Industry That Connects: An American In Manchester

24 OCTOBER, 2021

As an American who has lived and worked in eight countries and visited dozens more, I never experienced such significant culture shock as when I moved to the UK. In the fall of 2018, I arrived in the county to begin my master’s degree at the University of Manchester. I struggled with the transition in ways I hadn’t expected, but one event helped to turn that around for me — the Manchester Coffee Festival.

A few days before the start of the festival, I attended a screening of the AeroPress Movie, a documentary about the development of my favourite piece of coffee equipment. I showed up to the screening alone after having almost changed my mind about going at all. However, it didn’t take me long to be grateful that I had decided to attend.

After six weeks of wondering what it would take for me to be a part of Manchester, feeling so incredibly American, and regularly asking myself “what on earth am I doing here?” I had finally found my people — the coffee community. It was at this event that I first met Ryan, one of the founders of Blendsmiths. Having spent time outside of the UK, Ryan knew what it was like to be a foreigner in a new place, and in him I soon found a kindred spirit. 

As I met and chatted with some of the other people at the event, I experienced an ease of interacting with them that I hadn’t found since moving. While it might seem easy to move to a country in which you speak the same language, that hadn’t been my experience up until this point.

But now, in this room of people, we shared another common language — coffee. Coffee folks are some of the best kind of folks, in my opinion. They’re open and kind and good-humoured. This belief was further cemented when I arrived at the Manchester Coffee Festival a couple of days later. I saw the people who I had met at the AeroPress Movie screening, and we greeted each other like old friends.One of my core personality traits that had made me feel so incredibly American was the open posture with which I live my life. But as it turned out, this attitude was a benefit in the coffee community.

My willingness to strike up a conversation with anyone who had the time to chat meant that I engaged in lively and fun conversations. I met some incredibly lovely people who were hustling with their businesses and passionate about what they do.

I was commonly met with a surprised, “do you work in coffee?” after getting deeper into a conversation. I usually laughed off the question and explained my deep enthusiasm for coffee and the ways that it had followed me over the years. I first got into coffee when I lived in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t the love of the beverage that had kept me engaged in it — at least not entirely. It was for the moments that I found at the Manchester Coffee Festival, where I could build a connection with someone with whom I might have nothing else in common.

I had only bought a one day ticket for the festival, but I had such a good time that I decided to go back the second day. I invited a new friend, who wasn’t even much of a coffee drinker, to join me. As we made our way through Victoria Warehouse, enjoying samples and chatting with folks, my friend commented to me, “This is so fun! I can see why you love this.”For possibly the first time since I had moved to Manchester, I genuinely felt like there was a space where I could belong. At the London Coffee Festival a few months later, I was recognised and greeted with hugs from baristas I had met in Manchester.

Some of the people that I met in the Manchester coffee scene became my best friends, and we’ve stayed in touch even though I no longer live in the UK. At the core of why I love coffee is its ability to bring people together — whether it is a big festival to enjoy all things coffee and tea, or enjoying a coffee while sitting across the table from a friend. My weekend at the Manchester Coffee Festival proved that, and it was a pretty special thing of which to be a part.

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Credited to the author:.

Olivia Blinn

Specialty Drinks Enthusiast and Blendsmiths Friend