Q&A: Cole McBride Talks Seattle's Vibrant Coffee Scene"/>
Cole McBride is the sort of guy who wears a tie to work--and actually pulls it off. But the Nashville native (and resident Seattleite) is not a lawyer, or a real estate agent, or a salesman, or even an overdressed software engineer. He's a barista, but not in the way any 18-year-old who knows how to work a Starbucks' blender is a "barista." He's a barista the way Murray Stenson, Jamie Boudreau, and Anu Apte are bartenders. In other words, he takes his job very seriously.
McBride's love affair with coffee started a decade ago at Tully's, his first Seattle job after moving west. What he thought was "just a job" turned into an obsession. Stints at Caffe Ladro, Vivace, and Stumptown followed, each place offering him a piece to the puzzle: latte-art skills, comfort under pressure, espresso expertise, knowledge of single-origin beans, excellence in customer service.Now, through a mop of dark curls, the barista makes easy small talk with his customers during a guest shift behind the bar at Tougo Coffee Co. in Capitol Hill--he's clearly well-known even though he only works there a couple of shifts per month. During normal business hours, he works as the Director of Education at Visions Espresso, teaching people how to make coffee, consulting prospective business owners, and advising on the sorts of machinery you need to drop big bucks on in order to do your beans the justice they deserve. McBride helps out at Tougo because he likes to stay busy, and it's a good opportunity for him to practice for the many barista competitions he participates--and places--in.
All that education and practice hasn't been for naught. Dude makes a life-changing cappuccino.
- You called yourself "mildly obsessive" about coffee. What is it that fuels this passion?
Well coffee is a deeply amazing product. It comes from a tree that bears fruit--the coffee cherry--and inside this cherry there are two seeds (not beans). There are an unknown amount of varieties, and some of the most complex flavors of anything on the planet. Specialty coffee is very important to me and I love it so much that I want everyone to experience coffee in the way that I have.
- What's your training process like for competitions (besides consuming massive amounts of caffeine)?
The training is different for each competition, and the most intense is the United States Barista Competition. This is where you serve four judges four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four signature beverages that must have at least one [shot of] espresso in each. First, you have to find an amazing coffee worthy of competition, and for this I get help from Velton Ross, the owner and roast-master of Velton's Coffee. Then you have to develop a routine that includes talking about this coffee in detail, along with being able to describe the flavors to the judges. You pick music, milk (that goes with your coffee), and ingredients that go with your coffee. Last year my signature drink had ginger, egg whites, sugar gum, orange blossom water, and grapefruit along with the coffee, which was a fully washed Pacas variety from Honduras. While you are serving your four sensory judges, you have the tech judges watching your every move to make sure you are using proper technique. I train for about four months leading up to each competition.
- How would you describe the coffee community in Seattle?
Let's start with the fact that I love this community, as I have been a part of it for so long. There was a time when it seemed like there was no community at all, and all the shop owners, roasters, and baristas were more concerned with fighting about who was the best instead of growing specialty coffee. This has changed so much in the last few years! For one the Barista Guild of America has helped bring people together. Our community is stronger than ever, mostly because of the baristas that have come together to learn from one another and hold events that keep us connected.
- Who do you think are the local roasters/baristas/cafe owners to watch?
Roasters to watch in the Seattle area would be Velton's Coffee, Kuma Coffee, and Ladro. Baristas to watch would be Christos Andrews of Tougo Coffee, Timothy Graham of Slate Coffee Roasters, and Ryan Wilbur of La Marzocco. Cafe owners to watch is a tough one, but I would say to be on the lookout for some new cafes in Seattle in 2013. I know they will be doing amazing things!
- Which is the better cafe neighborhood: Capitol Hill or Ballard?
For sure Capitol Hill!
- What and how do you brew at home?
I brew a lot of coffee at home, and I use many different devices. Mostly I brew Chemex, Clevers, and Hario V60, although I do use an Aeropress and Kalita. As far as roasters I use for brewing coffee, I really like Kuma Coffee and Velton's as I mentioned; 3030 Coffee Co. out of Peoria, IL; Passion House out of Chicago; Sightglass and Ritual Coffee Roasters, both out of San Francisco.