Janina Łaszkiewicz is like the water in an espresso puck.
“I’m always finding paths to see where I can channel,”
she says. By channeling, she means digging deeper to learn more about anything that sparks her interest, whether it’s computers or coffee.
Janina Łaszkiewicz is an IT consultant and educator who works with companies to scale their businesses with a focus on workforce engagement. On the side, she’s also a coffee roaster for Dear Judges, a brewing and sensory trainer, a competition coach, and a brewing and roasting judge. She loves doing things, designing products, educating people, and creating impact. The only thing she hates is invoicing.
Although all of those roles sound like work, work, and more work, Janina doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s just my life. These people, coffee shops, and roasters are my friends. If there are people who want support, look for it, receive support from me, and it changes their lives, it’s so nice to hear,” says Janina.
Janina was born in Minsk, Belarus. After working on a project with the founders of Viber who liked to shorthand everything, they started calling her Jane Lash and the name stuck. Now Janina is based in Poland but her roles in consulting and coffee take her back and forth between Western and Eastern Europe all the time.
Growing up in a post-Soviet era country meant being part of a diverse Slavic community with conflicting political backgrounds. But what the people around Janina had in common was a strong work ethic and motivation to build and achieve something in life.
“Our parents and grandparents worked in an environment with an extensive need for engineering innovation. They taught you that you have to work or you’re no one,”
says Janina. “When you have this kind of society and good engineering skills in your genes, plus good teaching messages from your parents, you become something good in life.”
Janina got her first part-time job as an office secretary at 15 and began working as a full time IT software engineer at 18. While other kids her age were drinking, smoking, and spending money, Janina already began her career and was looking cool on a whole new level in front of her friends. One job wasn’t enough though, and for the past 18 years, Janina has always been juggling additional hobby, community, and research projects. “Something for me, for money, and for the soul,” she says.
Six years ago on a trip to Prague, Janina sat down at a café and smelled something nice coming from the table next to her.
“Back then, I thought coffee was supposed to be strong, bitter, ugly, and dirty. But I saw the nice shape of a Hario server next to me and it attracted my attention,”
she said. After ordering one for herself, she was met with a clean, aromatic beverage with a nice body. “It was like having wine in the middle of the day,” says Janina.
A few months later, she found a café in Minsk serving pour overs in Hario servers and ordered an Ethiopian coffee recommended by the barista.
“I liked it so much that I ordered a second one and it tasted absolutely different. Back then, I didn’t know anything about the factors that change taste so I started to ask questions,” says Janina.
As an IT person, Janina has an analytical mind that likes to dig deep and ask hard questions. “We sometimes speak like robots and this barista, who was a soft skill young person, had no idea how to reply. I could tell they didn’t have the self-confidence or knowledge behind what they were saying, so I had to find out more,” says Janina.
Back then, Minsk had few coffee education courses and even fewer that were actually equipped to teach something substantial. She started looking further and gathered a group of interested people to invite an overseas trainer to come for a private course in intermediate brewing. “He was teaching us about refractometers, TDS, extraction, and a lot of weird stuff. I’m a geeky person so if there’s something to measure, I have to measure it. I bought a refractometer and it was probably the first one in Belarus,” says Janina.
“I would go to a café with my refractometer and order two coffees. I trained my tongue by tasting both brews and mentally telling myself what I tasted before measuring and I got to be very precise up to 0.05%,”
she says. “It started getting ridiculous because some baristas would see me and refuse to brew for me. A head barista, even though their shift was already over, would have to come over, change their clothes again, and brew me a coffee,” says Janina.
Janina soon became the person baristas could ask questions instead. “They knew they could brew something for me and ask for my opinion,” she says. From then, Janina began to do cupping events with beans purchased on her travels, or brewing presentations with interesting brewing equipment she picked up along the way. “I organized the first Aeropress competition and brewing competition in Belarus. At that time, no one even had three scales (a standard competition presentation setup). I did a lot of activities for the local community and a lot of people who came were students who participated in some battles and competitions. Afterwards, they felt they were ready to work in a café as a part-time staff and they basically started a career from the activities I organized,” says Janina.
Sensory skills are also an important part of the coffee experience and Janina’s new journey into motherhood has led her to realize that we stopped exploring the world through our senses at a young age.
“When you’re a child, you’re given things like fabrics, sand, hot water, cold water, stones, etc. to help us understand there are different feelings. Somewhere along the line, we stopped learning this because we had to start learning school content. But when you already have a career going, you have to get back to your senses,” says Janina.
Her advice is to make the whole world your comfort zone. “Try things out, even if you don’t like it the first time, because it might be your mind playing tricks on you because it doesn’t like new things. Don’t evaluate whether you like something or not, but evaluate its taste, texture, and aftertaste. Just start describing things to yourself,” she says. By training yourself to describe everything you experience in two or three words, you will want to keep experiencing something different and that, according to Janina, opens up a lot in life.
The pandemic is a great enabler for improving our experience of getting sensory information at home. “I signed up for a wine course at the beginning of the pandemic and they sent me 18 wines in small bottles. I asked myself why I didn’t take this course earlier, because I’ve had so much bad wine in my life, and the course helped me realize I wasn’t having the right wine,” says Janina.
It’s the same for coffee or chocolate or even umami. “In my sensory introduction classes, I saw people who never tasted umami mix up the taste with sweetness or saltiness. How do you experience things in life if you can’t sense the things around you?” she asks.
Whether she’s consulting or coaching, Janina is always helping people get better at what they do. A big part of what she does is education-based and as someone who loves to learn, she realized it was equally important to study the technique of educating as well as the content. “I’m a big lover of trainings and workshops because I like to try things out instead of reading books. I’ve done everything from webinars with low interaction to full days of highly interactive training and there’s a lot of knowledge behind how to make knowledge stick,” she says. But a big part of truly excelling at what you do lies in self-education.
I’M NOT A BARISTA asked Janina for advice about how to be a good barista. This is what she said:
“You can replace ‘barista’ with ‘anything’ and the advice would be: know your subject and like your subject. If you want to dig deeper and develop your skill, it’s demanding. Work twice as hard, ask lots of questions, be open-minded to every opinion, and ask for feedback. Find a community and 1,000 trainers to find what suits you. Unless you keep growing, you’re not a good barista. You need to be able to look back and say proudly to yourself, ‘I learned that.’ The best parameter to see how much you’ve grown is to see how silly you used to be,” says Janina.
“You have to be a really lazy bastard if you can’t self educate yourself to be a good brewer. You can just purchase a few tools and watch some good videos. Just follow I’M NOT A BARISTA’s #brewathome hashtag and you’ll already learn something,” she adds.
There are two simple things you can do, according to Janina, to facilitate your growth journey as a barista:
- Set up a professional Instagram account and follow people in the industry that you don’t know. (Leave the puppy photos for your personal account). Use the account like a journal and post what you’ve done and achieved.
- Look in the mirror every birthday and ask yourself, was the past year the best year of your life?
Janina doesn’t describe herself as a dreamer.
“I’ve always known it’s better to set goals than to dream big. You have to be clear with yourself about your goals and set targets, both in your professional and personal life, and just go for it,”
she says. “I see how peoples’ lives change after training with me and that’s what I live for.”
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NOT A BARISTA Podcast
We are constantly inspired by all the amazing stories of baristas around the world and we want to take this opportunity to introduce you to our newest project: The I’M NOT A BARISTA Podcast. This podcast will be sharing all our incredible and amazing coffee stories from baristas and coffee people around the globe.