– Can you please introduce yourself in a few words.
Managing barista at Box Kite NYC. Which currently means: I direct operations and training; make final decisions about what coffees to feature and how; write a lot of e-mails; take out the trash and mop floors; and make coffee for an assortment of characters in NYC’s East Village and Upper West Side neighborhoods.
– What’s your story in the coffee industry?
I grew up in rural Alabama wanting to hang out with the skaters loitering outside the local mega-chain bookstore/cafe. Started from the bottom now we here.
– When did Boxkite open and what is the story behind?
Box Kite opened it’s first East Village brick and mortar on January 1, 2014 and was founded by the former management of NYC’s no longer existing yet legendary multi-roaster phantasmagoria, RBC NYC. Although the coffee program was no less tricked out, I think the original idea for Box Kite was to offer a more focussed and hospitality-driven version of RBC. But things quickly expanded to include a progressive fine-dining experience in the evenings, which was incredibly ambitious and largely overshadowed the coffee side of things for a while. In February 2015, Box Kite opened a tiny shop in the UWS that was just coffee focussed and I became the manager of that. As it goes, management changed and people moved on to other things; the restaurant faded out. I stayed and took on responsibility for the coffee program. It’s all downhill from there. Or, actually, mostly uphill!
– What’s your specialty and what makes you different?
The thing I’m personally the most proud of is having put in place a system to help our baristas understand and ensure full and proper extractions (which at least locally are harder to come by than you might think). I’m sensitive to the hazards of operating a multi-roaster cafe and I empathize with roasters who are concerned that such places don’t get to know the coffees properly or treat them with the right respect. But it can be done if baristas have the tools, palates, discipline, and interest. Not that we always get it right, but I think that’s where we excel and this is what sets us apart, hopefully. And, contrary to a lot of folks I meet who sneer at our seemingly soul-less data-driven approach to extraction, I don’t believe that this interferes with our ability to have fun and be nice to customers. We also are just privileged not to be overly constrained by the bottom line. So, we buy very very good coffees. And, incidentally, I think we’re getting better at what that means. You can tell when you’re getting good at something when folks on either side of a situation are critical of you. For example, we are sometimes criticized by the wrong kind of coffee elitists for sometimes carrying coffees they see as overdeveloped (they’re not), and then by other folks in the specialty game, we’re seen AS those very elitists. But it’s liberating to stop caring what all those people think and just really focus purely on what is actually good and working and to not listen too much to all the industry noise but to keep trying things and keep and open yet ambitious mind. Our approach is largely something like Coffee Elitism For Everyone! where that « For Everyone! » is the key. It’s totally approachable, but also, we’re trying to keep pushing quality as far as we can.
– What was your first coffee experience?
My first coffee experience was just absolutely unmemorable Folgers garbage with probably like Irish Cream flavored Coffee Mate creamer.
– What was your best coffee experience?
I can’t isolate a specific coffee, but I would say that over the last year I have started to have out-of-this-world experiences with espresso in particular at our UWS shop. Something started to click in a big way for me there, when dialing in, or with my most trusted baristas, and I’ve never had better coffee anywhere. Not that it doesn’t exist (I’ve had a few good coffees out and about in the world after all!), just that the gap between what it can be like vs. where most of the specialty world is got a lot wider for me over the last year thanks to the experiences at our shop.
– Do you prepare coffee at home ? If yes, what method do you use?
I don’t usually make coffee at home, no.
– How do you like your coffee? Black, sugar and milk, iced, vietnamese style,…?
Fat and sugar are good, sure. But I don’t prefer them. I usually start my day tasting our Fetco batch brew (which is very often incredibly delicious); then I’ll try our two espresso options, one made with a Robur grinder and the other made using the EK43; then I might start making my way through the dozens of coffee samples we receive every couple of weeks from various roasters. For this I might start by cupping through the lot and weeding out the duds. Then I would start making manual brews using a Kalita 155 with the better samples. To rule out the possibility of poor extraction affecting judgement we measure and log everything and make multiple passes. I go through this process a couple times a week with my baristas. Wait… what was the question? Oh right, um, black.
– How would you qualify yourself as coffee drinker (occasional, heavy, addict…)?
I don’t actually « drink » a lot of coffee. I taste through an insane amount of coffee daily though. My caffeine tolerance over the last couple of years has, strangely, gone way down. 🙁
– Have you always been into the coffee industry? If not, what was your previous job?
I came to NYC under the pretense of wanting to be a theatre actor and director and realized pretty quickly what I already knew: that it is not the culture for me. I actually would still like to do it, but I don’t know what that means for me currently.
– Do you have another passion or a hobby besides coffee?
Theatre is a passion of mine, yes; but I pretty much hate all of it! Nevertheless, I try to see plays whenever I can. I also try to take advantage of living in NYC as much as possible, which might mean something as simple as biking around on a warm day, going to a Rohmer screening, and finding the best new burger place to watch NBA game with friends. I tried to take up skateboarding again recently after an 8 year hiatus. It did not go well. This is starting to feel like I’m filling out a dating site questionnaire. Sorry y’all I’m married.
– What other place would you recommend, anywhere in the world (coffee or not)?
Dude, there’s a really amazing Chicharron place in my neighborhood in Inwood. Coffee-wise… G&B… but y’all already knew dat.
– What is/are your favorite website(s) to get information about coffee?
Matt Perger’s stuff has been good. The Tamper Tantrum podcasts are fun.
– What would you say to people who don’t know much about coffee?
Beware of Fake Good Coffee!