“The most gratifying part for me and Matt is helping and mentoring people and seeing them succeed.”
This month, we’re highlighting Bellissimo – American Barista & Coffee Workshops. Bellissimo started and evolved from a publishing company to a coffee consulting business, which created training aides for the coffee industry. Father and son team, Bruce and Matt Milletto, then took the successful consulting business, which was blowing up and set their heart to creating a one-of-a-kind coffee school.
Bruce: All of us were originally headquartered in Eugene, Oregon as a coffee consulting company and doing very well in that business, consulting with cafes. We started having people call us from all around the world. I remember getting one call from overseas in China and somebody asked to come to our offices and if we could train them here. At the time, we just had a 3 group La Marzocco and a couple of grinders and there was no way I could train them in my office.
That’s when we decided to create a coffee school where we can give everyone an intensive training all in one place. Everyone I talked to said it would never work, and no one at the time was doing this. We originally thought of doing the school in Eugene, but after talking to people, realized that not many people would come to Eugene. Matt and I came to Portland instead and found a good location that could fit about 8 people. It was fairly small, but we built a classroom across the hall and a lab. We put up advertisements in Fresh Cup Magazine for marketing and that’s how it started. We were able to fill the class immediately, and we were getting people coming from Africa by the second month. It was the first coffee school in existence.
We soon outgrew that old space in the span of a year and got this new space in Portland’s eastside neighborhood. We built a school here that we thought would last a long time.
Water Avenue Coffee Company
About 7 or 8 years after Bellissimo, Water Avenue Coffee [the roastery and coffee shop] came about. I remember talking to Matt and saying I wanted to start roasting coffee. We debated whether it would interfere with Bellissimo, but felt we could do both and keep them separate. We went out to lunch for Mexican food to discuss our plans and later that afternoon, went online and bought a roaster from Switzerland. We opened up the roastery next to the training space - and fitted a coffee bar inside the roastery so people could come and see the actual product we were roasting.
Basically, it would be a lot easier for Matt and I to put a 100% of our energy into Water Avenue Coffee. But Matt and I both get such a great deal out of helping people get started in the right way. I actually came from the art world. I never thought I’d end up in coffee. I became intrigued and fascinated by it from the very beginning. It’s such an interesting and beautiful product and just brings people so much joy.
Anybody can honestly learn to make coffee. Learning to make great coffee is just arithmetic, not calculus. But the thing that will make a coffee entrepreneur successful is 1) they need to have the passion and 2) they need to understand that what really makes a coffee bar successful is that people feel at home there and it becomes their third place. People come here because they feel comfortable here in their third place. =
GET TO KNOW HEAD BARISTA TRAINER - AUGUST EPSTEIN
What’s your journey in the coffee industry and how did you get started with Bellissimo?
August: I started with a more structured job at the Water Avenue Roastery in production of bean roasting. I was a barista before then and wanted a break and a change in scenery. While I was at the roastery, I started looking into the training lab Water Avenue did. In my previous barista job, I was already doing a lot of training there. I had a lot of passion for making coffee and talking to people about it.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is certainly meeting people in coffee community, especially here in Portland, one of the hubs of coffee. There are a lot of artists and creative type people working in coffee - a lot of cool writers and musicians.
What is one of your favorite blends right now?
Right now it’s the the new River Trip blend. It’s a summery, fun blend with a good fruit note, and some chocolate going on as well. Beans are a blend from Ethiopia and El Salvador.
And your go-to drink?
Black drip coffee. Or just a simple shot of espresso. I like coffee in it’s purest form. I love waking up and making myself a cup of coffee, it’s a really calming morning ritual.
Any tips for new baristas?
Coffee quality matters, but it’s more about connecting with your customers, learning who they are. It’s about getting someone to love coming into the café. The people are coming in for the ritual, the routine, and somewhere where baristas know their name. You get more satisfaction as a barista by seeing the people you’re making drinks for instead of just working in a vacuum.
Also keep your work area clean.