Anna Sieiro Dos Santos is a proper globetrotter: born in Russia, then moving to Oregon in the US (where her love of coffee began) before finally setting up Buna, her cafe in Lisbon, where she is both the co-owner and barista. Despite the fact that she has only been working in the industry for two years, Anna has exciting plans ahead, as her cafe’s second venue is set to open its doors soon.
Anna, what is your first memory with coffee?
4 years ago, life took me and my family to live for a while in Portland, Oregon, USA. So you can guess what that meant, right? Of course, we saw the unbelievable speciality coffee scene there and we were like “come on, it’s too cool to be true!” I remember thinking that it's unbelievable how you can put so much care into making coffee, and I loved it – we even took a french press and some Coava Coffee camping with us.
Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?
Not far from our house in Portland, we had a gorgeous neighbourhood coffee shop, Nossa Familia Coffee, and their roastery was right behind a little window. They were offering a variety of beans, roasted to different degrees. Our coming across this shop was the moment when we decided to dig in and find out about a whole new world of coffee. After we found this cafe in Portland and loved what they did, we began to study coffee for ourselves.
I received some amazing training with Mr Rob Hoos and then, interestingly, I actually worked with Nossa’s at the community church coffee shop. It was cool because I had no idea how a church could provide a space for such a variety of different types of meetings and workshops, like ours where people brought their coffee. And the church’s bar space was so beautiful, in a real old style.
What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar?
When I just started to work in Portugal (and so had to speak Portuguese), there were loads of embarrassing situations as I got to grips with the language, and one that I remember particularly well.
To one customer, an especially elegant lady, I accidentally offered her something ‘really bad’ (the word for coconut in Portuguese, “coco”, if stressed wrongly changes its meaning a lot), when I thought I was talking about coconut! Luckily, we had another customer there who explained the dual meaning to me, and we laughed about it for ages.
If a career in coffee was not an option, what job would you be doing?
My degree is in economics and I actually worked in finance for quite a while. But, I hated Mondays and I really don't see myself ever going back to that career (honestly, I really like Mondays now). I love my job, and that feeling is amazing.
Do you have an unusual habit or hobby that you love?
Spending time with my children; they take all my free time. I also love to travel, especially for my coffee trips that I get to go on, but I guess that’s not unusual, right?
What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career as a barista?
For me, the best piece of advice I can give is to not let theorists get you down. Lots of people told us we shouldn’t start Buna, because they said we wouldn’t be able to re-teach Portuguese people, encouraging them to drink differently and opt for what we believe to be better coffee. They said that the country’s tradition is too strong, and so on and on and on… But, once you’ve ignored these theorists, my advice is simple: you have to truly love coffee and love people because it can sometimes take a lot of patience to do what we do.
What qualities set a good and a great barista apart?
Simply passion and hard work.
What helps you to handle a bad day at the cafe and to provide good customer service?
Sit, think, and try to remember everything from the beginning: the way we created the project, all the fun that me and my partners had, remembering that we work with a great product, we love our coffee and that we – all of us, all our baristas – are passionate about it.
We have to understand that sometimes we need to harness a bit more patience and so take the time to remember that we are doing something different, so keep fighting back against the bad days.
What has been the best experience you have had in the speciality coffee industry so far?
Honestly, I’d have to say the Panama Geisha from Origin Coffee Roasters, and the Lychee Process Colombian Triple X Coffee from Nomad – Does that count?
And, ok, when customers tell us: “Listen, guys. I experienced coffee life before Buna… and then I experienced it after Buna.
Rapid Fire Questions for Anna Santos
Would you serve filter coffee with milk, if asked for it?
Yes (but I’d insist they try it without milk first!)