Millie Gay is a coffee professional with 8 years of experience, born and raised in Cornwall, UK. She is an accredited SCA Trainer and currently trains her students at Cornico Coffee Roastery.
Millie is broadly involved in volunteering both at local and international events. She is also a committee member of The Kore Directive, an initiative fighting for inclusivity and accessibility within the specialty coffee industry. A passionate coffee trainer who makes everyone feel seen and worthy!
Millie, what is your first memory with coffee?
It was probably dunking biscuits into my mum’s coffee when I was really young! She used to get so exasperated because the bottom of her coffee was full of biscuit crumbs. Oops.
Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?
When I started working in a cafe, the coffee machine scared me. It is hot, makes a lot of steam & noise and has LOADS of buttons. But then I fell in love with coffee. The more I learnt, the more I wanted to learn. That hasn’t stopped! As soon as I learn one section, I want to learn more. I am currently plaguing everyone I know about engineering. So, I guess it wasn’t one moment, but a constant excitement about what comes next.
What’s the most common question you get asked during barista training?
Everyone always worries about latte art. Every single time. I always explain that firstly – the texture of the milk is what is important – not so much the pattern on top. Once you get silky lovely milk, then you find that latte art is much easier. But it isn’t the first thing to worry about! As long as it tastes and feels delicious, no one will mind a blob!
I do absolutely understand the fascination though, I love latte art myself. It’s so calming – you know how some people draw to relax? Apart from when I am trying to learn a new pattern – that is not relaxing, it is full of rage, spilt coffee and milk-covered boots.
What is the funniest thing that you have experienced during barista training? Can you recall any embarrassing moments?
Oh grief, it is PICKING the embarrassing moment rather than trying to remember one. Shaking a sachet of hot chocolate powder (before opening it), and discovering a little too late that it had a tear in it and being absolutely COVERED head to foot in it. That one has happened more than once!
Most of my tales involve me spilling things, dropping something or some such. I like to think that it relaxes people. They won’t get so nervous if the mistakes have already been made. That is what I like to tell myself anyway!
What’s the most satisfying part in the job of a barista trainer?
Probably when people come into the training room all worried and nervous then end up leaving with a smile on their face & a lot more confidence. I meet a lot of people right at the beginning of their journey in coffee & I see them being nervous just like I was. It is a huge privilege to be able to teach people & make using an espresso machine less daunting.
I love it when months down the line, someone I have taught tags me in pictures showing me what they have been up to. I love that! When you meet people who end up catching the same coffee obsession as you and want to learn EVERYTHING.
Are there any bad recommendations you hear often in your profession? What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career as a barista?
I think there is a huge stigma against people who start their careers in a large coffee chain. I don’t think it matters where (or how) you start! If you are interested in coffee that should be enough. Get involved and don’t worry about where you work! Whether it is the best speciality coffee shop, a fish and chips shop with a battered old machine that has seen better days, or a bigger commercial chain. It doesn’t matter where, it just matters that you are interested in coffee!
My main piece of advice for people starting a career as a barista is don’t be put off by people thinking of it as a “Saturday job”. Some people have it as a side hustle, a summer job, whatever and that is fine! But other people want to make it into a career which is brilliant. I would recommend going to any local coffee events, or maybe some coffee festivals – find your tribe! I think the sense of community within the coffee industry is something AMAZING and it can help massively to someone at the beginning of their career to be surrounded by people who have advice and have probably faced some of the issues/dilemmas/situations before.
Millie, can you tell us a bit about The Kore Directive and your role in the initiative?
The Kore Directive is a community of people from all over the coffee industry & together we strive to make the coffee industry a welcoming place for everyone. We put on events & appear at coffee festivals, and online generally trying to make people smile. We try to be a space for women, LGBTQIA+ and anyone who doesn’t feel that their voice can be heard within the industry.
I joined Kore back in the first lockdown – and it was SO GOOD for my mental health. Having that sense of community when everything was so shut down and far away was SO needed. Having a space to chat with other people in the industry who were feeling exactly the same way and had the exact same fears made everything much easier to deal with. We had chats about big topics like Imposter Syndrome which were so well attended. So when a new committee was needed and it was suggested that maybe I get involved, I jumped on it!
The Kore Directive is a community of people from all over the coffee industry & together we strive to make the coffee industry a welcoming place for everyone.
The current committee is pretty spread out all over the UK which is a blessing and a curse! They are all so far away which is sad so we only get to meet up at coffee festivals and events BUT it is a blessing because we can highlight different areas and speak about what we are missing in those places. Whereas everyone was a very captive audience in lockdown with online events, we have now switched to in-person events. They are so rewarding but can be a little harder to organise – especially finding funding, equipment and merch ideas. But the community really step forward and help us!
The people, (they know who they are!), who help us out time and time again are SO so SO appreciated. It means that we can continue shouting out people from all over the industry, organising chaotic events & being a safe space to come to ask questions.
Do you have an unusual habit or hobby that you love?
Does occasional fire breathing count? Other than that I am fairly boring! I go to the circus a LOT by most people’s standards. I love it! The excitement and rush of watching people flying in the air, juggling and doing amazingly talented things that I would never have hoped to!
If a career in coffee was not an option, what job would you be doing?
Following the circus about asking for them to adopt me? Biscuit Tester? Is that a job option? I honestly don’t know! Before coffee, I had a very varied set of jobs! So I think I have found my happy little niche now. But who knows WHAT I would get up to without coffee! I have a happy little dream about being a lighthouse keeper with a lighthouse full of books – but I think I would get a little lonely after a while!
What coffee challenges are you looking forward to? Any new projects or collaborations?
I am hoping to do some more of my SCA Exams and would love to do my sensory professional and maybe learn some more about green coffee. In my head I have a whole host of plots written down with anything from running coffee cupping events (so there is more going on in Cornwall!), to one day being brave enough to enter the bigger latte art competitions! We shall have to see which things get ticked off first!
Quick Fire Questions for Millie Gay:
Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?
Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?
Espresso or Filter coffee?
Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?
Milky or Black?
Often a flat white gal so I shall say milky.
Slurp or Spit?
Sit in or Take Away?
Cake or Pastry with your coffee?
Can I have a biscuit? Both? ALL of them?
Favourite piece of barista equipment?
Pink milk jug. It’s been with me for years.