WORDS: Eric Buron
SPYHOUSE COFFEE ROASTERS, MINNEAPOLIS
Christian Johnson, Owner / Founder
Jen Zink, Hennepin Manager
Christian: Cafes, such as in Constantinople in the 1500's, were set up for social and political forums to talk about issues, whether social, the arts, or the political climate.
Jen: Coffee brings all kinds of people together. It's a great awkward first date meet up. Coffee is comforting. It can make you feel like a better person, and it undeniably does make some individuals more pleasant to be around. Cafes are a giant potluck of caffeine lovers, almost everyone drinks some form of coffee.
C: When I first moved to Minneapolis in the 90’s, everything was so specialized- there was the gay coffee shop, the biker coffee shop, the hipster coffee shop, the hippie coffee shop. I didn’t want Spyhouse to target a specific cultural group… I wanted it to be for everyone.
I think for the customers, it’s still a social thing, even though people are more on their laptops and less likely to talk to people. It’s changed from being involved in a project and something social, to really delving into the inherent characteristics of each coffee, each country, and farm.
The best way to educate people on good coffee, is to just have them drink it. The reason they might be a little unwilling, apprehensive, or averse to knowing about it initially, is that they just want coffee. If you start talking to somebody who didn't inquire, their eyes will just kind of glaze over and they’ll be like “Dude, it’s 8:30, I just want coffee.”
I think the first step is sourcing really good coffee from farms that do an impeccable job on growing, harvesting, and processing. And when it comes to us, it’s cupping samples to purchase, then roasting, and then to training and production. If we can do the best that we can throughout that whole chain, which is called 'Seed to Cup,' then we’ve done our job, and I think the customer will realize the quality.
J: I love the story behind coffee. There is someone out there planting a seed, someone picking coffee cherries, someone washing and sorting said berries... there is a whole adventure between seed to cup. A lot of people get their coffee, drink it, and toss the cup. They don't think about how magical it is that that cup of coffee even exists in the first place.
C: For a shot of espresso, you pick 75 coffee cherries. That’s 150 coffee beans in a shot of espresso, roughly. There is somebody in Costa Rica going “one, two, three,” up to 75 to get your one shot of espresso- that’s insane to me! They do that 75 times, which blows my mind.
J: If a barista doesn't pay attention to details and messes up brewing, tamping, dosing etc, then the whole process has been for naught. Even though you have such a small part in the whole story you are actually one of the most integral parts.
C: The stereotype of the barista being aloof and just kind of… bad attitude, doesn’t really care… I wish that stereotype would lift. They have to learn a lot of stuff, training is really in-depth, there’s a lot of reading that they need to do, and they need to learn the product.
One, the family farm. The name of the family, the name of the farm, the varietal, where the varietal usually stems from, you know, is the varietal mainly from El Salvador? You know, where are those varietals inherently from? And flavor notes. The flavor notes in coffee change as we do different roast batches. The flavor notes might be different from batches three, four, five, six, seven. So then the baristas have to be up on that.
And coffee does change bringing it from over there to over here. Then roasting... They can roast on spec to certain things, but roasting is never going to be exactly the same, consistency is important.
Baristas deal with customer service. They have to know how to steam the milk, pull the shots, and do all of that stuff. People should have as much respect for baristas as they do servers in high-end restaurants.
J: Being a barista is kind of like being a bartender or a therapist in a lot of ways. You've become this staple of someone's life and you don't even know it. You're the first person they might be talking to that morning. I've met so many amazing and interesting people here. I've become more patient and understanding and I've even become more creative in drawing art because I like to draw different people in situations.
C: An interest in antiques started when I was twenty-one while working in an antique store. I’m just really into the hunt- looking for stuff and finding that special treasure, such as a 1950's map of Central America that is in Spanish. You gotta know how to search for stuff and know the names of things and what year things are. I like business owners who also understand antiques... who understand the character of each piece and how it helps to define their style of design.
I never had an office job… a lot of restaurant jobs, and a lot of weird jobs, you know, shoveling snow off roofs. It probably started with the paper route. Work hard, have fun- keep your mind open to whatever it is. I have a lot of freedom, I’m fortunate enough to have that. I'm totally content and happy with the way everything's going.
J: We’ve evolved so much over the last four years and it's been really fun to see. Now we have a full training program, we have appointed lead baristas, we’ve built two new cafes since I’ve been hired, and we roast our own coffee.
Coffee is, for better or for worse, my chosen path. And so, if I’m going to be at a coffee shop, I want it to be at one that’s moving forward. And Spyhouse is.