10 Minutes With James Klapp

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James Klapp
Barista
La Colombe Coffee
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

What other coffee jobs have you had?

I had never worked in coffee before Ultimo [his employer before La Colombe] besides my involvement in a roaster-retailer concept that never made it past the planning stage. Prior to that, I was a gigging musician for about seven years.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?

I unexpectedly found in coffee what I didn’t find in music. Quality is more objective. The methods people employ to create that quality provide a refreshing outlet for creativity, but with success being more clearly defined.   There’s also something to be said for playing one small role in something a lot bigger than yourself, and working in coffee provided that opportunity when I needed it. It can taste pretty great, too!

James recently won second place in the Northeast Brewer's Cup event in Durham, N.C. He will compete on the national level in April in Seattle.

James recently won second place in the Northeast Brewer’s Cup event in Durham, N.C. He will compete on the national level in April in Seattle.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?

Specialty coffee provides an alluring opportunity to develop sustainable, socially responsible relationships that improve communities both at origin and at home. Counter Culture has set an impressive example of what can be accomplished with the right priorities, and that has solidified my commitment to contributing what I can to the cooperative effort to improve quality and sustainability. My role in that may just be talking about coffee quality at the U.S. Brewers Cup right now, but there are a variety of opportunities from roasting to research that provide a path toward real, positive influence in people’s lives. That defining purpose will hopefully lead my career in a direction that keeps me useful.

Working at the hugely respected Ultimo Coffee may be James' first coffee job, but it's one he takes quite seriously.

Working at the hugely respected Ultimo Coffee may be James’ first coffee job, but it’s one he takes quite seriously.

Who and what inspires you?

It’s a little uncomfortable to point out an individual among dozens in an organization full of people about whom I could write a paragraph or two, detailing their generosity both in time and knowledge. That said, every conversation I’ve had with Tim Hill, green coffee buyer for Counter Culture, has significantly influenced and motivated me. Even more inspirational to me than the wealth of knowledge that Tim has developed, is the clear commitment to sharing it freely, which resonates at a deeper level. A commitment to education and progress affects so many more people, and I’m just one example of the greater effect of that commitment. I’m having a lot of fun learning about coffee, and the thought of being in a position to share that knowledge is pretty inspiring.

James left his career as an actively performing musician for coffee, which he

James left his career as an actively performing musician for coffee, in which, he says, “quality is more objective.”

What are you drinking right now? 

I can’t get enough of the surprisingly clean Buziraguhindwa Natural Sundried, the first natural sundried coffee to be exported from Burundi, roasted by Counter Culture. Today, it’s in a Chemex, but lately I’ve been sticking to the stainless steel Kalita Wave 185.

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

The night before the Northeast Brewers Cup finals at the Big Eastern, I spent a few hours at Counter Culture practicing and tweaking my recipe. It turned into a pizza party on the floor of the cupping lab with some pals from Pavement Coffee in Boston, with guest appearances by all sorts of Counter Culture friends, proving my favorite things (coffee and pizza) are the things that bring people together.

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

Mostly, I’m trying to prefect my Thai green curry recipe or grabbing a slice of pizza.

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.