The experts on financing say that banks laugh at money-seekers who have no industry experience... the fact that you like going to restaurants a lot is not enough to convince them to give you big chunks of change to open your own.
So I apply for a "barista" job at a new chain shop and quit after 30 minutes of the training day when I learn that it's actually a sandwich shop with a vending style coffee machine with a big button that gets pushed by the "barista" (read: cashier). I feel bad about going to an indie when I don't really intend to stay that long, so I go ahead and manage to get a job at a real coffee chain (ok, THE coffee chain). We worry about having to sign the promised non-compete and waffle a bit about the whole thing... is it worth it... what are we really going to learn? We decide to go for it (in the end I was never actually given the non-compete). In retrospect, it was going to be a long while before we were going to get open, so the non-compete was probably a moot point, but we didn't yet know how long it was really going to take to get open.
I work there part-time for about three months. Meet some really nice people, listen to coffee-seminar MP3s on the bus trips, earn some cash to pay some of our research expenses. Worth it? Absolutely. I learn a ton about operations, equipment, processes, etc. I also learn how not to do a lot of things (and where the chain struggles, IMO). Now, can't imagine not having done it (and the banks we're very happy to see it too).
At the end of October we head to CoffeeFest, a big specialty coffee industry trade-show in Seattle. We walk the show floor, talking, tasting, comparing, go to seminars on every possible subject and participate in cupping workshops.
We visit renowned and coolio shops, taste lots of espressos, and still somehow end up gorging ourselves on yummy crepes outside the convention center. We also visit (scenic) tourist traps, check out our first barista competition (the Northwest Regional- AWESOME!) and head home.
Right after we get back, we go to our first "Barista Jam" at Intelligentsia where we meet some really nice people, learn about coffee origins, pull (espresso) shots with other baristas (including Phuong Tran, the reigning US Barista Champion at the time), get a tour of Intelly's Roasting Works and cup even more coffees. Our heads are ready to explode.
Next up, putting all the research to use...