Beyond barista: a robust learning map for Seattle Coffee Works


Seattle Coffee Works operates multiple cafés, a roastery, and a mail order business. The coffee industry has high turnover; the company is focused on retaining great employees with the knowledge and skill to help the business grow.

As a values-based business, Seattle Coffee Works envisioned a professional role for baristas that would pay a living wage and provide a career path. Leadership turned to Oxygen to develop a learning architecture encompassing a set of deep industry and professional skills and knowledge well beyond the usual barista training. The experience had to be easily consumable, available to staff members scheduled across different locations and shifts, and provide both company-specific and general business learning.

Seattle Coffee Works desired to connect the learning path with opportunities for increased scope of responsibility beyond the traditional path of promotion to store lead or manager, and to ensure that all the learning was imbued with the company’s specific values and culture of quality, equity, sustainability, and transparency.


As a fast-growing business, Seattle Coffee Works was investing in opening new stores and constantly developing new processes to help the company scale. It didn’t make sense to follow a traditional approach to building the experience, where the rigid formats of eLearning would require specialized developer skills to refresh.

Leadership asked that the learning architecture be comprehensive but flexible, with content easy to create and maintain in-house to reduce dependence on outside learning professionals to make updates. And, most importantly, the learning journey needed to clearly demonstrate the company’s commitment to treating baristas as coffee professionals and providing clear long-term development opportunities. It needed to walk the talk of Seattle Coffee Works’ values, culture and community.

…what was really exciting about working with Oxygen is they helped us design a plan that provides people a clear timeline, that clear pathway for what they could learn…. and getting [our employees] very engaged and involved.
Pipo Bui, Owner
Seattle Coffee Works

Our Approach:

Oxygen interviewed employees across multiple roles to explore their perspective on training, their vision for expanding professional development beyond the traditional “path to management,” and what learning could increase their contribution to Seattle Coffee Works.

We analyzed the results and compiled recommendations for professional development topics that could both drive employee engagement and lead to increased scope of responsibility in key operational areas, thereby supporting the company’s growth. We also recommended operations mechanisms to support employee success (such as clear role descriptions at each professional level).

This approach created immediate engagement from employees and surfaced ideas that leadership might not have considered; then leadership drove the final topic choices based on desired business outcomes.