10 Minutes With Justin DeWaard

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Justin DeWaard
General Manager/Director of Coffee
Rowster Coffee
Grand Rapids, Michigan

What other coffee jobs have you had?

I started working in 2005 at JP’s Coffee & Espresso in Holland, Mich., as a barista—though Sherry, the manager, will tell you she gave me a job just so she wouldn’t have to deal with me asking her for a job. Eventually that lead in to my job working for JP’s sister company, The Midwest Barista School (also located in Holland) as trainer and on-site consultant. Working for both companies was an excellent way to get introduced to countless industry leaders and peers.

Justin at Stone House Recording in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Justin at Stone House Recording in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?

Obviously, community is one of the greatest benefits of the industry. However, it goes beyond that, too. Coffee is an anomaly of a field: It’s split between two diametrically opposed hemispheres. On one side, there are hyper-corrective, ultra-geeky disciplines, tweaking far beyond what most would call acceptable, coffee doctrines, coffee scholars,  and gadgety arms-tech races. Opposite that, you have a wild and untamed frontier of possibility—the ability to do coffee new, different, and unexpectedly. The crucible where the two halves meet is always filled with creative, passionate individuals eager to push the boundaries and keep the craft exciting. Another way to describe them/us would be “curious and obsessive weirdos.”

Justin takes part in a blind cupping (with the hopes of denouncing) Kopi Luwak at JP's in Holland with a group of coffee peers.

Justin takes part in a blind cupping (with the hopes of denouncing) Kopi Luwak at JP’s in Holland with a group of coffee peers.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?

Is there anyone in coffee that can give an answer [as to what] he/she expects to happen? Presumably, I’ll be the same height and maybe my beard will be a bit longer, maybe I’ll even have unlocked the secret to preventing my distant friends posting latte-foam cats on my Facebook and asking if I can do it. I’m sure I’ll have an espresso in hand. Other than that, I have absolutely no idea. As long as I have my friends and family, I’m sure I’ll be happy.

Justin and his wife, Megan, in Grand Rapids.

Justin and his wife, Megan, in Grand Rapids.

Who and what inspires you?

Old trains. Cormac McCarthy. Dogs. Ancient viking culture. Supernovas and quasars. I try to remember that absolutely everything is interesting and can teach me something about myself or the world. Beyond that, my wife’s inexplicable grounded nature and steadfastness—which is even more bizarre when contrasted with my ability to constantly hijack my own agenda or get distracted by interesting acoustical properties of different kinds of rocks—is instrumental to my being able to function.

Justin throws down at Madcap's anniversary party.

Justin throws down at Madcap’s anniversary party.

What are you drinking right now? 

A washed Kenya Nyeri. I’m crazy about coffees with dry, vegetal bodies with a bit of a fermenty/Belgian sour funkiness. Drinking this coffee is like having Sly & The Family Stone jam on your palate. I also just had a Congo SO espresso from Counter Culture that was stunning. I’ve had coffee from the Congo before, but they’re normally plagued with defects. This was different. Other than that, I stay well-stocked on all of Michigan’s heartiest microbrews.

Rowster by night.

Rowster by night.

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

When I was 10 years old, I ran a “café” from my parents basement with their old Sultan cappuccino maker. I’d sell highly-caffeinated drinks to the neighbor kids for 25 cents (FYI: not an effective business model) and send them jittering back to their parents. Somehow, amidst a dark night of espresso experimentation (I’m remembering lighting cracking overhead and there may have been one or two brains in formaldehyde jars), the cappuccino maker exploded—literally exploded. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I am not surprised given my and my brothers’ abilities to make things explode. I received some semi-serious steam burns across my forearms and the shock of a lifetime. I had also just transferred schools which lead to some gossip about “the new kid who blew up his coffee maker.”

Justin making capps on bar at Rowster.

Justin making capps on bar at Rowster.

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

I spend a lot of time drinking beer or smoking a pipe with my close friends. Strangely enough I am also a hopeless gear head about vintage iron (read: muscle cars) which leads to a lot of mischief. Music has dominated most of my spare time since birth, my weapon of choice being the drums. I’ve had the great fortune of having friends and bandmates highly involved in recording and producing which has allowed me more opportunities to play and record than I deserve. Most recently, I am getting into blacksmithing and metallurgy.

 

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.