Iranian barista and roaster, Younes Salehi, was drawn to coffee at a young age. His dive into the coffee industry began when he was just 19 years old. Today, he is a researcher at Flexibar Machines which produces handcrafted coffee bar equipment. With 10 years under his belt, Younes hopes to become the World Brewers Cup Champion one day. This is Younes Salehi’s story.
In 2011, Younes’ coffee journey began in Tehran, Iran’s capital city. A friend of his brother’s had a café in Fatemi Square called “Mania.” Because Younes started working with coffee when he was still a teenager, he soaked up all the knowledge and information that came his way.
“I learned a lot of things there—from washing the dishes, how to cook, making smoothies, and after months, finally, I pulled my first shot of espresso.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. As much as Younes enjoys the various tastes of coffee, the one thing that stands out for him is the sense of community coffee brings. A perfect cup of coffee, he says, is just that. However, with community, it becomes an experience that will be remembered for a long time.
After Younes’ time at Mania, he worked in 7 or 8 coffee shops as a barista and later, became a head barista. After the duration of COVID-19, Younes joined a roastery and, the following year competed in the Iranian Brewers Cup in 2021. Although he is proud that he was able to compete, it didn’t come without its own set of challenges.
A week prior to Younes’ open service round in the competition, his employee terminated his contract. This meant that he had
“no coffee [he could] use to present, no equipment, and nowhere to practice.”
It was also a time in his life when Younes’ family needed him the most as his father was in a coma during this time. Because of his situation, everyone expected him to throw in the towel and try again next time. Younes, however, wasn’t about to give up that easily. Although he had only five days left, he believed he could do it.
He practiced for the next few days with the help of his friend, Matin Salehi. Matin helped Younes procure new coffee and worked with him on his presentation. Younes’ friend also assisted in getting new coffee equipment to ensure that he was able to practice and participate in the competition. Despite the challenges he faced during the time of the competition, Younes never gave up and will be competing again in the Iranian Brewers Cup in the next few months.
Younes’ reason for sharing his story is to let baristas around the world know that they shouldn’t give up. No matter which direction they choose to go, there will always be challenges and obstacles in their path. At the end of the day, what matters is how they face them. His message to baristas is to
“Keep it up. Compete. Learn. [Acquire] knowledge. Grow and [polish your] skills.”
At the moment, most of Younes’ daily work consists of research about the story of coffee, coffee farms, and its history—history being one of his favorite parts of his work. However, he still enjoys roasting, brewing, and working with new espresso machines and coffee bar equipment.
Younes also fondly remembers the first time he had a really good cup of coffee. It was when he was working in a bistro in Vanak Square, Tehran. He indulged in a Blackwater Blend espresso shot from the Irish coffee roastery, “Badger & Dodo.” Younes found the shot to have an exceptionally smooth body with a sweetness like no other.
The Iranian coffee researcher is continuously inspired by his wife and family, and of course, by coffee itself. The very first cup of coffee he brewed, to this day, still inspires him to seek a better understanding of just how complex coffee can be.
“I believe a man’s property is [his] knowledge.”
Although Younes’ work ethic can inspire many baristas all over the globe, he finds that persevering in an occupation with a low wage can be very challenging. But he loves what he does, and he enjoys being able to make others happy with the knowledge and skills that he has learned over the years.
He is most proud of having had the opportunity to hold cupping sessions with some of the best coffee experts and roasters that Tehran has to offer. In addition to these cupping sessions, Younes feels that his research with Flexibar Espresso Machines is making a difference because he has the customers’ experience at the forefront of his mind when doing his research.
In his experience, Younes has found that the coffee industry has changed and developed a lot since he first started working with coffee. At the beginning of his coffee career, when he worked at Mania, people called him the “café man” because they didn’t know that there was a word for what he was doing.
“No one looked at it as a job. They [thought] we are just playing.”
However, since then, brewing and specialty coffee started to rear their heads and people started to learn more about coffee and its complexities. Roasteries also started popping up and as a result, the coffee industry in Iran has developed significantly over the years.
When asked what success looks like to him, Younes said that he wouldn’t stop learning and gaining experience in the coffee sector. He would also like to publish his translated research in the hopes that it will help Iranian baristas improve their own skills and further their careers. Ultimately, Younes aims to become the World Brewers Cup Champion one day and he believes he is on his way to making that dream a reality.
Younes sees life as a beautiful experience. When he is not working with coffee, he enjoys sightseeing in his own country. He likes history, art, music, and film, and is a soccer fan as well. His favorite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude, and his favorite songs are If I Die 2nite by Tupac and Por una Cabeza by Carlos Gardel.
Younes ends his story with the advice he would give to others working their way up in the coffee industry:
“Stay focused, work hard, learn, try, fail, but don’t quit if you love coffee and your work. One day you will be proud.”