By Tom Senkus

Walking into TaborSpace’s Bell Tower Coffee (5441 SE Belmont St.), lead barista Kjirsten Tornfelt is casually educating a customer about the newest trend in coffee: oat milk.

“It’s the most like chocolate,” she says. Over her shoulder, a trainee watches as Tornfelt deftly crafts Bell Tower Coffee’s drink menu, replete with a wide variety of teas and fair-trade coffees. She offers her breadth of coffee-based knowledge for the Café’s barista training program.

It’s an opportunity to learn coffee-related skills, a barrier of entry for those that may not have the experience that Portland’s top-notch coffeehouses require. The volunteer program caters to those who, as trainee Daniel Higgins puts it, say “I’ve got a machine at home and [I’ve] always felt I wasn’t good at it.”

After raising his children and finishing his career in advertising, Higgins saw the program as a great opportunity to deepen his appreciation of coffee and gain a new trade.

For volunteers, the barista training program consists of working side-by-side with Tornfelt and Marv Johnson, the other lead barista/trainer, gaining on-the-job training. Volunteers spend six months learning, with one 5-hour shift per week required to attain skills. Each month, the focus of their learning changes: from basic coffee shop organization and coffee tasting to latte art and other skills.

The program has been a success, with a number of individuals going on to establishing their own businesses and finding employment. Green Bridge Coffee at 345 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Highway, is one such example. The owner, Joel Stenberg, established his business and has been operating for 3 months after graduating from the program – a testament to the program’s value and real-world application.

For Tornfelt, the skills she’s learned through the program and her gregarious personality helped her directly to become one of the first volunteers to become a trainer for other volunteers

She says her experience has been a positive one. “I learned so much about coffee in general. TaborSpace is a great spot to have [the program] because we’re all about community.” She cited how trainees learn barista skills in a low-pressure environment that can prepare those who want job skills in a supportive environment.

Bell Tower Coffee is a one-of-a-kind of environment to learn in. Located in the beautiful 100 year-old bell tower at Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church, it is a part of TaborSpace, the community space that has regularly hosted concerts, support groups, and a wide range of events year-round in the church’s massive 36,000 sq. ft. since 2009.

Inside the coffeeshop opens up to additional seating in the adjacent room, Copeland Commons, the original chapel of the church. Lit by stained glass windows and a warm atmosphere, the café offers fair-trade coffee at reasonable prices that help support the space. It’s open Monday-Friday 8 am-3 pm, Saturdays 8:30 am-1:30 pm.

Barista trainee Daniel Higgins with trainer Kjirsten Tornfelt

Sign up for Bell Tower Coffee’s volunteer coffee program at taborspace.org/bell-tower-volunteer. No experience is necessary and volunteers must be at least 18 years of age, able to commit to one shift per week for the following six months. Contact info@taborspace.org for information.

If coffee isn’t your thing, the organization has another volunteer internship opportunity for those who want to build a resumé in office administrative work. Those who enjoy people, multitasking, and are motivated to help others, can fill out an application at taborspace.org/general-volunteer-application.