by: Viktoria Belova
A man in love with coffee: an interview with barista Mikhail Kiselev on vocation, coffee, and the
Mikhail Kiselev studied design engineering, but his love for coffee changed his life. Today he is
one of the best coffee experts in Russia, a Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Certified Master
Barista and an international trainer for coffee shops around the world.
- Tell us more about your coffee journey.
I never thought about connecting my life with coffee. I am an engineer by training, but since
2013 I have been working in the tobacco industry. It was then that my first acquaintance with
the world of coffee happened. I went to work at seminars, where, in addition to representatives
of tobacco products, there were presentations of coffee companies. Among attendees there
also was Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. People were inspired by the fact that they were
brewing coffee, their eyes showed love for their work and for coffee, respectively. I was
charged with their passion, this energy. Until that moment, I could not even imagine the
difficult journey coffee undertakes to end up in a cup. I began to look at coffee not just as a drink, but as something alive, with its own history. The coffee journey is a very complex process. First, the farmer grows the crop, looks after it, collects it. After the beans fall into the hands of the roaster, the taste of the coffee largely depends on them. And only then it gets to a barista.
Where and how did you study?
After the seminar in 2013, I began to get seriously involved in coffee, while combining my new
hobby with my main job. I began to practice professionally in 2014 after a trip to Indonesia,
where the coffee industry was born. I have been to the best coffee trainings in Turkey, Spanish
Coffee Institute, Germany, Portugal, Holland. On the weekends, I got up at the counter in a
coffee shop, where I practiced and developed my own techniques.
- Do you have statistics on how many students you have trained?
At first, I counted and printed out photos of all the students who studied with me. In 2014,
there were few training centers available for baristas in Russia. Queues began to form for my practice, at some point, offers from private coffee shops started coming my way. There were already too many photos of my students, there was nowhere to place them. For example, in 2018 alone, 300 people graduated. This figure has tripled in 2020. Some of my students have already opened their own coffee shops and have been teaching young baristas for a long time.
- Do you have a typical student portrait, if so, what is it?
They all are completely different, unique personalities. I try to find an approach to everyone. At
some point, I realized that an individual approach when working with a group is a utopia. If one
of the students in the group openly “slows down” for various reasons, you cannot make
everyone else suffer, because you are looking for an individual approach to this student.
Therefore, I must maneuver, each time coming to a compromise. It takes up a tremendous
amount of energy and emotion. An individual approach is when you work one-on-one with a
trainer. For example, when preparing a barista for a coffee championship.
- What are the main problems of modern coffee education?
We lack a systematic scientific approach. Too many speculations, theories, and personal
opinions. We talk a lot and often do not check the information we have received. The scientific
approach codifies chaos. Reliable sources of knowledge are updating slowly. Over the past 7
years, everything has changed dramatically and continues to change rapidly. Big institutions
don’t keep up with trends. SCA trainers say curricula don’t always keep up with innovation.
Progressive trainers always provide more knowledge beyond the program. There is a basic
module “Barista Basics”, its duration is 7 hours. If we talk about quality teaching, I’ve been
thinking over the many years that I have been training students, what content can be taught in
7 hours including the exam? It is quite difficult to rely on self-study. Some learned, some did not
learn, some did not understand. Complex processes, complex technological equipment. It take
- What are your professional plans for the near future?
To devote myself completely to the coffee industry. The trend in popularity of coffee houses
and good coffee lovers is only growing, there is a lack of certified trainers. I have plans of
opening my own barista education center.