What other coffee jobs have you had?
Before Quills, I was the roaster and trainer for a small, campus coffeehouse and roastery named Barefoots Joe. It’s part of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. They’re a fabulous group of people who make delicious coffee, and I absolutely loved working with them. Levi Hartsfield is at the helm of the roastery now, and Joy Moore is keeping things fresh for the students as she has always done so well. It seems word is getting out about them, and Barista Mag is doing a piece in which they’re featured [look for it in the June+July issue!]. I’m looking forward to reading that one.
What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?
This actually may not be my favorite thing, but it’s worth bringing up. I love how tactile coffee is. Preparing and drinking coffee is so full of tactile experiences: the feeling of porcelain on your lips (Ancap rocks), textures of reclaimed wood cafe tables, new vs. worn in portafilter handles, cappuccinos… There’s something vaguely informative and helpful about feeling green and roasted coffee. Sticking my arm in a cool bag of green coffee is so satisfying. The surface texture of roasting coffee is fascinating to me. And then there’s the tactile sensation of brewed coffee or espresso. I find that the body/mouthfeel is what has the most influence over how much I enjoy a coffee. Even a coffee that has fantastic sweetness and acidity, but lacks in body or has an offensive mouthfeel is just so disappointing. Then of course there’s milk. We all know how important milk texture is. I’m a very kinesthetic learner and coffee is such a “learn by doing” type of thing. I think that’s a large part of why I love working with coffee.
Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?
One of my favorite things about my position at Quills is that I do a very large [amount] of our roasting, but I still get to work a couple bar shifts every week. Wherever I am, I’d really like to maintain a similar position. Serving our coffee is so satisfying and I’d hate to lose that. It’s nice to meet and build relationships with the people that support our craft and drink our coffee every day. The opportunity to see a coffee from sampling, through production roasting, and finally get to serve it is extremely valuable to me.
In 10 years I’d also like to have impressed John Letoto just once, though I don’t think that’s very realistic. But hey, a kid can dream, right?
Who and what inspires you?
Man, so many things. Our customers come to mind first. We all work so hard to gain the trust of our regulars and it’s so special when that happens. It’s great to be able to challenge Danielle to try new coffees and to serve Frank the same 20-ounce cappuccino he’s gotten almost daily for the past three years. Both of those relationships require a daunting level of trust. Danielle and Frank both inspire me to work harder and keep pushing our service to the next level.
Also, other roasters’ coffees. You know the moment when you taste a coffee that is so unexpectedly perfect that you’re forced to reassess what coffee can be? Those coffees make me want to be a better roaster.
And lastly, our baristas. When I deliver excellently and consistently roasted coffees, our baristas don’t have to put so much effort into making the coffee taste great. They can focus on service, cleanliness, etc. If they have trouble brewing or serving our coffees well, much of the responsibility for that failure is on me. Their feedback encourages me to be better.
Oh, and other baristas and roasters, too. Seeing how other people do things better challenges us to think more creatively and execute on a higher level.
What are you drinking right now?
Right now I’m drinking a bourbon slushy from Feast BBQ in New Albany. It’s like childhood, but so totally adult.
Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?
My mom used to be a flight attendant and I got to share her flying privileges. So on off days, I would often fly places in the morning and fly home in the evening. I flew to DC to visit the museums a few times and I always made sure to visit Peregrine. Once I flew to New York for the sole purpose of visiting Everyman Espresso. It was right after Hurricane Sandy and all the flooding that followed. I spent most of my day on buses and trains, but it was so worth it. I got to meet both of the Sams and Amanda Whitt, who made me the most delightful espresso and cappuccino. They turned out to be some of the most lovely people I’ve ever met, and super talented baristas to boot. That whole experience was very memorable and so happy, thanks to them. Things didn’t always go so well, though. Once, I flew to Café Imports in Minneapolis and I totally messed up my public transit navigation and ended up on the complete opposite side of the city from where I should’ve been. After walking around totally lost for an hour, I called Matt Brown who was kind enough to come pick me up. I ended up having an immensely nice time at Café Imports that day. All of those little trips were so great and very memorable.
What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?
I’m a pretty regular customer at Panda Express. It’s great post-roasting food. I also eat a fair amount of chips and like to watch British TV. There’s a great beer bar in Louisville called the Holy Grale that I like to frequent and a new cocktail-focused bar just opened called Meta. They won my heart pretty easily.