Photos c/o Maya Crowley
Last month, Maya Crowley competed at the U.S. Barista Championships doing something unconventional — she used a robusta coffee in her championship routine. Robusta beans are traditionally perceived as "inferior" in the coffee community, a misperception that Crowley and Nguyen Coffee Supply (who supplied Crowley with the coffee beans for competition) wanted to change. They were determined to shine a spotlight on robusta and Vietnamese coffee on the national stage— and they did so successfully.
Crowley is also the owner of Uncommon Coffee Co in Essex, Vermont, giving back to the community she grew up in and serving up Vietnamese coffee to the people there. We had a chance to learn more about Crowley's story, her endless curiosity about all things coffee, and how Uncommon came to be.
Brewista: In a single sentence, who are you as a human being?
Crowley: I’m extremely driven, but also a little bit goofy.
Brewista: Tell us about what ignited your journey into the world of coffee.
Crowley: I managed restaurants after dropping out of college. I loved that work, but the workplace cultures were often challenging. My first restaurant job that had a coffee bar made it all click. Coffee was something I could obsess over forever and still never know everything about and that’s part of why I love it. Because there’s so little coffee research out there, nobody can know it all, so I’m constantly curious to keep learning.
Brewista: What are the roots of Uncommon? What inspired you to start your coffee business?
Crowley: Uncommon is actually the successor business of a cafe I used to manage! It was called Uncommon Grounds and it was in Burlington, Vermont for 25 years. When I was growing up, it was always the place that reminded me of home if I left Vermont for a while. I met my husband there, I grew as a person and as a professional, and I’m eternally grateful to be able to carry on some of that legacy. They were the first specialty coffee shop in Vermont and they really opened up a lot of market space for others to grow. Now, Vermont has a beautiful, supportive and unique specialty coffee culture. In a state of just over 600,000 people, we have SO MUCH coffee.
Now, Uncommon is a blend of that history, as well as my personal experience and heritage. We are in the town that my dad came to when he first landed in the US as a Vietnamese refugee. I grew up in this town and it’s the community I care about the most. I’m so thankful to be able to give back to this community and to serve and roast Vietnamese coffee to the people here.
Brewista: What are some of the biggest lessons you learned, personally or professionally, during your coffee journey so far?
Crowley: I have learned that I know very little in the grand scheme of all things coffee. As an intensely driven person, I love completing things. When I first started working in coffee, I tried to learn everything as fast as I could! Over time, I realized that there is no end to the learning here!
Brewista: What does your coffee ritual look like? Describe your favorite coffee drink!
Crowley: I have no coffee ritual at all. My whole life is work and I am terrible at taking care of myself sometimes. Typically I have an iced oat latte every day.
Brewista: Why do you think it is particularly important for the coffee community to take care of each other?
Crowley: Nobody would be where they are without community care and support! Community care is transformative and empowering.
Brewista: There are always new things to learn about coffee! What’s holding your interest the most right now? What would you like to learn more about asap?
Crowley: I’m very focused on fine robusta and other canephora coffees right now. I’m trying to build a large library of firsthand sensory experiences with them, just like I did with arabica early in my career. There is so much room for specialty coffee to grow in fine robusta right now and I think we are only starting to realize that as an industry.
Brewista: Our readers are really serious about coffee. For aspiring coffee pros, what is one single advice you would like to give them as they navigate the coffee industry?
Crowley: Taste everything. Even if you think it’s going to be bad, you have to be curious enough to decide for yourself. I think a lot of us tend to listen to the experts about things without questioning them, but I challenge that! Listen to them, but decide for yourself. Don’t let someone else’s opinion change your curiosity. Think: are my results consistent with what I’m told? Basically just stay curious because there is so much about coffee that we as an industry don’t know—even experts! There’s a whole world of coffee research to go and we are just scraping the surface!