Christopher “nicely” Abel Alameda has spent over a decade working in specialty coffee, starting in Seattle with Espresso Vivace. Fellow coffee pro Kyle Glanville (now with G&B) recruited nicely to relocate to L.A. He initially worked for Intelligentsia, transitioned to Handsome Coffee Roasters and The Hart & The Hunter and now helms Menotti’s Coffee Stop in Venice. The man clearly takes coffee seriously, and even has tattoos featuring four employers, including Menotti’s, on his neck and forearms. I met nicely at Menotti’s prior to the September 23 opening in Cesar Menotti’s one-time speakeasy, and he shared several insights.
Did you consider working in other industries, or was it a given you’d work in coffee for a living?
I ended up falling ass backwards into coffee. My first coffee job was 16 years old, working for Starbucks, donning the green apron. Then I ended up working at Krispy Kreme and Tully’s to actually being an overnight grocery stocker, and really starting to hate life. All of a sudden, an ex-girlfriend tells me, “There’s this new place opening up that you should drop a resume off at.” I did, and it ended up being Espresso Vivace. They recognized that I had a little something for it. It was calling me. My old boss, David Schomer, in a training session, tells me, “If you’re not careful, you’re going to end up with the bug and you’re going to have one of these places of your own some day.” That’s always resonated in my brain. My goal ended up being to have four little walls I could bicycle to and support my family and just serve a community and be a part of a community from the beginning. It’s kind of fun now to see this come about. You’ve got to be careful about what you put in the universe. Almost word for word, what I dreamt about, is happening now.
What’s your favorite aspect of working in the coffee community?
The amount of people I’ve been able to meet. Over 10 years, it still humbles me every time somebody recognizes me. My days in Seattle and here, the amount of people I’ve been able to meet has just been incredible. Just the amount of people I’ve been able to interact with, whether I’ve been working next to them, or been able to make them a cup of coffee…I’m fascinated with people.
What’s the first cup of coffee you ever remember drinking?
My first coffee experience was a scoop of Haagen-Dazs coffee flavored ice cream that my grandmother bought me in Massachusetts. I must have been about four or five years old.
My first coffee that I remember ordering myself was an Americano. When my mom and I went to Seattle, I went for a walk by myself and for some reason, I remember five other people in front of me ordering an Americano. I remember ordering one at Starbucks and taking a sip, burning my mouth, and thinking, “This is terrible.” I just turned 15, or I was 14-and-a-half, and I remember thinking, “I’ve just got to load this up with sugar.” That’s the first coffee I remember ordering by myself.
I remember a walk with my mom, having my first caramel Frappuccino, my first eye opening coffee experience.
Are you from New York originally?
I was born in Far Rockaway, Queens, and raised between Brooklyn and Queens. I moved up and down the East Coast for a little while. When I was almost 15, my mother moved me out to Seattle.
Who in the industry do you look to for inspiration, guidance or advice?
I still look to older baristas, baristas that have been doing this for 10, 15 years. Many of them still work at Espresso Vivace. I’m lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to work with Kyle Glanville. He was instrumental in relocating me to Los Angeles, with the help of Intelligentsia. I respect him. I think my inspiration is still derived from the community that coffee shops end up creating in their space. That’s what inspires me, the communities that end up building around these places. I’m inspired by folks that go a little bit above and beyond the science and appreciate how what they’re doing impacts the people that they’re serving. That continues to inspire me. Understanding that, when I see somebody like Espresso Vivace baristas, who not only take the time to know your drink order, but care about the book that you’re reading, or the movie you just saw. That inspires me, because that’s what’s fostering the community, that they care above and beyond just charging you or giving you a cup of coffee.
Are there any key differences you see between the Los Angeles coffee community and Seattle’s, for example?
Yeah. It’s still so young, and it’s worth saying specialty coffee. Yeah, coffee’s been around here for a long time. There have been people roasting around here for 15 years, and it’s worth tipping your hat to them, but credit to Intelligentsia for being the first to blow it up and really start fostering the community around it. Five years ago, a coffee party might have been centered around Intelligentsia workers, or people working at Intelligentsia. Now you go to a latte art throwdown or coffee event, you’ve got at least two dozen, three dozen other shops that could be represented, people that are really starting to care and consider this a profession. Los Angeles still sees being a barista as a stepping stone, whereas in Seattle, there are scores of people who have chosen that as their profession to maybe facilitate other passions they have in their lives. I just think it’s still so young that a discerning clientele is still developing. I also think, as a result, what a barista makes in terms of money will start to improve. I want to be able to work here and have my son come here and be proud of the fact, “That’s my dad making coffee.” That I’ve chosen to devote my life to it, I want that to happen for a lot more baristas opening in Los Angeles. I think it’s happening. You’ve got places like Australia and Italy that value the position that way. It’s a career choice. L.A. is still working on that. There are a couple of other cities in the United States that have gotten there, but L.A. is still coming around to it.
You’ve never competed in a barista competition, but you have in a latte art competition. Why one versus the other being important to you?