Ryan Cross wears many hats in life; from gardener to musician, cat whisperer to beach house remodeler, and his career as a coffee professional is no exception. He’s been a barista, trainer, wholesale aficionado, consultant, and more. Along the way he’s learned a lot about himself and the industry, and has paid witness to many big shifts in the worlds of sourcing, roasting, and serving coffee. We have recently brought Ryan on board to help with various projects. You might just catch a glimpse of him in an upcoming video series! Read on for his tips on putting garden veggies on pizza, naming kittens, and much more.
Let’s go back to the beginning! Do you have a memory of your first taste of coffee?
When I was five years old, my Nana showed me how to mix hot water with her instant mocha powder. I'd always take a couple sips, you know, for quality purposes.
How did you first get involved with working in the world of coffee, and what has your career path looked like?
I started working in coffee in 1999, as a barista at Starbucks, which at the time was pretty cool in Portland. In the early 2000s, I was renting a two bedroom apartment at SE Division & 33rd for $650 where a new café called Haven Coffee was opening up a block away serving Stumptown, and I landed a gig as their first barista.. I continued to learn about specialty coffee through the lens of Stumptown’s training program, and in 2008, I took a job to apprentice as a trainer at Ristretto. I became the head trainer in 2010, and when wholesale started to pick up, I ended up being 'the wholesale guy'. My last scheduled bar shift was in 2012, at which point I went full time into developing and directing a wholesale program. I started launching cafés from the ground up in 2014 and had a short stint of freelance consulting in 2015. In 2016 I started working with Heart as their director of wholesale. Heart being a small business with a big brand presence, I found myself wearing a lot of hats, and through that experience, I learned where I shine and which of my skills were most valued by others. I feel like that realization was the basis for me understanding a career path. When COVID hit, I pivoted to freelancing and have recently started consulting with small businesses and visionaries.
What do you love most about coffee?
The social aspect, but a clean and balanced, fresh-crop cup of coffee is a close second.
Since you got your start, how have you seen the industry change over the years?
Well, a lot has changed in coffee since the nineties...I feel like I've watched the specialty coffee industry during it's teenage years, and maturing into adulthood.
We went from a couple specialty roasters in the U.S. to a dozen per state by 2010, which launched everything from barista competitions to awareness of a global coffee crisis. When I started, La Marzocco's Linea was the top of the line machine, and it wasn't called a 'classic'. Portland didn't see single-cup pour overs in a café until 2006, as everyone was doing french press (!!!), and batch brewing in specialty shops didn't hit until 2009. I've seen the rise, and fall, and resurgence of trends in beverages, café menus, roasting, branding styles, café design, brewing theory, barista fashion. They say history repeats itself…
Things that I feel have changed for the better: Transparency in sourcing and business practices, businesses being held accountable for toxic work environments, café culture shifting from snobby elitism, to a sincere approach of hospitality, and most recently, how diversity needs to be real and nurtured, not performative.
The pandemic has had a undefinably huge effect on all aspects of life and business, coffee included. How have you noticed the Portland coffee industry in particular change, adapt, struggle, and triumph during this time?
Owners of roasters and cafés are on the floor side-by-side with a skeleton crew. Multi-roaster cafés have slimmed down to offering one roaster, and/or only working with local roasters. Cafés with simple online ordering and take-out platforms are positioning themselves better. Businesses that have triumphed are the ones that were already working from a place of take-out or an online, direct to consumer program.
What have you been doing with your time and energy over this past year? Have you found any new interests or hobbies, and can you tell us more about your home remodeling project?
I've been fortunate enough to have the time to focus on personal growth, health, and well-being. Been practicing yoga and meditation daily, recording music in my basement, growing and cooking food from my garden, and spending time with my wife Aurora. Every other week since April, Aurora and I have been going to Newport, Oregon to work on a beach house remodel; plans are to launch it as a vacation rental in the Spring!
We’d love a sneak peak at your morning coffee routine! What are some things you always do, and what are you drinking these days?
To be honest, I don’t start the day with coffee… a glass of water followed by fresh juice mixed with a greens supplement is my go-to. While I’m sipping juice, I put together 2 bowls of yogurt w/fresh fruit for Aurora and I. While we’re snackin on the fruit bowls, Aurora starts the coffee (currently rotating between Burundi Heza by Sey, and Ethiopia Halo by Heart), and I tackle either oats, waffles, pancakes, or an egg dish -- depends on what we’re feeling. We sip coffee as we’re finishing breakfast, then we retire to the living room to finish coffee and to start planning our day. Oh, and the cats are all up in our business all morning!
Rapid fire round! What’s growing in your garden right now? What was the last thing you cooked? And what are the names of your new kittens?
- Kale, Broccolini, Radicchio, Chard, Collards, Mustard Greens. Recent harvests in storage: Onions, Potatoes, Squashes, Sweet Potatoes
- Mushroom, olive, squash pizza and kale/radicchio caesar salad
- I've 3 cats: Floopher (2yrs old), Pebbles (new kitten, 2 months old), and Penguin (also new kitten, Pebble's sibling, 2 months old)
Website: heyrc.comInstagram: ryancross__