As I walked into the little Catalonian cafe, I found myself standing in a beautifully designed shop, with all the right gear in sight, and a friendly face greeting me from behind the bar.
We ordered drinks and the barista and I struck up a conversation. The young girl from the Netherlands knows coffee, and she knows it well. But I could also tell there was much more to her than just pouring caffeine by the cupful.
It All Starts with the Bean
A few years ago, Mariëlla Giljam found herself at a crossroad. Coming out of a long relationship, she was ready for change. So with a bit of Spanish language knowledge and a whole lot of dreams, she set off for a summer in sunny Spain.
Giljam grew up in the south of the Netherlands, this girl known to many as The Exploring Barista. Service in her bones and caffeine in her veins, she has 12 years of experience in the hospitality industry, working primarily in the coffee industry for the last five years.
She began her coffee journey at Doppio Espresso in Enschede (Netherlands) back in 2012. At that point, she’d lived all her life in various parts of the Netherlands. But in 2013, she was looking for a new direction. She headed to Barcelona and after a month or so of hitting dead ends with coffee jobs, she found a job as a receptionist at a hostel.
As that summer drew to a close, the young explorer realized the money she was making was enough to live on, so she began making roots in the warm Catalonian sun.
Outside of work, Mariëlla spent her time exploring the city and finding herself. And though she was enjoying life, she longed to get back to coffee. Her real desire was to get into the specialty coffee market. But at the time, the coffee culture in Spain wasn’t all that big, and it seemed to be “more important who you know instead of what experience you have.”
So despite her SCAE barista certification, she couldn’t manage to get her foot in the specialty door. Not one to give up, she accepted a job with Costa Coffee, a chain found in many countries and just entering the Spanish marketplace. She did well during her time there, even securing a third place finish in Spain’s Barista of the Year competition.
Foot in the Door
Her determination paid off in August of last year, when she finally got her wish to get into the coffee market she loves most. Mariëlla landed a position at Nømad, a specialty coffee company in Barcelona. A bit of poetic irony, if you will, as Nømad was the first quality cup of coffee she found arriving in the city.
The Perfect Cup
Every barista has their preferences. If you find yourself at the bar of a true third wave/specialty coffee establishment, just ask. I’ve never met a skilled barista who won’t gladly offer recommendations and share a big of coffee education.
Mariëlla does so with passion and care. When it comes to drinks, she especially enjoys a perfectly crafted flat white. “You can see the barista’s skills… the espresso, the milk, the latte art.”
But when it really comes down to it, she’ll always choose a good filter coffee. Simplicity, purity. “You can find the notes of the coffee better. And you can enjoy it hot and cold. Even when it cools down it’s amazing and sometimes even better.”
And like many coffee purists, Mariëlla’s bean preference can change with the season. She currently finds herself leaning towards a Karolina from Nicaragua and the Rwandan Mahembe.
Of course, filter means a lot more today than it did a generation ago, with choices like AeroPress, V60, Chemex, and syphon, just to name a few. The barista personally finds the V60 brewing method best for slow coffee, and prefers MoccaMaster – coffee makers assembled by hand in her homeland – when it comes to traditional filter machines.
So many stories we tell seem to involve passion: someone finding their passion, searching for their passion, living out their passion. And this story is no different. Mariëlla is grateful that she found her passion at the early age of only 24.
“Some people are searching their whole life. The moment I realized that coffee was my passion I knew that coffee was my future. It’s such an interesting world and product. There is so much to learn, so much to see, so much to try. All this knowledge I want to share with other people.”
Discovering one’s passion is only the beginning of the journey. And this is no exception for our barista friend. Just over a year ago her passion deepened further as she had her first experience visiting a coffee plantation. “Holding the cherries in my hands and realize that this is where it all starts, the cup that you are drinking.” It was yet another step in her own journey.
From Seed to a Beautiful Cup
The more time she’s spent in coffee, the more appreciation Mariëlla has for the overall process. She has become fully engaged, fascinated even, acknowledging the beauty and the details that go into specialty coffee. As she puts it, “from seed, to a beautiful cup of coffee to enjoy: this is what I love and want to share.”
Mariëlla shows passion with each coffee she prepares, with each review she writes or records on her website, with each plantation or coffee shop she visits, and with each customer she encounters.