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Barista Stories: Jakub Smolka of Nordbeans, Liberec

Jakub Smolka is a 22 years old coffee professional working at Nordbeans Coffee Roasters in Liberec. He got his first barista job over 5 years ago, and only a few months in, a life defining moment (yet embarrassing at the time) got Jakub deeply interested in coffee producing countries and eventually lead to entering a Tropical Agriculture/International Development study program at the university.

Jakub is also the 2022 Czech Coffee in Good Spirits champion who will represent the country on the final stage in Milan. He shares the essential coffee cocktail everybody must try below!

Jakub, what is your first memory with coffee? 

My granny used to make instant coffee with loads of sugar and milk. That explains my current obsession with iced oat lattes. 

Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?

Ugh, I needed a part-time job to get some money for Friday nights. I knew a friend from childhood, Jonáš Wach, who worked as a barista by that time and he was hyper-cool. Also from my teenage perspective barista job checked the only important box – all the girls loved their baristas… Or at least I thought so. 

What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar? Can you recall any embarrassing moments?

I used to be a magnet for funny situations, but I can't really remember any of them. On the other hand there is one super embarrassing moment I will never forget. I was two months into the job, being a total pro, experiencing the dicky know-it-all phase of a barista career. And then one of the Nordbeans owners came in and asked me about this coffee from Rwanda we had on the shelf. I told him everything I knew about the coffee and then he told me “Yeah, I see you can read and remember, but what can you tell me about this coffee in the context of the Rwandan genocide?” And I had nothing to tell him.. 

This (for me very embarrassing) moment changed my attitude and I became truly interested in coffee from the perspective of producing countries. It eventually led me to study Tropical Agriculture/International Development as well as green coffee buying etc. I just wanted to say it is important to get a bit embarrased from time to time so you stay humble and keep pushing. 

If a career in coffee was not an option, what job would you be doing?

I am still very young and to be completely honest I am not sure if a career in coffee is actually an option for me. However, coffee has given me many amazing opportunities to find my interests and become better in various fields. I am truly happy I can connect my studies with my everyday job, but I feel like one day I will want to do it on a larger scale. But then again, I am very young and I suck at planning my personal life so I guess only the future can tell. 

Do you have an unusual habit or hobby that you love?

Lately, I have been enjoying the “grandpa lifestyle” – taking care of my garden, building a tiny wooden house with my friends, and discussing politics while drinking beers. And wearing vests! 

Also this year I would love to start with biodynamic practices in the garden. 

Are there any bad recommendations you hear often in your profession?

I often get frustrated when people say working in hospitality is an easy job. I've met some of the hardest working people in this industry. I also really like the merch of Bonanza saying “Who in their right mind would devote their whole life to coffee?” So I guess my advice would be to answer this specific question. If your answer is “me”, then go for it – you will love it! 

What’s the one coffee cocktail that everybody should try?

I would always recommend you to drink some proper Irish Coffee. Good Scotch or whiskey, honey or some unusual sugar, super-strong coffee and organic double cream. Be creative, have fun, get drunk – that's what I call Coffee in Good Spirits

Jakub Smolka – Czech Coffee in Good Spirits Champion of 2022

What is the one thing that you would miss the most if you could not work as a barista anymore?

Since I don't really work as a barista anymore I can say I sometimes miss the after-shift beers. 

What has been the best experience in the speciality coffee industry so far?

Tough one… So far I've spent my whole adult life working in this industry and I have too many unforgettable memories. I guess you would have to ask me after the fifth beer. 

Quick Fire Questions for Jakub Smolka

Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?

Always. Like c'mon. 

Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?

Nope.

Espresso or Filter coffee?

Espresso in the morning, batch-brew in the afternoon. 

Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?

Balance. 

Milky or Black?

Black on the weekdays, milky on the weekends. 

Slurp or Spit?

Slurp (the louder the better, obvi).

Sit in or Take Away?

Take Away.

Cake or Pastry with your coffee?

Pastry FTW. 

Favourite piece of barista equipment?

Knowledge and kindness. 

What is the wifi password at your cafe?

After a loooong discussion with waaaay too many people, I have decided the hypothetical password of the hypothetical wifi in my hypothetical cafe is samebutdifferent. Buy me a beer and I'll explain it to you.