Cydni Patterson on Coffee, Culture & Competition

Cydni Patterson drinking coffee in the outdoors

This interview is part of the #BrewLikeAPro series, where we share the journeys of coffee professionals doing cool things, their defining moments, and of course - their coffee rituals.

Cydni Patterson is a coffee professional, barista competitor, and the host of a coffee travel podcast that explores the intersection of coffee and culture. We recently had a chance to catch up with Cydni digitally from Durham, North Carolina. She shares her life-changing experience at the U.S. Coffee Championships (USCC) Nashville Qualifiers, what she has learned while interviewing coffee professionals in different cities, and her sage wisdom for aspiring coffee pros.

"Coffee is all about extracting the delicious bits and managing the bitter bits. That's why I love it." 

Brewista: Tell us about your most memorable moments in your coffee journey, and what ignited your love of coffee. 

Cydni Patterson: My coffee career has been shaped by impactful yeses and nos.

My first yes was the moment I walked into new hire training and saw that Tracy Gill was my trainer. She had me thinking that I could work in this field and be a fly black woman. That sense of belonging was short-lived. I remember not being allowed to dial in the single origin espresso because I did not have the experience. I was curious how I could gain the experience without actually doing it. That’s still a mystery.

I will never forget being able to stand in front of industry peers, heroes, friends, and foes at Barista Competition and celebrate me being a working class black woman by using a coffee nurtured, cultivated, and celebrated from seed to cup by women and nonbinary folks of all ethnic backgrounds. The first time Umeko [Motoyoshi] called me and asked for my opinion for an article of theirs, you legit could not tell me anything. I felt so good. After my first gearbox from Getchusomegear, I was so dehydrated. I finally had all the equipment, and I was making coffee at all times of day. I felt like a kindergartener who finally got the 120 count box of crayons.

That first shift at Caravela Coffee was impactful. I was surrounded by green coffee beans and was treated like a capable coffee professional. That was one of the first times that I felt like this industry that I love accepted me in more ways than a conversation about diversity and inclusion. I felt like a part of the room where decisions were really being made. One thing that shaped me was watching my former manager and sister Sally Parlier advocate for us and our pay, dignity, and respect. When she passed that responsibility to me, I remember feeling like I failed my people when we found out our shop was closed on the news. There is nothing like getting death threats on the phone and your company ignoring your store’s call.

I remember how useful I felt when I was able to help get grant monies to a variety of coffee creators when Chris [McAuley] trusted me to work with Getchusomegear’s Getchuagrant program.

My cousin sent me a screenshot of me on The Barista League Online, and I felt like Beyonce. I will always love The Barista League Team for that. Coffee is all about extracting the delicious bits and managing the bitter bits. That's why I love it. 

Cascara Podcast on the Sprudge Network

As the host of the Sprudge Podcast Network's Cascara, you shared that you “believe each specialty coffee scene extracts energy and takes on the characteristics of the communities that they’re in.” This is so true! What are some of the most surprising things you learned through your interviews with coffee professionals in different cities? 

I was surprised at how the love for good coffee really is a common denominator. This field is so unique, because in all of its vastness the table is still small. You can chat with competition winners, people inspired by beloved family members, musicians, artists, and just folks with the capital to do cool things in our industry. In every conversation one thing remains true  this seed water inspires us to see all the beautiful things that's possible to achieve in this life.

In all of our differences, the beauty lies in the common. To truly celebrate that common ground, we have to celebrate all the things that make us uncommon. After every conversation, I feel so good about being a human. I really appreciate Sprudge trusting me with that space to explore and share those stories. I’m excited to navigate more places and confirm that truth. 

I read that the Nashville Qualifiers set the stage for you to work with a coffee that was produced by women, imported and exported by a black woman, sourced by a Latinx woman, and roasted by a nonbinary person. How did that experience feel?

That was absolutely amazing!!! I am so grateful to have been trusted to work with such high quality coffee. That was a learning experience for me. Little Waves Coffee Roasters was not the company I was working for. Glitter Cat made me feel seen, and what they saw was someone worth investing in. It resonated, because I am very privileged to have grown up with a family that saw, love, and cultivated my greatness. That had not been my experience in this industry, and I just didn’t trust my coffee company to understand why representing the magic of my ethnic identity through coffee was important enough to work with a different company.

I was wrong, and Carrboro Coffee Roasters understood when I finally told them. I waited until the last minute, because I really thought I was going to come home from Nashville unemployed. That anxiety negatively affected my ability to plan and practice. If I could change anything about that experience, it would be to trust the goodness in others. I was strong in my convictions, and frankly, it was worth the risk. Areli, Mandy, Leon, and Micheal [of Little Waves Coffee Roasters] were lovely to work with and I really appreciate Michelle, Thurmond, and Scott [of Carrboro Coffee Roasters] for helping out when I let them.

When I got on that stage, saw the support screaming out of Veronica and Eric’s [of Glitter Cat Barista] eyes. I saw Sally, Chris, Chelsea, Alexis, and all the rest of my coffee family, and it was worth the months of fear and anxiety. When I tasted the delicious coffee, something in me that has existed as long as humanity has existed, felt represented. When my family texted me and told me how proud of me they were, I ugly cried. That’s one of the most important things to me. I was disappointed that I didn’t rank, and that was proof of how much I truly cared about the space that I took up. The experience was life changing and I adore every bit, because every moment has made me a better person.  

What are some of the biggest lessons you learned, personally or professionally, while competing in your first competition?

Trust people who want to help you. My competition was a combination of hundreds of people who saw my truth. My truth is a universal one — a human worth investment, worth care, worth consideration, worth expectations, and worth kindness.

Be strong in your convictions and celebrate the magic of your individuality. There was a moment, when I had to give my lipstick as a placeholder for my spot in the competition line up that I thought I was going to run. I felt the weight of every moment that brought me to that moment. And then my song came on, and all the things I was grateful for lured me into this confident ease. Competing is like that rep before the last rep of your PBR (person best record), the shaking, your muscles screaming at you for doing too much, and then you push past it and feel invincible. That feel is amazing, and it is a wonderful place to be able to go to when the world tries to trick you into thinking you are powerless. I am so grateful for that experience. 

If you had a magic wand and could make one change about the coffee industry, what would it be and why?

I would expand who delicious coffee is marketed to. When I was managing a shop on a college campus, one of the noted professors was record producer, 9th Wonder. I reached out to collaborate, but it wasn’t the right time and I didn’t have the support of my company to back up my ambition.

Black Americans have a buying power of a trillion plus dollars alone in the US. Coffee has a tendency to enjoy the spoils of our oppression the cheaper rent in historically exploited and excluded neighborhoods, being happy to hire black baristas at low wages but not being interested in investing in their training or promotion, and using the occasional AAVE in awkward social media posts.

And yet, a big number of shops and companies create spaces that are unwelcoming, and many times unsafe for the friends of the folks that they hire and post about on their instagram feeds during Black History Month. I wish more of my folks got to see the beautiful side of this beloved seed. That is actually one of my missions. Everyone should experience that sip of coffee that reminds them of all the magical things that can exist in the most mundane parts of our existence. 

On days when you are tired to wake up, what are things (besides coffee) that get you out of bed?

I am blessed to live with my family. I often hear laughter from my parents, or Jessica Fletcher in the background lol. I love a nosy, independently wealthy and accomplished queen.

I have found a new love of the outdoors. There are a couple of places that I hike that have Herons, they are so magical to me. According to African spiritual beliefs, they carry messages from us to the source and ancestors. I like to tell my folks how much their perseverance was worth it. Also, the beauty that can be found when you are just walking in the space and time that you are in is awe inspiring. 

I also have a weighted jump rope and a goal to jog/walk a part of the Harriet Tubman Byway. That goal and the coffee catering and event business I am creating with my sister, Alexis, keeps me pushing to achieve more than the comfort my bed offers lol.  

What does your morning coffee ritual look like?

I tend to wake up with a very short americano with two shakes of cinnamon. Rancillio makes absolutely amazing equipment, and they provided me with a PINK Silvia Pro X. I can get delicious espresso, and I almost cry sometimes when I look at that beautiful machine. Then I plan to workout, get lost in whatever spicy book I am finishing, and try to drink a cup of water. After that, I head to the fridge and get some cold brew and mix it with sparkling water. I am team Cold Brew Pop, 365 days a year. My mom makes AMAZING cold brew. 

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?

Save the "filters" for your coffee. Show up confidently as yourself, cultivate your knowledge by taking ownership of your education, and then exist. There have been so many times when I show up  unambiguously black, thick, equal parts unwanted and unbothered. All of the nos are impactful and should not be ignored, but the yeses are oh so sweet.

I have been able to cultivate a coffee community that sees the value in all the things that I am. They then remind me when I forget. Show up as yourself and bask in your perfection in the moment. Perfection evolves when your skillset and information do, so love the process every step of the way. Trust that there are people who want to enjoy delicious coffee with you on this common ground, and be relentless in your search for that community. Those people share knowledge, joy, and support freely. Our industry needs you. 

Where can we find you and follow your coffee journey?

I celebrate my love for coffee on many different platforms. You can find me sipping, brewing, and stewing on Instagram and Tiktok at @fullbodiedsweetfinish. I am learning and exploring coffee on my YouTube Channel Cydni Sweet Finish. I share my underground comedian side on I am everywhere. 

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