10 Minutes with Shawn Steiman

ss on DT's Maui coffee 1-19-12

Shawn Steiman, PhD
Coffee Scientist and Owner/Consultant
Coffea Consulting
Honolulu, Hawaii
&
Owner and Chief Science Officer
Daylight Mind Coffee Company
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

What other coffee jobs have you had? 

Barista at Toto’s Coffee & Cafe in Mission, Kansas. They closed years ago—I’m not sure they ever had a website!

Shawn Steiman holds a doctorate in coffee science, is one of the authors and editors of the enormously popular, recently-released book, "Coffee: A Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage, and the Industry"; and is the owner of Daylight Mind Coffee Co., a new roasters, cafe, and bakery on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Shawn Steiman holds a doctorate in coffee science, is one of the authors and editors of the enormously popular, recently-released book, “Coffee: A Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage, and the Industry”; and is the owner of Daylight Mind Coffee Co., a new roasters, cafe, and bakery on the Big Island of Hawaii.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?

Drinking it! This is what led me to the business, after all. Although, that really contends with teaching. I’ve found I have a great passion for teaching coffee to anyone who’ll listen: farmers, roasters, baristas, interested consumers… As any teacher will tell you, there’s nothing better than the student who can’t soak up enough information and who then takes on what you’ve said and integrates into their life somehow.

Always the scientist: here is Shawn viewing the eclipse.

Always the scientist: here is Shawn viewing the eclipse.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?

Much as where I am now, only more stable. I love consulting as it lets me do many different things while teaching all kinds of people. I hope that I can develop that business so that it takes me two or three other countries per year, in addition to regular work in Hawaii.

As I just opened a roastery/cafe/coffee school, I certainly like to think it will become a respected and cherished addition to the coffee community.  After all, one doesn’t open a brick-and-mortar with hopes it will suck and fail!

Shawn roasting coffee.

Shawn roasting coffee.

Who and what inspires you?

Lately, my cafe manager and baristas have inspired me. They’ve joined up into a crazy start-up company that is much more than just a cafe, roastery, and coffee school (there’s a restaurant, bakery, and event space, as well). Nothing seems to go according to plan and it is always about more than just coffee. Yet, with whatever comes at them, they handle it with resolve and strength and a fierceness to ensure that only great coffee is served to customers, no matter what walls seem to be crashing down around them. It is humbling to see folks work so hard for my vision.

As for “what” inspires me, I would say it is the unknown. I spent eight years in graduate school studying various bits of coffee. It is true that the more you study the more you realize you don’t know anything. There’s so much knowledge and data to gather about coffee, and we are only just beginning to ask the right questions in some instances. Hell, the only reason I wanted to get a PhD was because I saw a question nobody else had answered yet. It is hard to not be inspired by the depth of our ignorance.

Lastly, living in Hawaii (i.e. at origin), I’m inspired by the next new farm whose coffee I get to try. Sometimes farmers get it right by accident and sometimes they get it right on purpose. In most cases, they rarely know that they’ve gotten it right. Knowing the next coffee I try could be surprisingly good is incentive to keep working with farmers and keep trying new coffees.

Shawn at work in a hammock (that's Hawaii-style).

Shawn at work in a hammock (that’s Hawaii-style).

What are you drinking right now?

Who drinks just one coffee at a time? I have a Kona coffee from farmers who just bought the land and barely know what they’re doing. They have practically no coffee to sell from their itty bitty harvest, yet the sample they gave me shows a lot of potential for their farm. I also have some samples from K’au that are surprisingly interesting, especially since I think at least one of them is amazing by accident.

Sure, he's a serious scientist, but Shawn thoroughly loves goofing around.

Sure, he’s a serious scientist, but Shawn thoroughly loves goofing around.

Crazy coffee experience you’d like to share?

I think I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy to have had a truly crazy coffee experience. Certainly, I’ve had crazy experiences that resulted from doing coffee-related things or being at origin because of work, but few of them are directly related to coffee. Hmmm, perhaps this one, though it is hardly “crazy”:

I recall my first visit to Puerto Rico. I was on the last farm visit of the day and the farmer said he had purchased some Esmeralda Geisha (this was the year of its great discovery and the immense auction price).  [Knowing I had not] tried it yet myself, he offered me a cup. After trying it, I completely understood why folks were so gaga over it. Yet the farmer didn’t like it! It tasted too tea-like, he said. While that seemed crazy at the time (what self-respecting coffee person wouldn’t like that coffee!?), it was a focal moment that finally clarified for me subjective and objective measurement of quality and how the industry approaches it.

 

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.