Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

Interview: What’s the Journey From Lawyer to AST & Roasting School Founder?

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Two years ago, María Esther López Cásares was a barrister. Today, she’s an Authorised SCAE Trainer (AST) on an international level; CEO and Co-Founder of Melc Brew Bar, a coffee shop and school; and a green coffee buyer.

She’s both passionate and intelligent – which is no surprise given her background. But was that all she needed to go from barrister to barista extraordinaire? I couldn’t wait to ask her.

SEE ALSO: Want to Become a SCAE Barista Trainer? 10 Must-Have Skills

María Esther López Cásares

María Esther López Cásares: AST, CEO & Co-Founder of Melc Brew Bar, green bean buyer, and lawyer. Credit: Slayer

From Law to Lattes

As a lawyer, María specialised in Venezuelan administrative law and tax administration. She explains that she was initially proud to represent her home nation in this way. However, political disagreements made her already demanding career even more stressful.

And in the background, there was coffee. For her, it was like a forbidden romance – an infatuation that, amid the stress and turbulence of life as a lawyer, she found small fragments of time to indulge in. Coffee calmed her, becoming both her therapy and her passion – and, in 2014, she decided to also make it her full-time career.

coffee sorting

Swapping courtrooms for coffee farms – a different environment, but the same importance. Finca Los Pirineos, El Salvador.

Back to School

Her interest in coffee had begun long before that, however. It was in 2005 that she realised how important it was to her – and that, in order to progress, she would need a better coffee education.

She first bought a ticket to the Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA)’s headquarters in San Diego, where she studied as many courses as possible. After that, she visited various locations across Europe. And eventually she went on to study at the Los Angeles Coffee Business School. She explained that there was a focus on entrepreneurial knowhow there that she appreciated.

There were challenges to her studies. Not only was she extremely busy, but funding her travelling and courses while being paid in Venezuelan Bolívares made it even more expensive. Yet she persevered.

coffee friends

María receives technical and support training from Dalla Corte Pro, Milan.

Work Hard, Study Hard, Volunteer Hard

Alongside her studying, María also volunteered as frequently as possible. And she attributes this to her decision to quit law.

At SCAA Portland, she was faced with what many might call a daunting task: learning to use complex equipment that she had never before seen. Yet instead of being deterred, María she tells she just thought, “I can do this, I’m smart enough”. It was a pivotal moment for her.

After two years of studying and volunteering for SCAA, María set her sights on Europe. She applied – and was accepted – to volunteer with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). She also trained in Barcelona under the tutelage of AST Rubén Sanz Navarro, which led to her reaching a professional barista standard.

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María has studied all aspects of the coffee industry. Here, she roasts for cupping with Moplaco in Ethiopia.

From Student to Teacher

María’s keen to emphasise how many people she’s been lucky enough to meet during her journey. Many of them have been influential to her. But when I push her for the most influential one, she pauses to deliberate before saying,  “Anniemarie Tiemes”.

María explains that Anniemarie, the Education Field Manager at SCAE, “changed her life forever” – because she encouraged her to also pass on her knowledge to others.

On Anniemarie’s advice, María enrolled in an AST course which then allowed her to teach the Coffee Diploma System curriculum in her own classes. And together, she tells me, they set up the first AST training centre in Barcelona in 2013.

Without hesitation, she declares that the proudest moment of her coffee career was teaching in Ethiopia. She had an immense appreciation, she explains, for being at “the origin of everything”.

coffee people

María and the rest of the Café Registrado team.

Green Beans & Lifelong Friendships

It was also in Ethiopia that María met coffee producer and exporter Heleanna Georgalis from Moplaco. María explains that the two of them are driven by the same passion for excellent quality coffee. What’s more, Heleanna shared her wealth of knowledge with her.

This instantaneous and yet long-lasting friendship with Heleanna, María tells me, was a huge influence in the decision to branch out even more. She decided to become a green coffee buyer.

And it just so happened that this was the time of year when buyers would come to Ethiopia to cup Heleanna’s coffee. This meant that María was able to network with some well-established purchasers. The next stage in her career had begun.

bags of green coffee

María at Moplaco‘s headquaters, Ethiopia.

Future Goals: A New Training School

María will never stop planning, dreaming, or looking for new ways to benefit the coffee industry. She’s already set her sights on opening a coffee training school and lab, coffee shop, and roastery in Buenos Aires, called Café Registrado, with close friend Pablo Sebastian Lapelosa. 

Pablo had arranged to take SCAE roasting lessons from María in Buenos Aires. Yet within moments of meeting her, he had made a business proposal. It didn’t take long for María to be swayed by his passion and to agree.

María explains that they want to “open a whole new concept, not only in Argentina but throughout all of Latin America”.

Pablo Sebastian Lapelosa and María Esther López Cásares

Pablo Sebastian Lapelosa and María.

María’s 4 Rules of Working in Coffee

It’s clear that education is important to María, but I wanted to know if there’s anything else that she believes is crucial for working in coffee. She tells me that there are four things.

First, always respect the coffee bean. “This is not about you,” she elaborates. “It is about a family far away from you, whose huge sacrifices, pain, joy and effort produce that little thing that will take less time than a song for you to brew. So respect that. Honour that.”

Next, she tells me, “Be honest all of the time. For you to grow up in this industry, honesty is one of the most powerful skills that one can possess. Always say what you want and think in a respectful manner to ensure consistency with your cups and your way of acting.”

Most importantly, she says, you need to love what you do. In order to reach where she is today, she had to genuinely enjoy it. That’s what pushed her to constantly learn.

Finally, she tells me not to be afraid of learning. “If one thing is true about our industry it is that nothing stays the same for long. We are always improving, changing and finding new ways of thinking about the coffee bean and you have to be ready for that.”

rakes drying coffee

María rakes drying coffee on Finca Los Pirineos, El Salvador.

Passion, determination, and a hunger to learn and teach has made María what she is today – a huge influence in the lives of many, whether students or business partners; a driving force for innovation and education in the industry; and someone who truly loves their job.

Written by J. Stapleton with thanks to Maria Esther Lopez of Café Registrado. All photo credit unless otherwise mentioned: Maria Esther Lopez.

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