Ahhh, finally I get to sit and write about the reason I went to Seattle in the first place!
I first had the idea of a non-profit coffeehouse a few years ago. About a year later I looked up “non-profit coffeehouses” and came across Q Cafe in a Google search. Since then I have followed Eugene Cho’s blog and have been interested in the Q. So this past spring, as I decided to give the coffeehouse a serious look, I decided to try to spend part of my summer at the Q to get a feel for the non-profit cafe and coffee in general (Seattle is, after all, the Mecca of coffee). I shot Eugene an email asking to be able to come up there and if you watched the interview from a couple posts back you’ll realize that I was pretty persistent! It wasn’t until late May that I got the thumbs up and it wasn’t until June that I found a place to stay (the whole time my wife had family there!). So on July 15th I hopped on Alaska Airlines headed for three weeks of coffee, public transportation, and unexpectedly hot weather!
So my goal for the internship was to learn as much about the coffee industry as possible and to figure out the hardships of doing it all as a non-profit. I was disappointed as the guys at Q and some other friends at The Green Bean, another non-profit, were very open about ANY questions and what made business difficult for each of their unique situations. But that is kind of getting ahead of myself at this point…
The first few days I was there was just focusing on the coffee world. Jake, the Q manager, gave me a packet from Stumptown, their supplier, full of great info on each of the farms that they have relationships with around the world. It was also an intro to different espresso drinks, basic maintenance, and fair and direct trade practices. Jake and Matt gave me a whole list of coffeehouses to check out while I was there (here is the Google Map I created with each of them and some comments) and it wasn’t uncommon for me to take off early to go check them out.
After a couple of days Jake taught me how to pull shots out of their La Marzocco 3 group (Eugene told me that for the longest time it was the most valuable asset Quest owned!). The first few were terrible, of course, as they came out either too fast or way to slow, trickling out of the portafilter. But eventually I nailed a few between 25-28 seconds! After I mastered pulling shots as well as can be expected in only a couple of days I was on to steaming milk, a much harder process. Jake, Matt, and Josh helped me to learn to steam whole, 2%, skim, and soy milk. Stayed mostly with the whole but I tried a soy latte for the first time, a little sweeter and thinner than what I am use too. The hard part about steaming milk is hitting the right temperature and getting the microfoam that is critical for a good latte all at the same time. Usually if I got the right temperature then I would have large bubbled foam that was no good or if I got the foam right the temp wouldn’t be quite right. But when I nailed it I was pretty proud of myself! So by the second week I was able to come in and make my own lattes in the morning! I was also trying to make cappuccinos (the Italian way 2 oz. espresso, 2 oz. steamed milk, 2 oz. foam), mochas, and breves.
I helped out with a few other things at the cafe, like putting lights together and helping with live shows. But I also learned the struggles of the cafe as well as some of the hopes and dreams of their employees and patrons – which isn’t that the point of working at a coffeehouse! As you can tell from the video I learned the importance of knowing your product, equipment, market, a business plan, and everything else that goes with running a business involved in the service industry.
My best day outside of Q was spent at Stumptown up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Everyday Stumptown does a cupping (like a tasting) at 3 pm. I showed up early one day and was able to just hang out with the roaster until things got started. He filled me in on the roasting process and I was able to watch him go through about 3 batches. During the cupping we smelled, sipped, and swished about 6 or 7 different coffees from around the world, all single origins. It was amazing having an Ethiopian side-by-side with a Honduran and actually tasting the uniqueness of each! The Africans were clearly more fruity than that others while the Central American coffees differed from each other but as a whole were more mellow and balanced. The staff at Stumptown was great and if you ever are in Seattle visiting you should definitely stop by around 3 pm!
One other experience that can’t forget to mention is the slow bar at Seattle Coffee Works. I had met one of the baristas, Eric, who had invited to come by for a vacuum pot of a Kenyan coffee they had just received. Seattle Coffee Works had just opened a new store right off of Pike Place Market and installed a 20 or so foot man sipping a cup of coffee above their front marquee. The store is great but I really loved the slow bar counter. It was made of a map that highlighted the coffee growing region of the world. The slow bar is really an educational experience as you get one-on-one with a barista who tells you about the coffee s/he is preparing. If you are ever at Pikes Place Market skip the original Starbucks and head over to Seattle Coffee Works. I guarantee you will get a greeting from Sebastian, the owner, and enjoy a much better experience!
I really enjoyed my time in the Emerald City but I was glad to finally be back with Amber! I gained invaluable information that will continue to help me and challenge me in this mission. If you have any questions about my trip then please let me know or leave a comment.
Follow the link to see more of my Seattle coffee pics.