10 Minutes With James Tooill

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James Tooill
Roaster, Profile Developer, QC, Barista Trainer
Argo Sons Coffee
Louisville, Kentucky

What other coffee jobs have you had?

I started as a barista at the Dripolator Coffeehouse in Black Mountain. North Carolina. I was lucky to start there just as the owner, Amy V. Carroll, was bringing the roasting in-house. Six months (and a lot of research) later I was taking a roasting course at the Diedrich Manufacturing plant. We were roasting soon after, and it turned out to be exactly as rewarding and challenging as I had dreamed that it would be.

During some of that period I took a weekend job as a barista at High Five Coffee Bar in Asheville, NC.  I told everyone that it was to make money to pay for our honeymoon, but really I just wanted to serve Counter Culture Coffee and learn from the folks in a cafe that I respect a lot.

I got married and moved back to my hometown and got a job as a barista, and then trainer at Quills Coffee in Louisville, Kentucky. I worked there while Nathan, the owner of Quills, opened a roastery and expanded from one to three cafes.

I’ve also been asked to do a bit of independent consulting and training for some friends, which was both flattering and rewarding.

James and Argo owner Matt Argo cup some samples at the Argo roastery  in the spring of 2013. Here, Matt holds his son, Abraham Argo, at the cupping table.

James and Argo owner Matt Argo cup some samples at the Argo roastery in the spring of 2013. Here, Matt holds his son, Abraham Argo, at the cupping table.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?

I love conversations over coffee, sitting in cafes, and working with people who bring their creativity and passion with them to work every day. But my real favorite part about working in coffee is the smell of coffee. The aromatic diversity between green coffees, the way the coffee in the roaster smells just before first crack is incredible.

James (right) was thrilled to place third in the recent 2014 Southeast Brwers Cup. He's pictured here with winner Jonathan Bonchak (center) and second-place finisher, Colin Whitcomb.

James (right) was thrilled to place third in the recent 2014 Southeast Brwers Cup. He’s pictured here with winner Jonathan Bonchak (center) and second-place finisher, Colin Whitcomb.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?

I’ll be working with coffee. I’d love to run a cafe. But I also have a hard time imagining giving up roasting to do so. Maybe I’ll work in importing and give up both.

Who and what inspires you?

My wife inspires me to be wiser and happier. My mom just graduated from law school, so she’s shown me that there’s no need to stop learning and changing. I’ve always been a very competitive person, so bags of coffee from my favorite roasters routinely inspire me to grow in my own craft. It’s a lot of work just to keep up.

James poured this tulip as he was practicing for the Coffee Fest Chicago latte art competition in 2012. He made it to the third round and was stoked!

James poured this tulip as he was practicing for the Coffee Fest Chicago latte art competition in 2012. He made it to the third round and was stoked!

What are you drinking right now?  

Today I’ve been drinking three different roasts of a Kenyan Kabare brought in by Cafe Imports. It was my competition coffee at the Big Eastern, and while there I met two other competitors using the same lot. We had a little exchange, and now in my kitchen there are competition roasts from Commonplace Coffee in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Buddy Brew Coffee in Tampa, Florida.  I’m also sipping on a project that I call “The Processor.” I’m trying to use chemical food additives to improve on a cup of coffee.  You know: MSG, Malic, Citric, and Tartaric Acids, Xantham gum,  etc.  So far, so good.

James loves all aspects of coffee: roasting, brewing, competing, and of course interacting with his peers.

James loves all aspects of coffee: roasting, brewing, competing, and of course interacting with his peers.

Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?

The Big Eastern last month was the most memorable industry experience I’ve ever had. I got to meet so many people that I look up to. Working for a small company in a small market can be great for innovation and clarifying your own approach, but it can also make you doubt your palate. Placing in the Brewer’s gave me the confidence that I know I’ll need for Nationals in Seattle.

What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?

Outside of coffee I’m still into drinks. Teas, beers, cocktails, homemade sodas, and I even make a pretty mean hot chocolate.

 

 

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.