From books to beans

Hannah Glick, Contributing Writer

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It might not be a glamorous profession, but your local baristas are willing to make your coffee with care. Photo by Elizabeth Kerin.

People of all shapes and sizes pop into coffee shops to see friends, do homework or enjoy a book over a cup of coffee. Eclectic mix-matched seats or sleek metallic tables scattered about, wood floors, and hand-drawn designs announcing the day’s roast on a chalkboard create the ambience of the classic coffee shop. The simplicity of these cafes reflects a desire to produce a simple cup of excellent coffee. With the increase in roasting businesses and small cafes, coffee is no longer just a job but a career.

Local roaster and barista Andrew Szemborski came from Wyoming Catholic College to the Dallas coffee scene, where he works at Ascension Coffee in the Design District. Szemborski sees coffee as a career. He enjoys the universal appeal of coffee, and the diversity of ways in which it is appreciated.

“People like coffee in a lot of different ways, and that’s what makes it cool,” Szemborski said.

Yet, no matter how hipster your Instagram looks with sweet latte art, aesthetic is not the goal for local roasters.

“You [have] got to have a passion for it. I would rather have the ugliest latte and [have] it taste really good,” Szemborski said.

Though it may not be beautiful, your cup of joe is sure to be just the way you like it, as Szemborski emphasized that the human aspect is essential with baristas.

Only when baristas play a key role in the shop can you achieve a level of familiarity.

Nate McCabe, who graduated from the University of Dallas in 2015 with a degree in English, also works as a barista at another of Oak Cliff’s coffee houses, Davis Street Espresso, an extension of Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters and, he jokes, a competitor to Ascension.

McCabe, who was a barista before working at either the UD Cap Bar or in Oak Cliff, jokes that he is a walking stereotype, with his combination of an English degree and a job in a coffee shop. But he sees it as more correlation than causation.

Being stereotypical does not deter McCabe from this work, as he enjoys participating in the craft of coffee, something he sees as both an art and a science and something between a hobby and a career.

Consistently making good drinks and improving an unusual set of skills makes the work fulfilling for McCabe as he brings people into the experience of the broad horizon of coffee. McCabe shares his knowledge with others as he actively serves them.

“I see a lot of the same people, so I end up memorizing drinks and preferences,” McCabe said, comparing his work to the UD Cap Bar.

He enjoys the shop’s close environment, focused on the coffee rather than brand. To maintain its environment, Davis Street Espresso has no to-go cups, wi-fi, outlets, syrups, blenders or anything “Starbucks-like.”

Both Davis Street Espresso and Ascension Coffee emphasize the coffee beans, whether blended or single origin. A blend mixes different types of coffee and allows for greater consistency because baristas can handcraft to a greater degree. This technique allows them to create a more consistent product since different types of beans can be used throughout each season to create the same flavor. Single origin coffee beans originate from a specific farm or part of a country, so location and altitude can change the flavor dramatically.

Though coffee is one of McCabe’s passions, he is also interested in the wholesale sides of the coffee business, like marketing and client service, interests sparked by the Davis Street Espresso’s connection to the wholesale coffee business.

Like McCabe, Szemborski sees the many facets of running a successful coffee shop. He describes the shops’ owners as individuals passionate about more than just coffee and able to coalesce those passions to form a unique business.

Yet, though Davis Street and Ascension create familiar atmospheres, they differ in ways of gaining clientele. Szemborski emphasized social media platforms’ ability to raise awareness, while McCabe admitted that, for Davis Street, marketing is almost exclusively through word of mouth.

Both baristas want people to know that the smaller coffee shops desire to attract all types of coffee drinkers, including even those who love Starbucks and those who see small, independent coffee shops as elitist. Szemborksi and McCabe understand that these burgeoning businesses invite people to share a noble product: excellent coffee, worth enjoying for its own sake.

And as McCabe describes it, this couldn’t be less elitist.

“There is a long chain of connections that goes into one cup of coffee,” McCabe said. “It’s more than an everyday commodity. It’s a remarkable human thing.”

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