I don’t have a ton to say on the matter, other than I think it’s really cool that coffee is at a stage where these conversations can be held, and at the end of the day the industry is moving forward in really cool ways.
Today’s doodle is a shout out not to glassware or demitasses, but to my favorite time of the year in coffee—the time when all the roasters bust out their Kenyas.
While the conversations about pushing the coffee industry forward happen online this summer, I’m going to sit back and enjoy them with a nice cup of coffee from my favorite producing country. Here’s to productive conversations that push things forward.
I had the privilege of teaming up with former Marines Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez on their brand new e-book “Perfect Coffee at Home.” The book is chock full of brewing guides, videos, interactive graphs, and history lessons. I sat down with the guys as part of a write-up for Sprudge to talk to them about where the inspiration came from, how they want it to help, and what’s next for them.
1. Tell me a little about your background, how you met, and what sparked this coffee book idea?
We first became friends in college at Washington University in St. Louis. After disappointing internships during freshman year (Michael in finance, Harrison in politics), we decided to join the Marines. It doesn’t normally happen this way, but as luck would have it, in the years after graduation we ended up going through training together, we went to the same unit together, and in Afghanistan we fought together, leading platoons only a few miles apart.
Writing Perfect Coffee at Home was never the plan. Basically, we stumbled into the world of specialty coffee after we had been back from Afghanistan for only a few weeks. We happened to be in the car one day listening to On Point with Tom Ashbrook. The subject was “The Hot Blonde in the Coffee Shop” and the evolution of America’s taste for coffee. For us, coffee had always just been a means to an end; it was always just a way to stay awake. But that podcast inspired us to learn more.
The weeks and months after a deployment are a confusing time. It’s like slamming on the brakes at 100 miles an hour. And it’s a cliche but it’s true: no one returns from the war unscarred.
So we were working with our Marines to help them readjust. We were working on ourselves to readjust. And we kind of just threw ourselves into coffee. We were just so appreciative that we were alive and that we had brought all of our Marines back in one piece. We’ve always been the type of people who want to make the most of life—learning about coffee was a way to make the most of our morning ritual. As you might expect, it quickly became an obsession. The only problem was that learning how to make coffee was really difficult, and we didn’t have much time.
We were both still heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of our platoons. Anyway, the Marine Corps has this saying—“superior thinking has always overwhelmed superior force”—that gets to the heart of how Marines operate. There’s a book or manual on just about everything and Marines are voracious readers. So we were always looking for ways to improve, and since we were starting out with a Mr. Coffee machine and some pre-ground coffee, we had a long way to go.
The next weekend, we hopped in the car again, and we drove an hour from our base in rural North Carolina to the nearest Barnes & Noble. But there weren’t any books on how to make coffee. The whole process was just completely opaque. Even on Amazon it was hard to find good books. We ended up finding some stuff on the internet, but so often it was contradictory and it was all just kind of spread to the winds.
The idea for the book came toward the end of our journey. A good friend of ours was opening an art gallery in Washington, D.C., and he asked us how to make coffee for his customers. So we wrote a quick manual and made him a video. It was really at that moment that we realized we had a unique perspective and that we could help people learn about coffee.
What it came down to was the fact that while leading young Marines we learned how to make complex things understandable. Being an infantry platoon commander is kind of like Teach for America with guns. So we were constantly educating our Marines on new skills, training new techniques, practicing new tactics. You really don’t want someone to mess up when they shoot that rocket or they throw that grenade.
Our situation meant that as relative newcomers to coffee we could write a book about it while still remembering what it feels like to be completely and utterly confused. As in, we still remember those days of wondering “what’s a burr grinder and why does it even matter?” even though these days we’re more interested in fine-tuning our extractions using a refractometer.
2. How would you describe the book? What is its purpose?
Perfect Coffee at Home is written as the definitive guide to coffee, and it’s designed to be an immersive reading experience. There are videos, illustrations, checklists, interactive graphics, a caffeine calculator, and even a jazz soundtrack complementing the text. We wanted this knowledge to be accessible, but we also wanted to connect with people on a deeper level, because coffee is about so much more than just coffee. It’s about community. It’s about connection. It’s about special moments around the table with your family and friends. So we hope this book has a wider appeal because of how many ways you can interact with it.
The book is also designed so that each aspect of it stands alone and as part of the whole. For example, if you only want to learn how to make a flawless siphon pot every time, just flip to that section. But if you want the full experience of how we learned about coffee, you can follow the narrative as well. It’s intended to be fun, informative, and inclusive.
We can’t stand pretension in anything, but especially in coffee. During the research, most people were inviting and awesome about helping us. But occasionally there were these baristas that had awful attitudes. Our goal was to be the opposite. So there are things for newcomers. There are things for experts. And the idea was to communicate the concepts in the simplest way possible.
3. Tell me a little bit about who you collaborated with on for the book?
We had an amazing team of people help us bring this book to life. We hate to keep bringing up the Marine Corps, but it gave us more than we can ever give back, and it’s there that we really learned about the importance of teamwork. So while the text, photography, and videos are our own, it took a team to make this book possible.
For illustrations, we were lucky enough to work with the best. Ben Blake of drawcoffee.com and The Art and Craft of Espresso helped us refine our ideas, looked over early drafts, and helped conceptualize graphics to complement the text. It was an amazing but complicated working relationship. Ben spent the first couple months of this project in Europe, but in between his jet-setting he was kind enough to work with us.
We turned to our good friend and clothing designer Read Wall to make sure that we looked good in the photos and videos. As you can imagine, we had some rough edges coming out of four years in the Marine Corps. Michael and Read’s friendship goes all the way back to preschool, so it was a thrill to be wearing shirts that he made.
For the music, we were lucky enough to work with Peter and Will Anderson. After all, what goes better with coffee than jazz? These guys were way out of our league—they’ve done music for HBO and the New York Times calls them virtuosos—but they were Harrison’s friends from elementary school. They had just released an album, which we were listening to while brewing coffee one day, and suddenly it clicked. We had to get them involved, and the music is the perfect complement to the whole experience.
Last, but certainly not least, is our fabulous editor, Catherine Ahearn. We went through a bunch of editors before we found her. She’s the best. Her passion for combining the written word with compelling visual technologies was perfect. It’s always hard when you’re charting new territory to get people on board with your vision, but she just instantly understood how this book would be different and the advantages that the digital format gives to storytelling.
4. What are the advantages to the e-book format?
Perfect Coffee at Home was designed from the ground up as a fully immersive experience. In addition to text, it has videos, illustrations, checklists, interactive graphics, a caffeine calculator, and even a soundtrack. It means that when we’re writing about the podcast which got us hooked on specialty coffee, you can listen to a clip from it and feel the same excitement that we did. We chose to go digital only because of all the other features that we can offer.
The advantages are especially pronounced when it comes to learning how to make coffee. In the book we teach seven classic methods of brewing coffee. These were the ones that seemed most relevant. For example, in the Moka Pot, you get a brief history lesson, the interactive graphic that explains the components, a video taking you through the process, a beautifully-illustrated recipe card and checklist, and a story that ties it all together. Meanwhile, similar to the transition between hardcover and paperback books, we’re in a period of upheaval in the publishing industry.
Going back to what we said about making coffee accessible, by choosing to only publish this book digitally, we were able to price it at $4.99. It means that for the price of a (specialty) coffee (in New York), you can learn everything you need to know and have a good time doing it.
The book also comes with cool things like a calculator to calculate how much caffeine is in your bloodstream as well as the soundtrack so that you can listen while you brew. We’ve also created a free community at www.perfectcoffeeathome.com so that you can participate in creating new knowledge as the world of coffee evolves. We don’t know everything, we’re up front about it, and we’re always looking to keep learning.
5. Who in the coffee world has been the most helpful as you’ve prepped the book and embarked on your own coffee journey?
Aw c’mon, really? You’re gonna make us do an Academy Awards speech in front of the entire internet. You know there’s no way to do this well, right? All right, fine. We’ll do our best.
Our coffee journey began in the Marine Corps. So to our mentors and the Marines we led, Semper Fidelis. Thank you for shitty cups shared in miserable places.
The world of specialty coffee opened up after hearing an episode of On Point by Tom Ashbrook. His guests that day were Katy McLaughlin of the Wall Street Journal, Ted Lingle of the SCAA, and Jamie van Schyndel of Barismo Roasters.
In the sea of confusion that followed, Matt Buchanan was the first one to clarify things. He was the one who convinced us of the importance of buying a good burr grinder in one of his Gizmodo articles.
Sprudge kept us up-to-date on the pulse of the coffee world while we lived in the middle of nowhere. It was also a gateway to other coffee resources.
Coffee Geek was great for learning about gear. It was one of their reviews that convinced us to buy the Elektra Micro Casa a Leva.
Scott Rao took our understanding of coffee to the next level. Although we’ve never met him, his books were deeply influential once we discovered them.
Darryl Carter was the one who asked us to teach him about coffee. It’s the question that started it all.
A special thank you to the Library of Congress, the National Archives, The Marine Corps museum, and the Army Quartermaster Museum. The Metro never works but at least there are great resources around DC.
Ben Fountain and Derek Leebaert were the ones who really encouraged us to keep writing and to persevere through all the ups and downs of publishing.
So, that’s our list. We probably just got ourselves in a lot of trouble.
6. What’s next? Where can we find more of your work?
In writing this book, we realized we have a passion for teaching. We’ve started a publishing company that focuses on using digital platforms to enhance how information is conveyed. Our next project is a series of anatomy study guides for medical students. But don’t worry, we didn’t do the dissections. Perfect Coffee at Home is available through our website and you can keep track of us and our adventures at www.haftsuarez.com/blog.
In case you’ve been living off the grid, the Specialty Coffee Association of America is hosting it’s annual expo this week in Boston, MA. There’ll be symposiums, the USBC, more barista competitions, new gear from the biggest names, networking, parties, and probably even a Sprudge puppet—a Spruppet—if everyone gets lucky.
If you can’t be there like me, you can follow along on @sprudge, or just check out the hashtag #SCAA2013. There will be a lot going on, and it’s sure to be a great time.
Today’s doodle is inspired by all the fanfare and hooplah that surrounds the event, and features a Pirate Ship, a USBC staircase, and the city of Boston.
For the last two months, I’ve had the privilege of interning with the guys over at Sprudge. Each week, I doodle up a little doodle, and provide a brief recap stew of stories from around the world of coffee.
This week’s doodle is a shout out to Cafe Imports and the gang of 2012 US Regional Barista Champions who just got back from running around Costa Rica, learning about coffee and having an amazing experience. If you do anything on Instagram this week, go check Sprudge and the #KostaFreaka hashtag—there were some amazing pictures coming out of Costa Rica.
Over the past few days, National Barista Champions, Brewers Cup Champions, and Coffee Professionals from all over the world have been gathered in Vienna, Austria for the SCAE’s “World of Coffee” event. One of the highlights of the event is the World Barista Championship.
Over 50 baristas competed for the top spot this year, each bringing a unique and crafty routine to the table. First off, I’d like to say congratulations to all of the competitors for making it to this stage. These baristas represented not only themselves and their employers extremely well, but they brought into the forefront the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the coffee we drink—that is, the farmers, workers, and producers that ensure the highest quality bean possible before sending it along to a roaster.
This year, Mr. Raul Rodas from Guatemala dazzled the specialty coffee world with this professionalism and execution. Today’s doodle is a tribute to Mr. Rodas. Congratulations!
Be sure to read up on Raul’s victory thanks to @Sprudge, who also covered this event tirelessly, and kept the specialty coffee industry up to date, minute by minute. It’s much appreciated.
Since then, I’ve come to know the gang at Sprudge not only as highly entertaining and funny writers of coffee-related stories, but also as extremely passionate, dedicated, and respected ambassadors within the coffee industry. No matter the event, you can almost guarantee that the Sprudge guys will be there – and all of us around the country and world who follow along on Twitter benefit greatly from it.
Thanks for all the work you guys do to keep us on all the latest coffee happenings. It’s much appreciated.**
*this awful, self-depreciating attempt at humor is why sprudge is completely necessary in the coffee industry, to keep it laughing and not rolling its eyes
While the NE Regional AeroPress Championships were going on in Mansfield, OH this weekend, the North Central Regional Barista Championship and South Central Regional Barista Championship were in Chicago combining to form the Big Central Regional Barista Championship. That’s a lot of regional action for one weekend.
Somehow (thanks to sprudge), I think everyone was able to keep things straight and winners were announced via twitter.
As is customary for these regional championships, I did a doodle to congratulate the winners. Huge props to Ryan Knapp of MadCap for winning the North Central Regional Barista Championship for the second straight year, and congratulations to Lorenzo Perkins of Cuvee Coffee (South Central) for winning his second barista title in three years. As far as the Brewer’s Cup goes, Jon Ferguson became the first independent brewer in 2012 to take home the cake, and Mike Marquard of Half and Half snagged the South Central cup.