“How did you get into coffee?”
I think that is one of the most common questions heard by coffee lovers, whether from those in the industry or the general public trying to figure out what this is all about. Today marks the final entry in my personal coffee history, the most recent part of my journey that spans only the past several months. If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2, definitely scroll back a few posts and follow my slow transition from Consumer to Enthusiast and finally to Advocate.
My Coffee History, part 3: The Advocate
As I sat down to write this story over the last few days, it was amazing to realize the bulk of my coffee experience happened just this year. For a journey that began nearly 15 years ago, to have such a total transformation in the last 9 months is really awesome. When we left off yesterday, I had recently returned from Denver, bags of coffee in tow, and was focused on building a better coffee experience at home. I was buying fresh beans, grinding according to my brew method, and trying to get better results on our home espresso machine.
But the true catalyst for this year happened around December, when I decided to subscribe to Barista Magazine so that I could learn more about the specialty coffee world. I cannot remember how I learned of Barista Mag. It was one of a few trade magazines that I jotted down in a note sometime in late 2013. Perhaps it was referenced in the book I read around that time, God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee, but if not, I have no idea where I got that list. I’m glad I wrote it down, though, because reading Barista Magazine changed my life.
Well, that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s pretty close to the truth. I had no idea what to expect, but I dove into the magazine head first, eating up the articles on star baristas and competitions. I sank into field reports from both producing and consuming countries, and drooled over coffee gear old and new. Most of all, I learned. I learned that being a barista is a lot more than just standing behind the counter making drinks, that specialty coffee is as much about the farmer behind the beans than the drink in my cup, and soon enough, I learned there was a major coffee convention happening in March in New York City.
That’s right, I’m talking about Coffee Fest. I already detailed my experience at Coffee Fest NYC in a 2-part series (The Convention Experience and What I Learned) but did I mention I found out about New York thanks to an ad in Barista Mag? It was a little side bar in one of the first issues I received, and I probably glanced over it a dozen times before reading the dates and realizing “I could do this!” Jamie was pregnant at the time, but not so far along that we couldn’t travel up the east coast, so pretty soon I was online, registering for the convention and booking classes.
I won’t repeat all the details of that experience (especially since my original posts in this blog are only a couple weeks back), but I cannot overstate the effect Coffee Fest had on me. Not only did I return home with experience dialing in espresso and cupping, I was pumped and eager to keep learning. I added Roast Magazine to my reading list and finally got around to trying the Behmor home roaster I had picked up in December. I ordered a new steam pitcher to replace the poorly performing, thin-gauge model that came included with our machine, and added a thermometer to pay attention to detail. I improved my pour-over setup with a set of professional tools, replacing the big-box-store variety of pour over cone I previously tried (which didn’t work all that well, honestly).
And of course, I brought home coffee from New York, and practiced pour-over coffee as often as I practiced espresso. The Hario V60 became my morning routine, and I fell in love with gooseneck kettles.
Oh yeah, I also upgraded our grinder. I was not getting fine enough grounds with the Breville, leading to consistently under extracted shots, and I set out to sell our old desktop computer (no longer in use) so that I could buy something better. Timing is everything, and when I found out one of Jamie’s friends had a Mazzer Mini Espresso Grinder he no longer used, I offered a trade. Suddenly I was pulling delicious shots, finally able to get the grind dialed in, and now I was burning through espresso beans faster than ever before.
Fortunately, I had a new source for fresh roasted coffee, again thanks to Barista Magazine. When I started following their blog, I caught a mention of Levi Andersen’s podcast, the Audio Cafe. I started listening in the car, enjoying the interviews with industry leaders and innovators, and learning a lot about business as well (coffee business, of course, but concepts that could be applied anywhere). Through Levi’s podcast, I learned about eKoffee.com, which I’ve mentioned a few times in this space, and my very first order from them was 3 bags of espresso beans, one each from three different roasters.
With a steady supply of beans, my practice continued to grow. I expanded our coffee bar further with more options, such as Chemex and Aeropress, learning the different character each method brought out from any particular coffee. I practiced making lattes for Jamie, trying different size mugs, trying to get to a true flat white. I attempted latte art, slowly getting better, but never consistent enough to say I was practicing. Still, I had a few good pours over the past several months, and it kept me excited.
The rest of the story is recent history, so recent that I would just be repeating past highlights of this blog! I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into my coffee history, and I look forward to sharing the rest of my journey with you as it happens.