Merecedes Nelson is a barista, photographer and artist from Sioux Falls, SD. She gained coffee-brewing and photography experience during her time at USD from 2010-2013 when she worked at University Brew and studied fine arts with an emphasis in photography.
Her experience on campus led her to work at several coffee chains before joining the staff at Coffea, a specialty coffee shop in Sioux Falls. She also started her own photography business called DoeDeer Photography.
Morgan Matzen: How did you first get connected to making coffee?
Merecedes Nelson: It started when I was going to school at USD for photography. I would go to UBrew like every day, and then I realized I was burning through my flex dollars really fast. I wanted coffee, so I found out you got a free drink every shift you worked there, so I got a job there. Six years later, I’m still making coffee.
MM: What did you like about your job at UBrew?
MN: All the people that I worked with were super awesome. I loved all the perks: free coffee. It was kind of right there in the MUC and I got to talk with and interact with a lot of students and teachers that I might not normally have gotten the chance to meet.
MM: What brought you to USD?
MN: I wanted to stay somewhere close to my family in Sioux Falls, and USD by far has in my opinion the best art department. I absolutely fell in love with everything about it, especially the photo room. I was instantly sold.
MM: What did you do after leaving school?
MN: After that, I actually moved back to Sioux Falls. I was taking a break. A bit overwhelmed with my general classes and I kind of ran out of art classes to take, so I just thought I’d take a break. I went to Sioux Falls and applied at Caribou and had the worst interview of my life, and then I got hired at Scooter’s. I worked there for a little bit, then I worked at Starbucks for three years and then I found myself at Coffea.
MM: What brought you to the competition in New Orleans?
MN: I had been at Coffea for about six or seven months. I was talking with our roaster and he mentioned we usually try to send people to barista competitions. It’s just good for the company because we get exposure and it can be fun, so I was like, “Sure that sounds fun, I’ll do it.”
MM: What was the competition called and when was it? What did you place?
MN: It’s called Coffee Champs and the one that I did was in New Orleans on Feb. 3-4. The one that I did is one of two regional competitions they do, and they had another one in Reno on Dec. 9-10 that also had 60 people competing. So the top 18 people from that one and the top 18 people from the New Orleans one will move on to nationals in Seattle this April. I ended up placing 46 out of 51. There were 60, but nine people ended up dropping out.
MM: That’s really good though when you think about it.
MN: This is my first time doing it, and I wasn’t expecting to go on to nationals at all, not to say I wasn’t doing my best, I just knew what I was going up against because there were literally people from all over the nation and people who were like, “Oh, this is my eighth year competing and I’ve owned my own coffee shop for 15 years,” whereas I’m like, “Hi, I’ve been working at a specialty coffee shop for just over one year!” So the fact that I didn’t get last place, or honestly the fact that I didn’t throw up on the judge’s table, I’m pretty proud.