The Rialta Coffee Tour: Living Simply, Drinking Coffee (Part 2)

After hundreds of coffee-less miles across the deserts of the southwest I finally discovered Evocation in Amarillo, Texas. After the barista passionately described the flavor profile of the Ethiopian they were using that day, I was served this tray of magnificence.

Editor’s note: Don Niemyer and his wife, Carissa, operated Speedboat Coffee in Portland, Ore., until not too long ago when he and his family decided to make a big change: not only were they relocating to Fort Collins, Colorado, but they were going to take their sweet time doing it—literally. Don, his wife, and their two daughters ages 7 and 8, decided to leave Portland in their Volkswagon Rialta RV to travel around the country visiting cafes. My old pal Chrissy Hoag, who had gotten to know Don when she was in wholesale at Stumptown Coffee, put me and Don in touch originally, and we’ve been chatting about Don writing a column for the Barista Magazine Blog for a while. We got serious about it in May when he emailed saying he was ready to get rolling with it. He wrote, “Over the past year, we actually DID move into an RV just to be prepared for the trip, but haven’t gotten around to leaving town yet. We decided to go ahead and do a portion of our trip starting in June, and do the rest whenever the shop sells. In the meantime, if you happen to have an idea of how this type of trip could be used to create a story for BMAG I’d love to talk about it. I’ve been thinking of collecting “best practices” or maybe doing a “state of the nation” kind of approach or maybe coming at it from the standpoint of highlighting some lesser known folks who are out there doing great work, which might be encouraging to readers… I’ve been blogging a little to kind of experiment with finding an approach at two sites, if you care to check them out: www.rialtacoffeetour.wordpress.com, www.pdxcoffeeconsultants.wordpress.com.”

So I told Don to go for it—this is exactly the kind of story we love featuring at Barista Magazine: real stories from the field about people who love coffee so much they want to explore it in an entirely unique way.

Here is the second installment of Don’s column, The Rialta Coffee Tour. Don will be exploring different themes as he continues to write for us, so check back often to see what he and his family have been up to on this most killer cafe tour of the United States!

(Pssst! You can read Part 1 of the column HERE.)

The Mystery Machine of Coffee: Our 21-foot VW Rialta RV. So far we’ve lived in this space with less than 100 square feet for over 16 months and logged over 4,000 miles looking for the coffee crazies who are pushing the boundaries in our industry.

The Mystery Machine of Coffee: Our 21-foot VW Rialta RV. So far we’ve lived in this space with less than 100 square feet for over 16 months and logged over 4,000 miles looking for the coffee crazies who are pushing the boundaries in our industry.

I guess there are crazy people everywhere. And like my 8-year-old reminds me, “Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.” But it seems to me like the barista community is just chock full of nuts. Sure, we come from all different stripes and bolts of cloth. But I think one thing that holds us together is that we’re the types of folks that just see the world a little differently. And maybe some people call that crazy. But I was reminded this week as we observed the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that it’s often the boundary pushers that history judges not as crazy people, but as world changers.

Maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me too much that some people think I’m crazy. For over 16 months now, my family has lived in our tiny home on wheels, a 21-foot VW Rialta RV. So far we’ve logged over 4,000 miles of what we are calling the Rialta Coffee Tour, searching out America’s best coffeehouses looking for the coffee crazies: Those who are pushing the boundaries, raising the bar, thinking outside the box, and innovating their way into the next new normal for our industry. We’re honored that Barista Magazine has invited us to share some of our discoveries along the way, and even more honored that you would read along!

So what are those crazy baristas out there up to? Well, last time we discussed how hospitality seems to be strong and well practiced at the moment. In this installment, let’s see what those innovators are doing with espresso presentation.

At Either/Or in Portland, Ore., you can order this flight of espresso, served on a custom tray and including some sparkling water and a side of fresh fruit chosen as an ideal pairing to compliment the flavor of the espresso.

At Either/Or in Portland, Ore., you can order this flight of espresso, served on a custom tray and including some sparkling water and a side of fresh fruit chosen as an ideal pairing to compliment the flavor of the espresso.

Espresso presentation is an area where we’ve really come a long way. And why not? After all, this is our main jam! Espresso is the foundation for most of our drinks, and the best showcase for our mad skills. When someone orders an espresso by itself, why shouldn’t we do everything we can to make the experience as amazing as that new single origin coffee we’ve delicately roasted to perfection, dialed in like a nuclear scientist, and extracted with deft precision?

Well, I can tell you after visiting scads of shops and ordering dozens of espressos, there are some creative folks out there working to really heighten the experience. And I can also tell you from the customer side of things, it really makes a difference! The extra focus on presentation does for espresso what latte art does for the cappuccino: It makes the presentation commensurate with the sensory experience. Nobody should have an espresso sploshed into a demi and slid at them like a domestic long neck in a sleazy bar. But you know who’s not sploshing and sliding? These guys! Check ‘em out:

We were served this pairing upon ordering an espresso at G&B in Los Angeles. This isn’t just espresso served with sparkling water, it’s a carbonated white tea and citron hops palate cleanser. Definitely in the “WOW” category!

We were served this pairing upon ordering an espresso at G&B in Los Angeles. This isn’t just espresso served with sparkling water, it’s a carbonated white tea and citron hops palate cleanser. Definitely in the “WOW” category!

Single Origin in Los Angeles is “just” a stand at a farmers market. But that doesn’t stop them from doing it up right! I ordered an espresso and was delighted to be handed this!

Single Origin in Los Angeles is “just” a stand at a farmers market. But that doesn’t stop them from doing it up right! I ordered an espresso and was delighted to be handed this!

After hundreds of coffee-less miles across the deserts of the southwest I finally discovered Evocation in Amarillo, Texas. After the barista passionately described the flavor profile of the Ethiopian they were using that day, I was served this tray of magnificence.

After hundreds of coffee-less miles across the deserts of the southwest I finally discovered Evocation in Amarillo, Texas. After the barista passionately described the flavor profile of the Ethiopian they were using that day, I was served this tray of magnificence.

This amazingly balanced and tasty shot of Elemental Coffee Roasters’ 228 blend has been my favorite on the tour thus far. But I did get a few “that’s not OK” looks as I licked the demitasse completely dry. Sorry, it was that good.

This amazingly balanced and tasty shot of Elemental Coffee Roasters’ 228 blend has been my favorite on the tour thus far. But I did get a few “that’s not OK” looks as I licked the demitasse completely dry. Sorry, it was that good.

Another “experience” was this from 860 in Amarillo, Texas. They just put that spoon right on in there! Saves you a step.

Another “experience” was this from 860 in Amarillo, Texas. They just put that spoon right on in there! Saves you a step.

Sterling Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore., serves espresso in these scotch glasses with a side of sparkling water. The enhanced capacity for swirling helps deliver the aromatics for a more complete olfactory experience. Scotch-scotch-scotch-scotch.

Sterling Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore., serves espresso in these scotch glasses with a side of sparkling water. The enhanced capacity for swirling helps deliver the aromatics for a more complete olfactory experience. Scotch-scotch-scotch-scotch.

Top of the list? Either/Or in Portland, Oregon. When it comes to espresso presentation, they were alone at the top with their tray of decadence. One single origin (Heart Roasters) and one blend (Roseline Roasters), a glass of sparkling water and a side of fruits I’d never heard of (lychee?) and can’t pronounce, but ones that heightened the experience and besides all that just looked gorgeous.

Top of the list? Either/Or in Portland, Oregon. When it comes to espresso presentation, they were alone at the top with their tray of decadence. One single origin (Heart Roasters) and one blend (Roseline Roasters), a glass of sparkling water and a side of fruits I’d never heard of (lychee?) and can’t pronounce, but ones that heightened the experience and besides all that just looked gorgeous.

That’s a glimpse into what we’ve been seeing lately on the Rialta Coffee Tour. But even though we’ve traveled thousands of miles, we haven’t seen it all—not by a longshot. If you want to share some of what you’re doing or have seen, head over to our blog and let us know about it. We’d love to share it with our audience. And please stay tuned right here for our next installment of the Rialta Coffee Tour where we’ll explore another exciting trend: the rise of the dedicated pour-over bar.

See you on the road!

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Don Niemyer at the wheel

Don Niemyer at the wheel

 

Don and Carissa Niemyer have owned three different coffee shops in Portland, Ore., in the past five years. They are planning to relocate to Fort Collins, Colo., where they will continue work in the coffee industry, but the opportunity to visit the nation’s finest coffeehouses on the way seemed too good to pass up. In preparation for this adventure, they moved into a 99-square-foot VW Rialta RV, where they currently reside full time with their two daughters, and travel around pouncing on unsuspecting baristas when they can. Read more about their adventures at www.rialtacoffeetour.wordpress.com.

 

About the Author

baristamagazine

Barista Magazine is the leading trade magazine in the world for the professional coffee community.