Tom Ailor

photo by: Glory Benacka

Tom Ailor

Café Indigo – Manager

Lincoln, NE

How long have you been a barista?

Just over 5 years now.

What other responsibilities do you carry(besides barista)?

All the usual responsibilities that come with management… Inventory, Scheduling, Quality Control, yaddayaddayadda.

How did you get started in the coffee industry?

Starbucks. My friend worked there and said it was good pay and a fun job. I had maybe consumed one cup of coffee up to that point in my life, so I definitely didn’t get into it for the coffee.

Was there an experience you had that gave you a passion for coffee?

Yes, but first I must frame the experience:

Part of your training at Starbucks is completing a “coffee passport” booklet, which basically guides you through tasting all of their coffees. In the booklet they have taste descriptions of each of their coffees, to help guide you through your tasting experience. There wasn’t one coffee that I tasted that lived up to the descriptions that were set before me in the coffee passport. If Starbucks said their Ethiopia had a “distinctive lemon flavor,” I tasted soil and cardboard.

Just over three years ago I moved to Indiana to go work for a roasting company. My first week there we sat down to cup some of their production roasts. One of them was a Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. The Head Roaster at the time guided us through the cupping, telling us that we’d taste a unique lemon zest flavor in the cup. “Heard that before,” I thought as I scooped some coffee onto my spoon and slurped. It was in that very moment that my passion for coffee was birthed. The cup delivered what the Head Roaster said it would. I could taste the lemon zest notes in the coffee… and much, much more. This opened my eyes to a whole different world of coffee, where the bean was crafted and presented as a culinary complexity, instead of packaged and sales-pitched as a consumer demand.

Tell us about Cafe Indigo. What do you like about working there? Why should people go visit?

There are many things I enjoy about working at Café Indigo. The owner’s vision behind opening the store, the people that I get to work alongside, the quality of equipment that we get to use, and also the quality of coffee we get to work with every day.

People should come visit for many reasons; we’re locally owned and invested in the community (just ask us about any of the number of community events we host), the ambiance of the books and the cafe, the historic location, the interesting and unique personalities that are there to help you out… oh yea, and the quality of coffee. If you believe that coffee only tastes good with cream and sugar, come and talk to me, because you haven’t had real specialty coffee before.

I heard you won’t be carrying Cultiva anymore. Whose coffee will you be carrying?

We will be carrying coffees from 3-5 different roasters on a weekly rotating basis. We haven’t nailed down all of our select roaster partners yet, but so far we do know that we will be featuring coffees from Counter Culture Coffee and Coffee Emergency. It’s a pretty big change for us, since we’ve only served Cultiva from day one, but I’m excited about the opportunity to share some coffees from some different, quality roasters who are sourcing some unique coffees in unique ways.

What do you like about working in the coffee industry?

The stories. There is a long line in the supply chain, many hands craft and care for the coffee before it reaches the hands of the consumer. I love being a part of the story that brings delicious coffee to appreciative people.

Do you plan to continue working in coffee?

As long as possible… let’s hope the ‘C’ market doesn’t put most of us out of business.

If not, what would you like to do?

I dunno. Work at Verizon Wireless 😛 Seriously though

What do you do outside of work?

Work. Oh, and I spend time with my lovely girlfriend. Oh, and sometimes I read books. But mostly I sit geeking out about coffee, reading publications and blogs.

What is your favorite coffee? Why?

As an origin in general?… Kenya’s.. usually. A specific coffee?…The Burundi Buziraguhindwa Microlot we just got in from Counter Culture… it is blowin’ my mind.

What makes someone a great barista?

Passion. It can’t be learned or taught, but it can be contagious. For me, it leads to respect for all the processes coffee goes through to get to me, and then drives me to pay attention and not screw it up, and hopefully accurately represent the hard work it took to grow that coffee, to process it, to roast it, and everything in between.

Thanks Tom!!

You can read more about Cafe Indigo here:


2 responses to “Tom Ailor

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