Creating a Career in Coffee with Jesse Raub

Jesse Raub has spent 15 years working in sales and education in the specialty coffee industry. He kicked things off as a barista post-college, where a training with a roaster opened his eyes to the possibility of coffee as a career rather than a “side job". Now as a member of La Marzocco’s Commercial Team, Raub continues to share his long-honed coffee knowledge via the company’s social media, blog, newsletters, and product sheets. When he’s not working in coffee, though, it’s still on his mind – leading him to explore at home brewing with scientific precision, and plan his weekend hikes, around town bike rides, and out of town travels on where to find and savor a lingering cup of coffee, or quick shot of espresso. 

Hi Jesse! So nice to meet you. Can you tell us where you are located and how you enjoyed your first coffee this morning?

Hello! I live in Madison, Wisconsin, and the answer to that question is a little complicated. I woke up pretty early, so I made myself a pourover to drink while I did some reading. Then, I brewed a batch on the Ratio 6 so my partner has fresh coffee when she wakes up, and I tend to sneak a cup from it, too. After that, I like to pull myself a shot of espresso right before I start work. I know that sounds like three coffees, but to be honest, all three are part of my daily morning routine and it would feel disingenuous to leave any out! 

Taking things back a bit…do you recall your first taste of coffee? What was that moment like, and do you think it led to your future of working in the coffee industry? 

I grew up near Minneapolis with Scandinavian heritage, which meant that coffee was just always around. Anytime there was a family gathering, the adults would put on a pot of coffee—afternoon visits, after dinner on Christmas Eve, etc. But the Twin Cities were also early to adopt espresso bars. When I was in high school, my friends and I would drive into the city and go sit at coffee shops on Friday nights. I don’t think I ever had a revelation about coffee, I just knew it was going to be an integral part of my life from an early age. 

What does your path into working in coffee look like? How did it get started?

I went to college for Fiction Writing—look, I know—and the joke was always, “Well, I can’t wait to graduate so I can become a full-time barista.” But, then I graduated and needed health insurance so I got a job at a Starbucks. Making coffee at home was always a personal hobby (constantly looking up French press techniques online, etc.), and luckily, I finally got hired at the cool coffee shop in town. A sales person for the roaster we used came through for training and a tasting, and I remember the whole time he was walking us through a cupping thinking, “Wait: this is a career option?” And that’s when I realized that coffee didn’t have to just be a side job or a hobby. 

You worked for 16 years as a barista, coffee trainer, and in sales, then you started writing about coffee for Serious Eats. What did the transition from working in coffee to a writer look and feel like? 

Serious Eats was a huge opportunity for me—I’ve always done writing on the side either for myself or for freelance clients, and after writing a few product reviews for Serious Eats, I had the opportunity to go full time. It was amazing having editors to work with everyday, and they made my writing so much better across the board (shout out to Riddley and Grace!), but the day to day was built around testing products and then writing lengthy, in depth reviews. Making coffee at home was always my first hobby and passion, so Serious Eats felt like a chance to indulge the home barista in me that took a backseat during that first chunk of my career in coffee. 

To get granular…how scientific do you get when you are brewing at home? What is your current brew recipe when you use your Ratio 6 brewer? 

I love precision—I do a lot of sourdough baking, and scales come out for everything in this house. At the same time, one of the things I love about brewing larger batches of coffee is that there’s just more wiggle room. When I first got a Ratio 6, I was weighing out both my water and weighing out my coffee before brewing. But, cold water going into the tank doesn’t quite translate in direct ratio to hot water being poured over coffee—water loses about 4% of its density as it goes from room temperature to boiling, so no matter how particular I’d like to be, brewing on my Ratio 6 will never be a 1:1 ratio with brewing a pourover. At the same time, brewing a liter of coffee requires way less precision than a pourover—using twice as much coffee and water means that I can be off by an ounce of water or a few grams of coffee and still stick pretty close to my intended ratio. I still weigh out my coffee, but I also made a few custom hash marks on the Ratio 6 water tank with a permanent marker so I could just fill the brewer by volume. I’m usually shooting for a 1:17 ratio, but even if it’s a little bit off, the coffee always comes out great on the Ratio 6. 

You’ve now found yourself on a new path with La Marzocco’s commercial marketing team! Can you tell us about what this new role entails and what your day-to-day at work looks like? 

Yeah! As much as I loved writing at Serious Eats, an opportunity to join La Marzocco USA popped up and it was just too good to ignore. My role at La Marzocco is Content Manager: basically, it’s my job to manage any communications that go out to the public, with a focus on social media, our blog, newsletter, and any other writing like product sheets or web pages. That makes my day-to-day pretty unique: most of the team works in Seattle, but we also work pretty closely with our headquarters in Italy. I tend to jump in and out of a lot of video calls to stay updated on the latest product designs or plan for new campaigns, and from there I might  interview a customer for a feature on our blog our help our technical product manager fine-tune some wording that’s going to be translated into 15 different languages around the world for a new product sheet. 

What are some of the most positive changes in the coffee industry you’ve noticed in your long tenure of work? What changes do you hope are still to come? 

One thing that’s been exciting is just how big specialty coffee has grown—you can go to most cities and smaller towns and find an amazing coffee bar that’s passionate about the coffee they’re making. Fifteen years ago, I used to plan my vacations and trips around known coffee cities. These days, good coffee is just way more ubiquitous. But I still think the industry needs to grow more. I’d like there to be more career opportunities for people in coffee who want them: we tend to lose huge swaths of generational knowledge as baristas leave for other work opportunities. Some of the smartest and most talented people I’ve met don’t work in coffee anymore, and I think it’s a bummer that coffee careers couldn’t compete with other industries. 

If you were to give one piece of advice to a young person looking to get their start in the coffee industry what would it be? 

Learn as much as you can about sales and business strategy as well as brush up on your admin skills. It’s not the most exciting part of the coffee industry, but knowing some basics of business management doesn’t mean you have to go into sales—it just gives you a leg up on most full-time jobs in the coffee industry when they become available. My first professional job after college was as a secretary at a university, and without that experience in professional communication, time management, and calendar planning, I don’t know if I would have been ready to take on the wholesale trainer job that established my coffee career. 

Finally, when you’re not thinking about, writing about, or brewing coffee, how do you like to spend your days? 

First off, I’m always thinking about or drinking coffee. It’s one of life’s true joys! I rarely leave the house without stopping somewhere for an espresso, and most of my free time at home is in the morning while I’m drinking coffee. I also love getting outdoors as much as possible. I’m not a diehard hiker by any means, but when I have free time I usually like to stomp around in the woods with, you guessed it, a planned coffee break on the summit. Aside from that, we’ve gotten way, way into the NBA in our house lately (go Bucks) and I also like to get on my bike and wander around the city in the summer, stopping at the farmer’s market, art museum, record store, and ending with lunch on a patio somewhere. 

Instagram: @jesseraub_