Meet Ronița Dragomir, originally from Romania, she currently resides in Eindhoven, Netherlands. She describes herself as a Jack of All Trades and quote: “I’m a coffee lover who writes, competes, takes pictures and makes a lot of ‘awww’ noises whenever I see an animal walk by”.
Ronița’s passion for coffee focuses on filter coffee and cup tasting, and she loves to show people how to make amazing coffee at home with almost no coffee gear. She is also keen on mental health awareness – especially at the workplace – which we think is really relevant in the coffee industry where the pace is sometimes incredibly fast and burn-outs are a common thing.
Ronița is also one of the founding members of The Happy Coffee Network and a frequent volunteer on the biggest coffee tradeshows. In both zones, she infects everyone with her positive energy and creates an inclusive atmosphere. She competes as well, always trying to challenge herself and test her exponentially increasing coffee skills. You can also find Ronița’s articles in popular coffee magazines like Solo and CoffeePeopleZine.
Ronița, what is your first memory of specialty coffee?
My mother making Ibrik coffee in the morning is one of the memories I most cherish. The smell, the bubbling water, the confident way in which she moved through the kitchen while humming or singing to herself… it stayed with me. I always associate that first coffee with quiet time, or me-time, if you will, so it’s always peaceful in my house during that first cup. It helps me prepare for the day at hand and ease into things.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the coffee industry, and how did you get started?
First, I started by writing little café pieces or interviews of people in the specialty scene. I was mind blown by the sheer amount of new information I was receiving and realised I knew nothing about coffee really so I decided to change that. I started by reading a lot, asking for books, links, videos, things like that – and it was a lot. Anything that got recommended to me, I’d devour. It felt like I had been given a lot of pieces from a puzzle that I had never seen before so I was trying my hardest to match them all together so I could get see the big picture.
Before coffee, I studied a lot and worked in sales/customer support for an online bookstore chain back home.
You do several things as professions. Can you tell us a bit about them?
I manage a small team, write, take photos, and freelance at coffee events. I don’t think it’s that much. I’d do more if I had the time. They all basically fall under the same umbrella – apart maybe from writing because I also do other non-coffee-related pieces.
What is your favourite part of the day at work, and why? Which activities/duties do you enjoy the most?
So far the thing I noticed that brings me the most joy is training new people. It really takes me back to when I started and, let’s be honest, you can’t beat the enthusiasm of people who are just starting on their coffee journey: it’s intoxicating. I like working rushes behind the bar, of course, but I also enjoy learning how to see the big picture. If you train people well, give them the tools to succeed and believe in them, it gets easier to focus on other aspects of the job. There’s really no need for micromanagement.
It makes me feel happy to see others having that “aha!” moment once I start explaining the basics and then ask them to share this knowledge with others.
I do, however, remember what it was like when I was in their shoes and it wasn’t only rainbows and fairy dust. It was quite intimidating, especially if you were a woman trying to find your way. Let’s be honest, gatekeeping was and still is very much a reality in this industry. It’s stupid, of course, because you can’t expect there to be any sort of progress or innovation if you don’t share what you know or welcome diversity.
I truly believe we grow faster when we allow ourselves to be open, to ask questions and because we are all so unique. When we come in contact with one another sometimes amazing things happen.
This is what I’ve experienced at least, so I try to make sure that my trainings are informational, fun and accessible. This gives people enough knowledge and space to further develop themselves and find their own way, without feeling overwhelmed.
Photo by Simona Ungureanu.
How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep improving your coffee-making skills? And are coffee championships a part of it?
It’s easy to stay inspired by so many incredible people in this industry! I always find out new things that make me want to keep pushing myself and take my coffee skills to the next level. Competitions are, of course, a big opportunity to do this!
As a person who struggles with depression and anxiety, I was very scared to put myself out there. For years, just the thought of walking up on stage facing people was unconscionable. Even after I signed up for my first competition ever, the Dutch aeroPress championship in 2019, I would constantly have worst-case scenarios replaying in my head about how being on stage or freezing in front of all those people will be. I nearly didn’t go, I was so scared. A few things went wrong, of course, but it showed me I was stronger than I thought and could keep my cool.
Then a year later, I competed in the Dutch Cup Tasters; I had to use anxiety meds just so I could stop shaking before going on stage. I didn’t eat or drink water at all..it was hardcore. No matter how difficult, both experiences were amazing and taught me a lot.
This year, when I competed in Cup Tasters again, even though I didn’t make it to the next round, I was incredibly proud of myself! I had breakfast, I kept myself hydrated and felt no need for pills whatsoever – except for paracetamol because of “a well-timed cold” – but I did it! I scored a 7 /8 in 3’35”, compared to last year’s result, which was nearly double the time. It felt terrific to see actual improvements!
What do you think is the most essential quality for a barista to have, and why?
Being genuinely nice and hospitable is a dealbreaker for me! Baristas should understand that it’s not only their skills that need perfecting and keep customers coming back day after day. It’s how you make them feel and how genuine the connection is and how that adds value to their experience. Like being approachable or remembering a regular’s name. These things matter just as much as choosing great beans or nailing that café music playlist.
More and more I see people who believe that being a Barista somehow grants them authority and a free pass to look down on others. Judging and shaming people is never ok and this applies to preferences that don’t match your own. We, as baristas, do not get a say in our customer’s decisions. I cannot emphasize this enough! We can, of course, advise and make our suggestions. But at the end of the day, it is not our place to judge them if they choose something else. If people want to drink their drip coffee with milk or have decaf how about we – hear me out: let them?
A customer once told me she was not inclined to make the transition from commercial coffee to specialty. Simply because she went to a famous café and had a really bad experience. She felt stupid because she didn’t order the right thing. Her barista insisted she try something else. When she refused he rolled his eyes and stated this is a specialty café, not a [insert famous brand name here]. This stuck with me. Imagine being treated like this and being expected to come back!
Ronița during coffee workshops.Photos by Alin Giriada.
What kind of community do you hope to build around you? How do you plan to foster that sense of community?
I love authenticity so I try to stay clear of everything and everyone that might feel even remotely fake. I believe that being who you truly are goes hand in hand with a lot of other good qualities such as empathy, being supportive and kind. These are the kind of qualities I admire most in people and try to nurture in myself every day. I always try to help out whenever I can, especially when it’s people who are just starting on their coffee journey. I love seeing customers turn into baristas turn into friends. This brings me so much joy and allows me to ‘geek out’ over coffee stuff all over again.
I think that we attract our ‘tribe’ and can easily sense when someone checks the wrong boxes. One of the best compliments I ever received was when a former trainee-turned-trainer told me I was her barista on a very bad day and her interaction with me made her apply where I was working the next day. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Can you tell us a bit more about your award for the ”Best Emerging Artist”? Where can we find your poems to read?
‘Twas the spring of 2013…
Seriously though, I have always been a storyteller, since before I knew how to write. I would recount my mother’s fairy tales, mix characters and add plot twists until they stopped being my mother’s stories and slowly turned into my own. I think my mother still has a cassette with some of my best hits somewhere.
When I started elementary school, we got an assignment to write about our summer holiday. My short story scored very poorly and I was sent home. My mom called the teacher who told her she could not give me a better grade because I had embellished things so much it just couldn’t have happened…
I always had a vivid imagination and was highly sensitive but hated speaking in front of an audience. Secondary school wasn’t particularly accommodating towards creativity of any kind so I would get made fun of a lot. This, combined with an already active imposter syndrome, resulted in me not really sharing or talking about any of my creative writing for a long time.
It wasn’t until I met the love of my life that I felt comfortable enough to show a select number of people my art. He pushed me to continue to write and submit my poems to a national competition back in 2013.
One day, I was busy planting some basil when my phone rang: it was a competition representative calling to tell me I had won Best Emerging Artist in the Poetry section. This meant that Humanitas, one of the most famous publishing houses in Romania, was going to launch a few hundred copies of my selected poems during that year’s Gaudeamus Book Fair. I thanked her and asked if I could call her back because I was in the middle of repotting my plants. I couldn’t believe it.
Ronița during the launch of her book.
Even months later, after the poems had been selected/edited & re-edited a dozen times… Not even when I was on stage holding the paperback in my hands… Did it feel like I had actually won something because I deserved it. Looking back, it feels weird that I believed with such certainty it was all a matter of luck, not skill, that led to me winning that award. Now I know this is how imposter syndrome works. I just feel a little bit sad that I kept downplaying it and didn’t allow myself to feel joy or celebrate this accomplishment more.
The book called 37 de lamentări şi-o pildă (eng. 37 Lamentations and a Parable), was only published in Romanian and is no longer available, from what I know. The title might seem a little melancholic but don’t let it fool you. This book represents a collection of all I had lived through up to that point. And it was quite a bit.
To me, the book was never about regret. It was about understanding, love stories and heartache. As well as the ability to take what you need from past experiences in order to move forward and grow. I translated one or two poems I felt most attached to. One of them, entitled Grape Jam, made it in CoffeePeopleZine’s issue #18 alongside some of my photos.
What coffee challenges are you looking forward to? Any new projects or collaborations?
This year I got to work as Brew Bar Manager for SCA during Woc Athens and I’m still coming down from that high. It was such an incredible experience, one that I hope I’ll get a chance to relive. In the meantime, I am looking forward to competing again in the Dutch AeroPress and in CupTasters next year!
Quick Fire Questions for Ronița Dragomir:
Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?
Sure thing. To each their own.
Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?
Not really. Unless the recipe calls for it.
Espresso or Filter coffee?
Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?
Acidity and sweetness.
Milky or Black?
Black for that first cup, oat milk latte later in the day.
Slurp or Spit?
Depends. Slurp in general, unless I’m training for Cup Tasters.
Sit in or Take Away?
Sit in – unless the vibe is wrong.
Cake or Pastry with your coffee?
Never in the morning, but I can easily be swayed after lunch if there’s any vegan deliciousness!
Favourite piece of barista equipment?
Hard one, there are too many. I love my Umeshiso rainbow cupping spoon, I take it everywhere. But I also love a good scale to take the guesswork out of what you’re doing. My new and shiny Brewista gooseneck kettle I got from Athens is currently high on this list, it’s super dreamy.