If you haven’t heard of Slate Coffee Roasters, that’s okay because my bet is that you soon will. Even though this family-owned business are on the cusp of launching their café and roasting operation, they are making a big name for themselves in this coffee town.
No doubt, big things in are in store for Slate Coffee who love to share their love of coffee – but not because they’re coffee geeks, but because they understand what great customer service should look like. I recently caught up with Brandon Weaver coffee educator and barista with Slate Coffee to find out his take on the coffee scene.
Here is my recent interview with Brandon:
1. Many people love coffee, but don’t know too much about it other than the familiar terms of “bold, strong, or light.” Do you find that customers can easily be intimidated by the depth and variety of specialty coffee?
Yes! Customers (I prefer to call these people guests) can be easily intimidated by the depth and variety of coffee. I am easily intimidated by it! There are so many variables across the coffee chain and our body of knowledge is so limited. But this is also part of the reason coffee is so exciting to me. There is so much to discover. And it’s rare in other fields that “discoveries” can taste so incredible.
2. Are coffee shops in Seattle doing a good job of introducing and “breaking down” the world of coffee for consumers to enjoy?
No. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Enjoying a cup of coffee doesn't take any breaking down. In its worst iterations, super passionate baristas end up forcing effectively meaningless banter down the throats of guests who would rather pour coffee down those same throats. Context is key. The first cup of the day is never going to be a good platform for learning.
The best coffee shop for learning in Seattle (since Slate isn't open yet) is Milstead and Company. No one there will ever give you a detail out of context but if you want to geek out about coffee, they know everything.
3. What can coffee shops owners, baristas, and roasters do better?
Again thinking about context, I think we (Seattle) need to move away from the fast food model of coffee service. Overhead menus, register up front with a server type standing in wait. This is what McDonald's does. If we are really trying to send the message that what we are doing is on a different plane of quality, we have to represent that before any word is spoken. Everyone knows the importance of first impressions, we just need to build our cafes around that idea. I want to see table clothes. I want to see table service. I want to see personal handout menus. There is a reason the best coffee service in the city is at Canlis (if you haven't gone there for coffee, stop reading this and go now).
4. How would you introduce the world of coffee to a new coffee drinker? Where would you start and what advice would you give to the new or occasional coffee drinker?
I meet a lot of people who tell me they don't drink coffee because it’s bitter. To these people, I love sharing the fact that the phrase “coffee bean” has been pulling the wool over their eyes. Coffee is the seed of a tropical fruit (it literally grows between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) and if you treat it in the right way, it can actually taste like it. If coffee isn't sweet but is dominated by bitterness, something went wrong somewhere and it’s the responsibility of the company to refrain from serving it.
The only “advice” I can give would be in the form of a free cup of coffee that I can stand behind. No one ever fell in love with coffee from a conversation. It’s always from tasting. Once you get that first taste that completely blows your mind about what coffee can be and you are the inquisitive type, you might come up and ask me, the barista, why it tastes that way. Now you're down the rabbit hole with the rest of us.
5. What's Slate's Vision when it comes to roasting? What inspires your coffee roast?
Our vision is based on the belief that coffee has literally never tasted better than it tastes now. The developments at the farm level have made a degree of quality possible that is unprecedented. That being said, a lot of the old reasons to dark roast coffee (i.e. making up for lack of flavor, covering up defects) are no longer relevant for the pinnacle of coffee. So at Slate we prescribe to a philosophy that we call “exposure roasting” meaning that we seek to expose the rich complexity that is inherent in the coffee rather than impose a certain preconceived “flavor profile” through the roasting process. Each roast is uniquely tailored to fit a particular coffee. You will never see a description of the roast level on a bag of our coffee because our job is to get out of the way and exhibit the work of the farmers that produced the coffees we serve. Referring to a coffee by roast (e.g. Italian roast, Blonde Roast) obscures all the work that hundreds of people put in before the coffee even arrived in this country. To me that is extremely irresponsible.
6. Where is the “Seattle Coffee Scene” today? What will it be like five or ten years from now?
The Seattle Coffee Scene is playing catch up with places like San Francisco, LA, Portland, Chicago, New York and dozens of others. We got overconfident in our coffee roots and forgot to continue to learn and progress. Consequently, we've been rather stagnate as an industry for a decade. There have been fits and starts here and there but they are isolated and therefore less than effective at changing the general culture. As the level of possible quality becomes more ubiquitous nationally, our Seattle tradition of carbonizing coffee will fall further and further behind the rest of the world unless we embrace a new way to enjoy coffee, not as ingredient but as cuisine. I hope we can be open to this as a city. Especially because it tastes so damn good.
Visit Slate Coffee at SlateCoffee.com
1906 E Alder, Seattle Wa 98122
Slate Coffee Roasters Café: (Not yet open at the time of this publishing!)
5413 6th Ave NW, Seattle, Wa 98107
Wanna try their coffee? Slate Coffee has started to run their Airstream Cafe Tuesday through Friday at the Piecora's Pizza lot on 14th and Madison.