Feature Article: Austin Coffee Makers
Who Fuel The Makers
The “coffice” – The coffee shop that functions as an office – is an important part of Austin’s working and maker’s culture. Business ideas birthed on the backs of napkins, interviews are conducted over lattes & novels are written in the corners.
Sometimes, even just sliding out of the office for a quick coffee can be enough to reset the mind and increase productivity. But if coffee is fuel for people creating businesses or inking books, what fuels the coffee makers? People, as it turns out.
We chatted with a few coffee makers in three great Austin shops and heard about the pleasures of being the makers behind the makers.
Over at Fleet Coffee, the small triangular coffee shop on East Austin’s Webberville Road, a couple sometimes opens a tab in the morning, then runs in and out throughout the day, ordering coffee. At the end of the day, they close out. They’re among the regulars at Fleet, where wooden boards comprise part of the ceiling and the walls are industrial concrete chic. The young and hip drop by in flip-flops or heels to grab a cup of coffee and possibly a breakfast taco.
Why do people go to one coffee house and not another? The coffee is bound to be a big part of it: Fleet is a specialty shop; even the drip coffee is made to order, and their baristas think of coffee as an ingredient. Fleet co-founder Lorenzo Perkins is the real deal, a US Barista and Brewers Cup Champion. He loves to craft “an experience for people when they come into the space” and “gently guide them” through their mornings.
Reading people is part of a good barista’s job. “At the end of the day, we make beautiful coffee for people. But the coffee is only a vehicle. … The real end goal is authentic, human interaction,” Perkins said. According to Perkins, about 80 percent of people coming to Fleet are taking a break from work, to get coffee and “soak up some sunshine.” To Fleet’s credit, the shop feels friendly, the chitchat easy and warm.
“The people are one reason Juarez loves his job. “I feel AS THOUGH I am one with the community here.””
Barista Chris Juarez likes to make latte art that relates to “something fun in the moment.” When he and the customer have “a little bit of time and patience,” the longtime Lola Savannah barista may make snowflakes in the winter, bunnies in the spring or jack o’ lanterns around Halloween. A customer who’s just come from Las Vegas may get a deck of cards.
Lola Savannah Coffee Lounge in Westlake is attached to The Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen and features a ceiling covered in coffee bean sacks, terrific service and, at least on the day when we stopped by, some expensive cars in the parking lot. Joshua Baer of Capital Factory is an investor in Lola Savannah; he and other tech entrepreneurs meet there.
But tech folks aren’t the only ones at Lola Savannah; parents with kids pop by and friends meet up. The people are one of the reasons Juarez loves his job. “I don’t live in Westlake,” he said, “but I feel as though I am one with the community here.”
“I don’t care if you want three pumps of chocolate in your cup of coffee. If that makes your day,” vaclav said, “then I want to provide you with that.” Call it coffee without judgment.
Appreciating the people and community is a sentiment we heard from each of the baristas we visited. People are the favorite part of Caffé Medici Coffee Director Tyler Cutbirth’s job. “One of the things that I love most about coffee is the relationships that are built from coffee,” he said. Cutbirth has seen customers on blind dates and people interviewing for jobs, possibly key moments in lives.
Cutbirth, for the record, doesn’t just want to see customers. He wants to provide excellent service and provide coffee the way they like it.
The original Caffé Medici on West Lynn in Clarksville has no open parking the day we visit; it’s hopping, and as the sun rises higher, the tables inside fill up, as do the shaded stone tables outside. A woman discusses owning work processes with a man in a striped polo and jeans. Some kids bike up with a parent. A woman carries a Strand canvas bag, likely from the famous bookstore in New York.
“Maker” is a hot word these days, implying something artisanal or hand-crafted. But it’s also a great word; it calls attention to creating something. Perkins, Juarez and Cutbirth all take making a cup of coffee very seriously – in chatting with them there were mentions of using math and weighing out coffee to get the cup right, as well as passion, professionalism and Michelangelo. But there was also always a discussion of community. Perhaps that’s something great baristas make, too.
Read more from the Makers + Industry Issue | July 2016