Wendelboe. Who doesn’t love the godfather of coffee and a man who will shoot you straight?

If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I would drink coffee with Mister Rogers because he loved people so well, and I’d love to soak in his wisdom over a cup of coffee and good conversation. I used to watch his show when I was little, and he would be so fun to chat with.

If you didn’t get bit by the coffee bug, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’d love to be a personal trainer, a funeral director, or a sculptor. (I can’t sculpt.)

Do you have any coffee mentors?

My husband has been a great coffee mentor. He is such an exceptional encourager. He’s one of the most talented people you could ever meet. He has been a barista, a roaster, a brewer’s cup competitor, he’s an artist, he has an amazing singing voice, and I recently rediscovered that he can make balloon animals! Ben has always been willing to teach me things, help me, and always celebrate when I’m learning and growing.

My old coworker, Ramon Muzquiz, was always willing to dive into coffee knowledge with me. He was always very passionate, detail-oriented, and inquisitive. He wasn’t above being wrong, and his palate was always pretty sharp. He helped me develop my palate when I was learning coffee.

What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?

I wish someone would have told me that most baristas are kind of bull**** along the way. There can be a lot of arrogance and pride in the coffee world (which is weird to me), but everyone is simply just trying. We’re all trying to learn and develop our palates and have fun.

Name three coffee apparatuses you’d take into space with you.

Grinder, Kalita (I’m assuming we can take filters too), and a kettle. If I can’t take a scale, I’ll just eyeball it all.

Best song to brew coffee to:

Next Time/Humble Pie—The Internet

Look into the crystal ball—where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I have kids with Ben, we still love coffee and have a shop, we still live in Denton, TX, and my parents will have been able to move up to Denton from southeast Texas (which is six hours away ☹).

What’d you eat for breakfast this morning?

I didn’t eat breakfast. I’m a coffee shop owner but also full-time barista. So I don’t have time to do that. Can I get an amen from all you baristas?

When did you last drink coffee?

I’m drinking some right now.

What is it?

It’s an Ecuador coffee from Sweet Bloom (Rosa Encarnacion), and it is straight fire.

The Sprudge Twenty is presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2019 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty

Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge. 

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