Atlanta has slowly embraced specialty coffee, and one of the leading arbiters is currently Condesa Coffee, a contemporary café and espresso bar in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. Matt Davis runs the glass-fronted establishment’s coffee program, which features Counter Culture-roasted beans. On November 21, Davis explained his connection to coffee culture.
Was it a given that you’d work with coffee, or did you consider other careers?
Previous to this, I was a professional photographer for two years, and on my way to a shoot in Roswell, in the suburbs of Atlanta, I stumbled into a local roastery [Land of a Thousand Hills]. The head roaster talked to me about what was going on. At the time I didn’t drink coffee, didn’t really know anything about it, and the way that he explained to me his passion towards it, related a lot to the way I thought about photography at the time. Within two months, I fully swapped careers, and that’s when my journey began. That was in 2007.
Do you think being a photographer helps you at all in coffee?
It does. Attention to detail helps anyone. I’ve found that between artists and musicians, those both have some of the best opportunity to create really good baristas. Anyone can do it, it’s just whether or not you’re down to learn the craft and take the time and have the patience..
What do you look for when you’re hiring a barista?
Good people skills. The ability to act on your feet. As far as experience in coffee goes, I would rather not have any. Depending on where it is, it can be helpful, but really that’s where I like to have a blank slate or an empty canvas to work with. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you can be really nice to customers and act accordingly, because those are the things you can’t really train people on, is the personality types.
Have you had any coffee mentors?
Yeah. When I started at that local roastery, we were roasting our own coffee, but at that time, Counter Culture was offering free training to anyone at the Atlanta training center, and at that point, it was Chris Owens and David Lamont. David Lamont is still there, and David Lamont has probably been my go-to guy for anything I need for suggestions or advice. The dude’s just super scientific and knows a lot about what he’s talking about. He’s kind of the guy that took my passion and brought it to the next level and gave me the resources I needed to grow.
What’s your favorite aspect about working with coffee?
I think as far as careers go, especially when you get into specialty craft, getting burnt out is a common factor, and when you’re working with something that is at least 80% opinion based as far as personal preference, and also the fact that it is a young industry as far as science goes, there’s just a lot of room to grow and a lot of room to continually educate and learn from others…and different styles around the world. It’s the way the whole industry is growing as a whole, with customer interaction, it’s always changing. You always have to stay on your feet and not really get burnt out.
What’s the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is keeping up with the times and maintaining a relationship with your customer base. A lot of us want to be the best and the most innovative, and doing the most crazy shit that you can think of, and at the end of the day, you’ve got to realize you’ve got to put on the brakes for some people because a lot of the customers aren’t as fully immersed in the same industry as we are. It can easily go to people’s heads, and at the end of the day, you can be the best barista, yet your company’s really suffering because of the fact that you weren’t willing to slow down. That’s the hard part.
What will it take for the Atlanta scene to become great, if it isn’t already?
It’s definitely not great. I wish I could tell you a direct cause that would relate to a better change, but I don’t think there’s a single answer that would solve it. I think it has to do with being spread out pretty far. A lot of it has to do with the traffic, and the fact that the Southern social aspect of things is just behind on a lot of fronts, as far as food goes. It’s getting there, but we have a lot to catch up on.
Tell me about a typical coffee consumption day for you, from when you wake up to when you go to bed.
I’ve gotten a lot better. I used to be really bad. I started spitting when I dial in, and I started relying a lot more on my nose than my palate, which works for some things and not for others. On a daily basis, I would probably say total quantity of espresso is probably about two shots, and less than an eight-ounce cup of coffee, a day.
Do you ever brew coffee at home?
Yes. Recently, I was getting married to another coffee professional. We do pretty simple pourover at home, that’s about it. Keep it easy.
What type of music do you like to listen to when you’re on bar?
When I’m on bar, it’s tough, I can’t really listen to what I would like to listen to, which again goes back to that balance of what I want and what the customers want. So trying to create to create a level playing field of people feeling comfortable and feeling they can talk without being obnoxious. I don’t know if I can put any one genre on there. I try to mix it up and go anywhere from Prince and throwbacks from the ’80s and ’90s to really good indie underground electronic.
What would you like to play?
I would probably prefer to play between ’90s hardcore and ’80s hip hop. That’s what gets me going.
If you could pull a guest shift at any other coffee bar…
In Atlanta, or anywhere?
I would probably go to the Netherlands.
Any spot in particular?
No, not any spot in particular. I’m very intrigued by the culture of coffee drinkers there and I would like to just be able to experience interaction with people behind the bar.
If you could only drink one more shot of espresso, who would pull it for you?
That’s a good question. It would probably be my niece. She pulls a mean shot of espresso. She turns three years old in March, her name is Sophie, and she drinks macchiatos on a regular basis.