Jade Jennings of Veneziano Coffee Roasters reflects on her experiences with coffee and competitions, and how it’s prepared her to train the next generation of champions.
When Jade Jennings travelled to Rwanda in 2016, the Veneziano Coffee Roasters National Training and Development Manager experienced what she calls her fondest memory working in the coffee industry.
“I remember getting out of the car and I could hear these men singing and clapping. I walked up these hills to follow the music,” Jade tells BeanScene.
“It was from these men in a big fermentation tank marching on top of the beans to help remove the mucilage from the coffee. They sing not only to keep their spirits up but to keep in time. They know once they’ve done a certain number of songs, the coffee is finished.
“I got a bit teary and emotional seeing it, and being in their presence. They invited me to join, so I jumped in the fermentation tank.”
Jade travelled to origin to meet farmer Epiphanie Mukashyaka, whose coffee she used to win the 2016 Australian Specialty Coffee Association (ASCA) Southern Region Barista Championship and place second in that year’s Australian Barista Championship.
The trip inspired Jade to again use Rwandan coffee when she competed in 2017, where she continued her winning streak and rounded out the national podium in third place.
“When I create my concepts, I like to talk to the producers and coffee buyers, and get an understanding of what makes that coffee unique,” Jade says.
“In specialty coffee, you see and connect to where the coffee comes from. It’s about developing relationships at origin and across the whole chain.”
Jade’s first coffee, however, was not the café-style beverage she would become accustomed to. Instead, like for many Australians, it was instant.
“My Scottish nana would always make me milky teas as a kid, and I would dunk my Vegemite toast in it. I was always a tea drinker,” Jade says.
“I went on work experience in Year 10, and they didn’t have tea bags, so I had to resort to instant coffee. I didn’t have my first proper flat white until my first day as a barista at Hudsons Coffee.”
Jade’s coffee career began in 2005 when, after five years as a disability care worker, she wanted a change of pace. Within two years of starting as a part-time employee at Hudsons Coffee, Jade was promoted to Area Manager, where she found a love for operations and coffee.
Jade met Veneziano Managing Director Craig Dickson at a coffee chain challenge in Adelaide in 2008. While there, Jade also became acquainted with Christopher Short, Owner of coffee machine cleaning product provider Cafetto. From the start of Jade’s competition career, Cafetto was always a supporter of the industry’s barista talent.
“I remember taking a tour of [Cafetto’s] factory in Adelaide and thinking: ‘This guy Chris knows so much about his product.’ Now I see it all the time at Veneziano,” Jade says.
“Without sponsors like Cafetto, we wouldn’t be able to have our barista competitions or this bonding event. We’re always grateful to have a company like Cafetto give us an amazing opportunity to stand up there and compete.”
It wouldn’t be for another two years before Jade joined the Veneziano team, beginning at the roaster’s former flagship café First Pour in Bond Street, Richmond.
“Everyone who started at that First Pour would move onto other roles in Veneziano. It was seen as a bit of a stepping stone for the company,” Jade says.
“Within six months, I was overseeing and setting standards for all of the other First Pour cafés, as well as sister company Coffee Hit’s stores.”
In 2012, Jade took over the role of Veneziano Key Account Manager and Trainer from Erin Sampson while she was on maternity leave.
“She came back in 2013 and I got pregnant,’” Jade says. “We kind of tag-teamed the role, and became known as ‘salt and pepper’ within Veneziano.”
As the company grew, so did Jade’s role, in which she gained her current national training title in 2015. Jade says even while working with Hudsons, she’s always found herself attracted to training roles.
“I get to break down concepts and find the best way to help someone understand them and improve their skillset,” she says.
“I think the biggest challenge many baristas face, that they don’t even realise at the time, is not receiving adequate training. Cafés are busy and they have high turnover of staff. Baristas are often thrown in the deep end and chucked on the machine. They don’t really understand what they’re doing and they have to practice on customers.”
Learn about more baristas Cafetto supports:
• Scottie Callaghan in the fine print
• The Sam Low down
• 2016 Vietnam Barista Champion Han Tran makes tracks
• Dove Chen soars to great heights
• André Eiermann’s Swiss success
To Jade, it’s important trainers leave their egos at the door, and are able to walk the walk as much as talk the talk.
“Trainers sometimes want to demand respect from their students, but that’s not how it works. They need to earn it. The best way to do that is knowing your stuff and having some fun with your students,” Jade says.
“I’m always trying to push our trainers to compete [in barista competitions], because it opens up a lot of doors and gives you so much more confidence when your training staff because you understand what it’s like. If not compete, then judge.”
Jade says that coffee competitions provide baristas with a learning experience that cannot compare to anything else.
“There’s a couple of baristas in the [Veneziano Richmond] café who have had exposure to the recent barista competitions, who now wanting to compete, and I look forward to helping them,” Jade says.
“It’s not just the barista that benefits, the whole company does. Everyone gets involved, from the green buyers that source the coffee to the roasters who pull it apart over the cupping table. It’s a real cultural thing.”
The female dominance on the 2019 ASCA Australian Coffee Championship stage has Jade pondering a return back to the spotlight, just maybe.
“Never say never,” Jade says.“I’ve got that itch to compete again.”
This article appears in FULL in the April edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.
For more information about Cafetto, its support of industry members, and latest product range, visit www.cafetto.com