[I]’m not good at tooting my own horn, so I forgot to tell you I run a blog and bakery, www.arcticsweets.com,” says Sarah Posma, in a follow-up e-mail to our interview. It’s a characteristic omission for this Alaska-born barista competitor who, between cross-country skiing and throwing ceramics, is general manager for Alaska Coffee Roasting Company in Fairbanks.
“Working at Alaska Coffee Roasting has always been my dream job,” says Posma. “I used to cross the street from my high school and go there after school, and I tried for years to get a job there. After I earned my degree in biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I finally started working as a barista, and now I’ve been with the company for eleven years!” She adds that coffee in Fairbanks is certainly popular, with likely thirty to forty drive-through coffee kiosks, but that her company is one of only four sit-down cafés in the city, and one of three micro-roasters (the other two are North Pole Coffee and Diving Duck Coffee).
In her managerial role, Posma doesn’t work bar shifts very often any more, but she stays involved in the daily life of her café, from roasting on the café’s Sivetz roaster to training baristas, one of her favorite tasks. “Most of my employees are university students who are just looking for a job, but once in a while I find someone who’s really interested in coffee, and I get a kick out of that.” She enjoys interacting with Alaska Roasting Company regulars like the older gentleman who came in every day for around a decade to drink his twelve-ounce skinny latte and eat his scone, and who recently passed away. “I know we were one of the highlights of his day, and that made me happy.”
In the recent Big Western Barista Competition, held in the Los Angeles area, Posma was the farthest-traveling competitor, at 3,283 miles. Her signature drink reflected her northern heritage, mingling espresso with “a white tea blended with lingonberry leaves and berries, and fireweed blossoms as well as local fireweed honey foam.” She enjoyed competing this year, counting it as a triumph that she managed to overcome the nerves that had her so shaky in 2014’s competition that she “actually sloshed the cappuccinos all over the countertop when [she] set them down in front of the judges!” She isn’t sure she’ll compete next year, but points out that in spite of not placing in the finalists, she feels she prepared some “really tasty beverages” and that her technical score improved, so she’s happy. Her motivation for competing was mainly to keep challenging herself after she had completed the Levels One and Two Barista and the SCAA Lead Instructor certifications.
In Fairbanks, Posma says the city is experiencing a mild winter, with only about seven inches of snow so far in the year, instead of a couple feet. The café opens at 7:00 am when it’s pitch black outside, and the sun comes up around 9:30 am, setting around 3:00 pm. “We are actually open until around ten o’clock, and believe it or not, people still buy coffee then!” She adds that in the winter the café is filled with people who buy coffee and “hang out” for hours. It’s a culture she embraces, coffee mug in hand.
—Emily McIntyre is a regular contributor to Fresh Cup.