If you ask Taylor Seymour what one of his favorite things about being a barista is, he will paint a picture for you that looks something like this:
The cafe is slammed. There is a queue of guests waiting to place their order and a line up of drinks on the bar. The baristas are engaged as a team. Together they move in full awareness of the space, trusting one another to execute, and gracefully hustling to provide an efficient and polished service.
He will liken these moments—whether they span ten minutes or two hours—to sport or a choreographed dance. And he will tell you it is physically demanding, suffused with non verbal communication, and exhilarating when a team of baristas are working seamlessly in a rush. These moments Taylor describes of “being in the zone” are not unlike those of an athlete, musician or a yogi. To me, they reflect the ultimate achievement of presence in being what you are doing instead of merely doing what you are doing. And, in a larger sense, an indication that Taylor Seymour is walking down the right path.
Taylor, intelligent, professional and hard working, is an example of what is really exciting about the specialty coffee industry right now. He is a highly motivated twenty-something, eager to provide excellence in service alongside carefully, hand-crafted beverages. I sat down with Seymour over espresso to understand what led him to specialty coffee and how he grew into his current role of manager at Boxcar Social—one of Toronto’s most ambitious, independent multi-roaster businesses.
Before Seymour joined the Boxcar team, he was transitioning from a sales and marketing job to take over management of a restaurant. Taylor, with a month of downtime between gigs, went on Craigslist in search of something to fill his days. He stumbled upon a listing for a part time job as a barista at Boxcar Social—a happenstance he refers to as Kismet.
Boxcar Social is a cafe and bar concept built at the hands of Chris Ioannou, Alex Castellani, John Baker and Joe Papik. Their coffee program curated by Alex, is unusually ambitious in that it represents an ever changing variety of coffees from some of the most well regarded roasters in North America. Each coffee—whether for pour over, filter, or espresso—goes through a meticulous recipe development process before it is served.
“I saw what the guys were doing, how different it was and how capable they were of executing it well,” Taylor shared. Though he had little experience in coffee of this caliber, Seymour dove in head first with the philosophy, “if we failed, it would be my failure and not others.” In fact, not shying away from responsibility is the attitude that quickly put Taylor in the position of overseeing operations at two shops. Manager was not a title that he asked for, it was something he just became.
Taylor has committed whole-heartedly to being a coffee professional. If you spend some time talking with him, it will become apparent that he has voracious appetite for learning. Seymour is articulate and thoughtful in sharing his ideas about what is happening in Toronto's specialty coffee landscape, as well as in the industry as a whole. He also exudes a confidence in his role in it.
One of Taylor's goals as a barista is to serve you in a way which does not intimidate you. Not unlike a seasoned chef, he can tell you after pulling a shot of espresso, exactly what it is expected to taste like and how it will pair with milk. These assumptions are based on systems that are rigorously maintained at Boxcar Social. It's an approach to coffee most people are not used to, but it allows Seymour the ability to, as he says, "create a specific feeling based on something that's measurable." It is a framework that wipes out cultural blanket statements like 'The shop with the best coffee in the city' and opens the dialogue to a more appropriately sized conversation like, "why a particular coffee is singing on a particular day."
If Taylor were to meditate, his mantra would be 'to live objectively.’ When I asked Seymour what excites him most about industry right now, he responded without hesitation, "how ill defined it is and how subjective peoples opinions of coffee are." It's hardworking professionals like Taylor Seymour that recognize the ambiguous space coffee is in, and see this space an opportunity to lay a foundation, who are propelling our collective understanding of coffee forward.