Chandra Melo is a passionate advocate for transparency and innovation in the coffee world. From her days as a barista to now working at a major coffee company, she has traversed the length and breadth of the coffee industry and her journey shines a light on the future for baristas and for coffee.
For Chandra Melo, discovering the joys of coffee was a turning point. But to get to this, we need to start at the beginning. After completing her marketing degree in her home country of Brazil, Chandra began her professional journey working at a Brazilian TV channel called Globosat. During her tenure there, she realized something very important- she loved working with people and she had the skills to explore the world.
Chandra fell in love with coffee working in Mykonos, thanks to the overwhelming Greek love for coffee. People spend hours drinking coffee, sitting by the beach with their friends and this is the kind of life she wanted- chill, laidback, surrounded by good company and good coffee.
At the end of that summer, Chandra contemplated her next move. She moved to Portugal, spurred on by the large Brazilian community there and the strong coffee culture. While the lifestyle is very similar to Greece, she found that Portuguese coffee is too dark and strong, or as she colorfully describes it “tastes a bit dirty”.
“The first thing that fascinated me about coffee is how a drink from just a fruit can be enjoyed by people worldwide in so many different ways. For me, coffee is about connection. There’s nothing better than having a cup of coffee, meeting people, and talking for hours.”
Wanting to explore more of the coffee world, Chandra began applying for jobs in hospitality, working in cafés as a waitress until she got a job as a Barista at Buna Coffee Shop. Working here made her fall even more in love with coffee and she found a community among her customers and colleagues.
Chandra’s career as a barista began just as the pandemic started and part of her believes that she got lucky here. This may sound weird to say ‘lucky’ but the coffee shop had become her family. While everyone else was laying off people, her colleagues supported her.
When the restrictions were loosened and customers started coming back, she was already skilled in brewing (and latte art!). As summer started, Chandra was working hard but she felt that she missed using her marketing degree. She didn’t want to lose those skills and when the second wave hit, she started working with Era Of We.
Era Of We is a coffee company based in Sweden and they are aiming to promote all the players in the supply chain, bring in more transparency, and build a community. Their platform gives immense opportunity to small farms, micro-roasters, and roasters so that they can promote themselves and grow together.
Chandra’s current title is Coffee Specialist- she works with marketing, managing copywriters, SEO strategy, and onboarding new farms, roasters, and facilitators. She never thought that she would find a job that matches both her worlds- her marketing degree and her passion for coffee. She’s been with Era Of We for 1.5 years now.
Over the years working with coffee, Chandra has come to realize that everyone talks about direct trade but what’s missing is understanding the whole journey and who is behind your cup. Businesses will talk about marketing- this is the origin, the roast level, etc. But you don’t really know the people who make the coffee. Her work with Era Of We has allowed her to talk directly with farmers and roasters from all around the world, helping farmers to create their own brands and build lasting relationships with other players.
There are currently 10 farms and 2 major roasters on board the platform and many more are in the pipeline. Building a new community from the ground up is hard work, something that Chandra is well aware of. What keeps her motivated is her love for people and for coffee. These are real relationships, real connections, and real people behind every cup.
So, what is Chandra’s advice to baristas out there?
Baristas should believe more in their skills and think outside the box. Chandra herself took time to trust in her own abilities and that she’s making these things happen. There’s a pressing need for reinventing the barista role as the world gets more tech-oriented and remote work becomes prevalent. Baristas will always have a chance to work in alternate coffee careers if they choose to do so.
Chandra notes that baristas need to understand the value of their knowledge of both coffee and customers. Roasters and coffee brands need people like this to help them diversify and grow. If you love to write, you can promote yourself through this. Language is one of the biggest barriers in the industry and if you have a good grasp of how to communicate in your language of choice, you can help bridge communication gaps in the supply chain.
This is not to say that all baristas should switch roles. Chandra still loves working in cafés because she loves connecting with people. But working with Era Of We has taught her that baristas can benefit greatly by expanding their knowledge. Baristas that know more about the intricacies of coffee can help educate customers. If you can pitch your coffee well and have a full understanding of the coffee journey, you can sell better.
As she continues her journey in this industry, coffee remains her biggest passion and the driving force in her work. Whether behind the counter or talking to farmers, her love for good coffee shines through.