Baratza recently donated grinders to Street Bean to support the important work they are doing – getting youth off the streets and giving them real skills, and an opportunity to improve their lives. Ben Blake, a long time Baratza friend and supporter, manages the Street Bean Cafe and we asked him to share about their program.

by Ben Blake, Cafe Manager, Street Bean Espresso, Seattle WA

Before I start, I’d like to thank the folks at Baratza for their kindness. They’ve been helpful and extremely supportive over the last few years. Over the summer, they donated a set of Forte grinders to our cafe that have drastically improved the quality of our pourover bar, increased training opportunities, and allowed us to bring on a guest roaster as espresso.

When I first took over the Cafe Manager position at Street Bean, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. While the idea of combining my love for coffee with something meaningful was always appealing to me, I could never quite grasp what that would actually look like. I knew I’d be working for a non-profit in Seattle that dealt mainly with homeless and at-risk youth, and I knew we’d be serving coffee, but that’s about it. Through the first couple months here, I’ve seen just how important coffee can be in someone’s life, and just how meaningful it really is.

Let me explain a little bit.

We’re a non-profit that provides opportunities for street kids and at-risk youth to get on their feet, learn valuable career skills, and obtain a self-efficacy that doesn’t stop in the workplace.

We operate under the umbrella of New Horizons—a fantastic organization that provides all the resources for these kids. Food, clothes, shelter, case workers, counseling, coaching, community, etc. etc. Through the New Horizons Program they’re able to apply for internships in order to gain work experience and learn just what it means to have a job and be “employable.” Ultimately, Street Bean was created to compliment the New Horizons program and to provide a supportive employment component for the youth that were being served. We currently operate two “apprenticeship” slots where we not only train folks to become great baristas, but to help them move them beyond homelessness and abandonment into confidence, security, and successful future employment.

After successfully completing the apprenticeship, we have the opportunity to hire them on as a barista at Street Bean.

Over the last five years, we’ve seen an incredible success rate, and as of right now, we have four full-time baristas who are living on their own, completely off the streets.

I guess that all sounds nice, and it’s great to be able to say all of that, but even within the first month here, I’ve seen what that actually means. These “kids” have been completely transformed because of Street Bean. They’re grown men and women that have not only escaped life on the streets, but that have completely taken hold of their own lives through the medium of a cafe.

A conversation I had with our newest apprentice said it best. As I was chatting with him about his weekend, and about some upcoming challenges in his life, he stopped and looked at me with a big grin on his face.

“I love this place, man. I feel like it’s mine.”

That statement alone brought to life exactly what I was involved in, and it had nothing to do with homelessness, street life, or life problems. It transcends all of that. The community of a coffee shop is unique. It’s hard not to be engulfed by it. When you work behind the bar at a cafe, it’s your space. You want people to enjoy being there, so you put your best foot forward, and no matter what your past looks like, you take ownership of it.

Ownership is important for all of us. It gives us something to hold onto and something to call our own. Street Bean is actively doing that—not only for the youth in our program and the ones that have made it through—but for me, too.

Beyond having a good cause, though, we really strive to be a great cafe, and we’re only really able to do that through outside support. There’s no way we could offer up quality products without quality equipment, and as a non-profit that can be difficult at times.

When companies like Baratza partner with us, they’re not just giving a donation or a discount to a non-profit. They’re giving people the opportunity to get back on their feet through the coffee industry, to take hold of something and to own it, and to truly discover their identities.

It’s an amazing thing really, and we’re thrilled to be surrounded and supported by such amazing people. People who are willing to help us make Street Bean one of the best cafes in Seattle while also supporting our vision of empowering youth to get off the streets and onto a path that ends with a successful future. The coffee community is the perfect place for someone to turn their life around, and we’re really thankful for all of you.