OVERVIEW: Reflections on a 20,000 Mile Coffee Journey

"If you aim at nothing, you'll certainly hit it".

I don't know who first said that, but it was probably some smart aleck like Yogi Berra or Will Rogers.  But snark and sarcasm aside, whoever said it was onto something.  I've never been one of those guys that threw a dart at a wall, then ran over with a sharpie and drew a target around where it landed and claimed I hit a bulls eye.  So now that we've settled down in Colorado for a bit, here's a short overview of what we said we were going to do, and a grade on how we did.  Oh school again, that should be fun.  Here we go...

MOVE INTO AN RV TO PRACTICE SIMPLICITY, SAVE MONEY AND BE READY FOR THE TOUR:  A+  It's been almost 3 years now since we moved into the Rialta.  At the time we didn't know how long we'd do it, or even if we'd be able to.  But in those three years, I can honestly say it's turned out better than we dared to dream. We've now saved over $35,000 in housing expenses, so even if you figure the cost of the Rialta ($16K) and our current housing expenses, we still have easily saved over $15K.  We have also learned a TON about simplicity and minimalism, and have generally benefitted from being forced closer as a family.  And the big one is that once our shop sold we were ready to hit the road, and simply drove out of town.  Just like we drew it up.

RELOCATE TO THE FRONT RANGE OF COLORADO'S ROCKY MOUNTAINS TO BE CLOSER TO FAMILY:  A  We did pretty good on this one, I'd say, since that's where I'm writing from.  So in one sense, WE MADE IT!  On the other hand, we were talking about Fort Collins all this time and now it looks like we're going to land in Colorado Springs.  PLUS, we're not quite finished yet, either.  We've got some work in Portland this spring, so we're headed back out there in March, landing back in CO this July (2015).  Not exactly like we drew it up, but we hit the general goal.  Close enough for an A grade.  

GO ON A NATIONAL COFFEE CRAWL TO GATHER INSIGHTS FOR OUR NEXT PROJECT:  A+  We have now been to over 200 coffee shops, including most of the great ones we've always wanted to see.  To be sure, there's plenty we'd still love to hit, but we feel great about what we've been fortunate enough to experience, and have an awesome perspective for what we want to do next. 

GO VISIT FRIENDS AND FAMILY.  A-  This has obviously been a very important aspect of our journey, and we've been able to really reconnect to SO many people - many of whom had never met our kids, and some of my people who had never met Carissa, and vice versa.  The minus comes in there for the handful that we just didn't get around to.  But we're still gunnin' for ya!

DO COFFEE CONSULTING AS WE TRAVEL.  C-  The consulting idea really worked great when we did it.  We had a handful of clients that we were really able to help, for a price that was really accessible.  Plus it was great fun!  The challenge - as we thought it might be - was the time we had to spend finding clients.  Because we're constantly on the move it was difficult to spend the necessary time developing relationships with potential clients, so mostly it just didn't happen.  

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GIVE OUR CHILDREN THE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME.  A  Just an A with no plus because although this has definitely been an amazing experience for them, they're still a little young to have much true appreciation for it.  But Carissa has done an admirable job of the homeschooling thing (she likes to call it UN-schooling...you might want to google that) as we've experienced a TON of America's history and culture and nature as we've traveled.  Not bad. 

REPORT ON OUR EXPERIENCE IN A MEANINGFUL WAY.  B+   I wouldn't call our reporting a home run, but we have sure tried.  Most significantly we were invited to share our experience in a weekly report on the Barista Magazine Blog.  To my knowledge, our series was the longest running one in their history, and we were honored for that opportunity.  But I had also started this blog and found it difficult to do the BMAG writing as well as keep up here in between the hours of driving and exploration.  I tried to keep it simple by just pointing out a few things about each cafe' with some pictures, but even that was hard to be consistent with.  Nonetheless, between BMAG and this blog I'd still give it a B+.  

GAIN CLARITY ON WHAT WE WANT TO DO NEXT:  A+  Over the past 8 months we've really stewed about what we wanted to do next.  Another coffee shop?  Would the consulting thing take hold?  Maybe I'll turn into a cracker jack writer and just do that?  Well, the dust has settled on those conversations and we're SUPER STOKED about our next step.  We're actually not sure what we want to do is possible (or legal!) so we're not making any announcements just yet.  But if we crack this nut, it's gonna be a minor game changer for the coffee industry.  How will you know when it happens?  Oh, I have a feeling you'll know.  Just you wait...


8 Things About Square One in Pennsylvania

Two-Fer!  Square One is a Pennsylvania company owned by Josh and Jess Steffy, who have become kinda big deals in the industry. They started with a shop in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and recently opened another location a couple hours away in Philadelphia.  Here's a few things from our visit to BOTH locations.  The first thing?  We asked the baristas a question we ask a lot:  "What's something you think people should know about your shop?"  At Square One we got an answer from the baristas that has never been given.  "That our owners Josh and Jess are AWESOME!" the girls behind the encounter enthusiastically agreed.  "That's what makes Square One so amazing."  Pretty good start...

2.  The Philly location is decidedly bright.  White walls and counters, fresh flowers and a canary yellow La Marzocco GB5.  

2.  The Philly location is decidedly bright.  White walls and counters, fresh flowers and a canary yellow La Marzocco GB5.  

3.  They went with the "island"  style of bar here, where customers can walk all the way around, seeing every aspect of the behind-the-counter operation.

4.  This entire wall serves as a merchandise shelf.  It's only a few inches deep, but covers a lot of real estate so it makes a pretty clear presentation.

After our visit to the Philly location we headed on out to Lancaster.  It was too late in the day to visit the shop so we found a place to park the RV for the evening next to this really cool castle.  The really cool castle turned out to be the county prison.  OK, so it's a really cool castle full of criminals.  Still pretty...but back to coffee. 

5.  Two things about this pic.  First, Square One was SLAY-UHMED!  Second?  Check out those tables and chairs!  Right?

6.  Solid. 

7.  This is kind of the bonus area in the back of the shop.  Very comfortable space.  

8.  Speaking of bonus, what you're looking at here is a shot of my family hanging out on Sunday morning with Marty and Carolyn, some Square One regulars we met at the cafe'.  They invited us over for breakfast and general good times, including some good music.  The coffee and service at Square One was excellent, and it even flowed over to our experience of their customers.  I can't guarantee you'll have exactly the same type of amazing experience we had at Square One, but I definitely recommend trying.  I don't think you can go wrong.  

 

 

 

 

4 Things About Ox in Philadelphia

We were knocking around in Philly one day, meeting up with an old friend from years gone by, and did our usual google-hunt for coffee, which turned up a new-ish little shop serving Stumptown Coffee!  Our old shop in Portland was a Stumptown account, and we thought it'd be nice to sip some stump again, so off we went, landing at this sweet little spot for a quick visit.  Here's what we noticed:

We were knocking around in Philly one day, meeting up with an old friend from years gone by, and did our usual google-hunt for coffee, which turned up a new-ish little shop serving Stumptown Coffee!  Our old shop in Portland was a Stumptown account, and we thought it'd be nice to sip some stump again, so off we went, landing at this sweet little spot for a quick visit.  Here's what we noticed:

1.  Part seat, part shelf!

1.  Part seat, part shelf!

2.  Minimalist condiment bar

2.  Minimalist condiment bar

3.  Vinyl!

3.  Vinyl!

4.  Great folks here doing a very respectable job in an understated environment.  Loved it. 

4.  Great folks here doing a very respectable job in an understated environment.  Loved it. 

3 Things About Mockingbird Hill in D.C.

There's coffee shops that just serve coffee.  There's some that also serve great food.  There's a handful that have a great coffee as well as a full bar for beer, wine and cocktails.  But this story is about the first place we've seen that is doing coffee cocktails paired with a sherry bar.  Here's three things we experienced on our visit to Washington DC's Mockingbird Hill.  

1.  A coffee shop paired with a sherry bar. 

2.  This is the coffee menu at Mockingbird Hill.  Just take a look at those purveyors!  Wendelboe.  Heart.  Collective.  Elephant.  This is literally an all star list of some of the most noteworthy roasters in the world.  

2.  This is the coffee menu at Mockingbird Hill.  Just take a look at those purveyors!  Wendelboe.  Heart.  Collective.  Elephant.  This is literally an all star list of some of the most noteworthy roasters in the world.  

3.  See that espresso machine in the pic?  Yeah, me either.  That's because they don't have one.  These guys use brewed coffee to make some of the most amazing coffee cocktails you're going to find, using some of the most amazing coffees available on the planet.  In our experience, this is a groundbreaking model.  Hats off to these cats for gettin' it broke. 

3.  See that espresso machine in the pic?  Yeah, me either.  That's because they don't have one.  These guys use brewed coffee to make some of the most amazing coffee cocktails you're going to find, using some of the most amazing coffees available on the planet.  In our experience, this is a groundbreaking model.  Hats off to these cats for gettin' it broke. 

4 Things About PERC Coffee Roasters in Savannah

Everywhere we went around Savannah we kept running into an unfamiliar name:  PERC Coffee Roasters.  We tried their coffee here and there, and it quickly became clear they were a major factor in the "Let's Get Good Coffee Down Here" movement of the region.  So we sent an email to the address on the website and got a quick response from owner Philip Brown, who had ridden his rocket ship out of town to set up a new account in Whole Foods, but suggested we get together with quality-cowboy Spencer Perez.  We did.  Here's 4 things about how it went.

Everywhere we went around Savannah we kept running into an unfamiliar name:  PERC Coffee Roasters.  We tried their coffee here and there, and it quickly became clear they were a major factor in the "Let's Get Good Coffee Down Here" movement of the region.  So we sent an email to the address on the website and got a quick response from owner Philip Brown, who had ridden his rocket ship out of town to set up a new account in Whole Foods, but suggested we get together with quality-cowboy Spencer Perez.  We did.  Here's 4 things about how it went.

1.  Let's start with the coffee!  We tried a pour over of a Single Origin Mexico that was delicious, and especially unique.  Then Spencer sent us with this also-special Costa Rica, (for our Chemex in the RV).  It was a gold mine of flavor!

2.  This was my first look at the Slayer single group machine, which they have in house for tasting their amazing coffees as espresso, AND for takin' er on the road when the need arises.  This thing is like a kitten at the humane society.  It's SO CUTE and you just wanna cuddle it and give it a special name and take it home. I managed to resist all three urges, but I'm not gonna say I didn't have 'em.  

3.  This is Spencer, that quality dude I mentioned.  Super cool guy, and makes a schmokin mean cup a' joe.   

3.  This is Spencer, that quality dude I mentioned.  Super cool guy, and makes a schmokin mean cup a' joe.   

4.  As a testament to the general creativity and fun being had by these guys, I offer this shot of their bathroom.  I have become somewhat of an expert on coffee shop bathrooms, and it's kind of astonishing how many people don't make this essential-to-humanity experience that we all share a bit more enjoyable.  When I saw this cool setup I didn't even have to "go", but I did anyway, just for the experience.  And it was glorious.  

4.  As a testament to the general creativity and fun being had by these guys, I offer this shot of their bathroom.  I have become somewhat of an expert on coffee shop bathrooms, and it's kind of astonishing how many people don't make this essential-to-humanity experience that we all share a bit more enjoyable.  When I saw this cool setup I didn't even have to "go", but I did anyway, just for the experience.  And it was glorious.  

After being around for only 4 years, PERC is quickly becoming a name synonymous with quality in Savannah, and around the nation.  You'll be hearing more about these guys.  And if you haven't already, you'll be drinking their goodness soon.  I guarantee it or your money back.  

After being around for only 4 years, PERC is quickly becoming a name synonymous with quality in Savannah, and around the nation.  You'll be hearing more about these guys.  And if you haven't already, you'll be drinking their goodness soon.  I guarantee it or your money back.  

4 Things About Not Just Coffee in Charlotte, NC

If you just want coffee, you can get that just about anywhere.  Heck, even McDonalds has decent joe these days.  But if you're in Charlotte, NC, you don't have to settle for "just coffee".  You can upgrade to NOT JUST COFFEE.  We did!  Here's a few things about our visit!

1.  NJC serves Counter Culture as their mainstay, and far as we found, they serve it better than anyone else in the city.  But they also have a guest program featuring the likes of Portland, Oregon's Heart Coffee Roasters.  

2.  This is owner James Yoder.  He really, really loves making pour overs.  I know this because I watched him make about a zillion of them and he was still smiling like this the whole time.  And he does it ambidextrously!  What talent!

3.  Cold brew coffee in a Ball Jar.  It's cold.  It's refreshing.  It's delicious.  This isn't JUST iced coffee, friends.  

4.  If your'e looking for great coffee in Charlotte, you seriously have to go to NJC.  They have two locations, both in public market places and both are basically permanent booths.  Their workspace is tiny, but they have ample shared seating available and you can get a 90 minute parking validation, so they've got everything you need.  All of this, and they were also some of the nicest people we've met, taking time to accommodate our investigative curiosity even though they were slammed with between 3 and 8 drinks lined up the whole time we were there.  Yes, they're a booth in a market.  But they're not JUST a booth.  They are nice people, but they're not JUST nice.  And they have coffee, but it truly is not JUST coffee.  It's an experience that you just have to have if you're in Charlotte.  

4.  If your'e looking for great coffee in Charlotte, you seriously have to go to NJC.  They have two locations, both in public market places and both are basically permanent booths.  Their workspace is tiny, but they have ample shared seating available and you can get a 90 minute parking validation, so they've got everything you need.  All of this, and they were also some of the nicest people we've met, taking time to accommodate our investigative curiosity even though they were slammed with between 3 and 8 drinks lined up the whole time we were there.  Yes, they're a booth in a market.  But they're not JUST a booth.  They are nice people, but they're not JUST nice.  And they have coffee, but it truly is not JUST coffee.  It's an experience that you just have to have if you're in Charlotte.  

3 Things About Amelie's in Rock Hill, SC

We found ourselves at the edge of South Carolina in beautiful Rock Hill, just outside of Charlotte, NC, with not a single coffee experience from the whole state.  UNACCEPTABLE!  But all was not lost....enter:  AMELIE'S.  

1.  Amelie's uses local roaster Magnolia in this custom packaged presentation.

2. Amelie's has a strong eclectic streak, with little fun touches like a map of France that says "You are here....sorta" and weird lighting pieces such as this chandelier made from cookware and another made from 3 foot long silverware.

3.  Speaking of 3 foot silverware.... Anyway, Amelies is more of a French Bakery than a coffee shop, but they have a strong coffee program and are a solid option of you're in the area.  If you go, make sure you grab one of these exquisite pastries for me, will ya?  Thanks!

4 Things about Coffee in Jacksonville

It's just the nature of the beast.  Sometimes it works out that we get lots of time to explore an entire state, and sometimes we just kinda breeze through due to various limitations such as time and money.  Such was the case in Florida, as we just barrrrrely dipped down there and hit Jacksonville before we had to head back North.  Good news is, Jacksonville has a great start on a coffee scene that is moving in the right direction!  We hit up Brew first, then headed over to Bold Bean.  Here's our report on both!

1.  This fellow was just plain excited about coffee. Mike's his name, and he was all too happy to whip us up some great tastes of what they do at Brew.  For starters, there's this little creation of his own called the Cherry Bomb.  BOOM!  

2.  Brew was the only place we ended up getting a full competition style flight of beverages.  After the Cherry Bomb, we ordered a cappuccino, and then just to show off their good Mike brought us an espresso as well.  All were delicious, and paired wonderfully with these amazing toasts!  Although in full disclosure, a bucket of dirty bath water would probably taste pretty good if served up with these bad boys.  Nonetheless, the coffee was way better than dirty bath water. 

3.  Next up we headed over to Bold Bean, where we found an excellent operation with a beautiful space and excellent equipment.  Two for Two!

4.  We ordered a pour over of an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe that was recommended by this cat, name o' Chris, then pounded him with questions while he made it.  Turns out ol' Chris is planning on competing this year, so we knew we were in good hands.  Then his good hands handed us a bag of that self-same coffee to take with us into our hands.  And my hands made that coffee for breakfast just this very morning.  How handy!  

Bold Bean and Brew.  If you find yourself in Jacksonville sometime just find a shop that starts with the letter B and you'll be off to a good start. And if you see ol' Chris or ol' Mike, tell 'em Don sent you.  Don.  You know, Don?  From the Rialta Coffee Tour?  They guy with the RV?  Oh, forget it.  

6 Things about Alchemy in Richmond, VA

Alchemy Coffee has been a presence for a few years now in Richmond, VA, with their beautiful little coffee cart.  More recently, they opened a space with they call The Alchemy Lab, so we stopped in for a visit on our way through.  We had a great chat with their very nice staff, and noticed several very interesting innovations.  Check 'em out!

Alchemy Coffee has been a presence for a few years now in Richmond, VA, with their beautiful little coffee cart.  More recently, they opened a space with they call The Alchemy Lab, so we stopped in for a visit on our way through.  We had a great chat with their very nice staff, and noticed several very interesting innovations.  Check 'em out!

1.  Let's start with this:  OKRA!  Being a good ol' Oklahoma boy I love me some okra.  And I've always wondered why more people don't use it as a central component of their custom floral arrangements.

2.  Alchemy is using a very interesting Kenya from Counter Culture, AND a local roaster which has created a custom blend for them.  Both loaded up on the Mythos One grinders.  Bam!

3.  Great pour over setup, with this double burner heating element, 4 station pour over area with scales on each position, and a variety of options from V60 to Aeropress.  

4. Loved this condiment station, with little shelves on the wall for specific purposes, including cream pitcher!  Now when's the last time you saw a cream pitcher in it's own wall-mounted shelf?  Probably 3 weeks from last NEVER.

5.  Hey Susan!  It's OK for you to get a job here, because they got your lazy rear end covered with this custom pastry case, right on the corner at the POS.  

6.  Great woodwork on their tables as well.  All the seating is community style, with one big table and a couple long bars on the wall.  And if you were a FLY on the wall of this place, you'd mostly hear people talking about their amazing experience, because that's just what they do here at The Lab at Alchemy Coffee.  They do amazing.  Now go git yourself done.  

4 Things about Everyman Espresso in NYC

We almost didn't go to NYC, to be honest.  Not that we didn't want to, it's just kind of intimidating to haul your RV and 2 widdle kids down there, so we were thinking about just skipping it.  But eventually the Rialta Coffee Tour mini-goal of going to each state and visiting at least one shop there won out, and we ventured in.  Now when you're short on time and hoofing around NYC, your best bet is not to get too adventurous, so we headed straight to a known quantity:  Everyman Espresso.  It was a great visit, and here's a few things that made it that way:

1.  With a bay of the new Mythos One grinders (custom painted, no less!  see below...) these cats are ready to make your espresso dreams come true.  That's Carissa there on the left doing some dreaming herself.  

2.  I'm just gonna let this picture speak for itself. 

3.  Everyman is offering by-the-cup coffee on this quaint little pour over station built right into the end of the table we were sitting at.  To be clear, it was the ONLY table in the place.  Other seating options were of the "bench built into the wall" variety.  

4.  About 3 minutes after taking this admittedly creeper-style shot I met this legendary fellow:  Counter Culture's Erin McCarthy, ONLY the World Champion of the Brewer's Cup Competition in 2013!  Everyman actually has a written promise that you will get to meet a World Champion Coffee Person with every purchase...GUARANTEED!  So get at it!  Get on down to Everyman Espresso today and have an experience JUST LIKE MINE or your money back!