Compass gives baristas a shot with new Academy

The story of Sharon Trundle – Master Baristas

You weren’t even going to enter. You waited until the last minute and only went along because your manager kept encouraging you to do so. You successfully got through the first heats, but you’re sure you fluked it. Then you made the final round, wowed the judges and look where you are now: in Somerset House receiving the applause of 50 people as you accept your position as Master Barista in Compass Group UK & Ireland’s inaugural Barista Academy. That is the story of Sharon Trundle’s journey to becoming one of Compass’ first Master Baristas.

This kind of story is certainly not unique for the UK’s many baristas, who are experiencing more opportunities than ever before. The growth of the hot beverage and coffee market, in both sales and quality, has resulted in a greater desire for true coffee experts such as Sharon and the four other baristas, Pariwartan Nepal, Thales Pona, Sziszi Walter and Razvan Cojocaru, who now make up Compass’ Barista Academy.

“I was working on the day, as the trials were held at Chertsey where I am based, and I was watching the clock tick on and on. I honestly do not think I would have gone if it hadn’t been for my manager. Without his belief in me, I would probably not be in this position now.”

Sharon’s journey to becoming a Master Barista started when Compass announced that applications were open for its first Barista Academy, which was to be a group of elite baristas from within the company. Her manager, a constant champion of Sharon, saw the opportunity and suggested she should enter. However, even though she has received considerable praise from Compass colleagues over the past two years of her time with the business, she was initially worried she wouldn’t be able to match Compass’ call for skill, consistency and quality.

She was right to expect high standards; the business was searching for its very best baristas and Sharon, although obviously talented, had no real knowledge of her own skill. Despite revelling in the mandatory Speciality Coffee Association training given to Caffé Dallucci colleagues (Dallucci is one of Compass’ centrally created café/deli brands, the first of which was opened at the company’s Chertsey HQ where Sharon works), she did not believe she was ready to compete in front of her peers as well as a highly regarded internal and external judging panel.

To select the members of the first Barista Academy, Stephen Lovegrove, Head of Format (Café and Foodvenience) – Central Marketing and Sonia Carvalho, Head of Coffee, created a two-heat technical skills process to determine who of the initial entrants had the highest degree of skill and should go through to the final round.

Even on the first day of trials, Sharon was still reluctant to go: “I was working on the day, as the trials were held at Chertsey where I am based, and I was watching the clock tick on and on. I honestly do not think I would have gone if it hadn’t been for my manager. Without his belief in me, I would probably not be in this position now.”

Luckily, for Sharon’s and Compass’ sake, she kept to her slot and successfully passed the technical skills tests to calibrate a grinder, produce two perfect espresso shots and then produce two flat whites with minimal milk waste. Now onto the final. Over the two weeks before the final Sharon perfected her signature drink, Grapefruit & Thyme Espresso Mocktail with a Lemon & Thyme shortbread, finding out what combinations tasted the best or gave the beverage an interesting twist.

Hands shaking, heart beating fast, Sharon’s nervousness was on full display on the day, but it did not hinder her speciality beverage. As she presented it to the four judges, you could see the initial intrigue in their faces turn to delight as they tasted the carefully constructed beverage. They had no doubts about making her one of the members of Compass’ elite group.

Sharon and the rest of the Barista Academy will now work towards a two-year diploma in coffee in association with the [Speciality Coffee Association] SCA, utilising the Coffee Skills Program. The end goal is for Compass to build a group of SCA Trainers (ASTs), with the aim of spreading the quality and education of great hot beverages throughout the company for its clients and consumers.

Coffee’s rise continues and rising with it are the careers within it. Sharon’s story is just one of a number of inspirational stories coming from the Compass Barista Academy.