Interview: Dale Donchey + Jordan Chambers (Steady Hand Pour House)

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Coffee Atlanta

Jordan Chambers and Dale Donchey have made Steady Hand an Emory Village coffee destination.


What will it take for the Atlanta coffee scene to become great, if it isn’t already?

Chambers: Baristas staying here instead of leaving. We can say that because we left. We came back.

Donchey: More barista-owned shops would be huge, because I think a lot of – even when I was getting started – it was always somebody who wanted a coffee shop and just hired somebody to do that for you. Those don’t have much staying power. As an owner, I can’t imagine giving so much power to someone that I’ve hired to just kind of make everything work and be perfect.

Chambers: That’s always been the problem. People think it’s cool to own a coffee shop, whereas a barista, it’s like, sure you can think it’s cool, but you care about the coffee before you care about your cool life. Whereas a lot of people are opening up shops around Atlanta, and they’re putting them in the worst locations. No one has any forward thinking with a coffee shop. When they open up a coffee shop, it’s like, “We’ve got to buy a Vitamix to have on the back counter. We’ve got to have microwaves for this. What types of sandwiches and quiches?” Who gives a shit about quiches and sandwiches?

Do you have anything to eat here?

Chambers: Some pastries and bagels.

Donchey: Chocolate bars. They’re delicious. Askinosie Chocolate.

Chambers: We’re about to do deviled eggs. We did deviled eggs one time, so I decided to start doing them again all the time. Just little things. We want coffee and tea and espresso to be the forefront.

Donchey: That’s what we know.

Describe a typical coffee consumption day for each of you, from when you wake up to when you go to bed.

Chambers: Days working or days off?


Chambers: I don’t drink much. I would say anywhere from 4 to 6 ounces of brewed coffee and tasting of the espresso when I dial in, and maybe in the afternoon, another 4 to 6 ounces of coffee, and then an espresso or two. Not very much because you have to work so fast-paced with your hands, and I shake and coffee doesn’t go good with that.

Donchey: I crank out at least three cups of coffee before 10 o’clock, and then I mellow out with a couple things of espresso and move to like tea after that.

Chambers: On days off I have much more, but mine’s more for enjoyment on my days off. When I’m working, I do enjoy my first cup, and there’s nothing the rest of the day that’s going to taste like that first cup, but on my days off, every single cup I have is perfect.

Do you brew at home?

Chambers/Donchey: Yeah.

What brew method?

Chambers: I’ve started V60’ing at home finally, for the last eight, nine months. I never was happy with V60 any time I had it. I remember the day I told him too. What lot was that, the Yirgacheffe we brewed here and couldn’t get it to taste like anything? I told him when I set out, I’m going to make a damn V60 and I’m going to like it. I did three or four different brews and the one that I had – I texted you, “Holy shit!”

Donchey: My new thing, and I’m still not super thrilled about it, but it’s to take on the Clever. I typically take on something I need to figure out, so I turned it into my homebrewing method.

What type of music do you like to listen to while you’re on bar?

Chambers: Poppy, happy, stupid dance music, basically. There’s nothing better to work to, because when we start slamming here, I’ll play albums I don’t even care for at like 2:30 in the afternoon, because the whole atmosphere, it sets the vibe. Everybody’s digging it, everybody’s nodding their head. Cake “Fashion Nugget,” that album’s always good.

Do you have a go-to album?

Donchey: My new one is Swindler and Tinsy.

Chambers: Tame and Paula, which is playing now, helps to get the vibe going in the morning. The National in the morning is always good.

If each of you could pull a guest chef at any other coffee bar, what would it be?

Chambers: Cup, in Brisbane. When we got into Brisbane, it was the second or third day when we went by that shop. You know when you go in a shop and get it with the person? You know they get it and they’re not hiding anything. You go into some shops and you can tell they’re nervous because you’re another coffee professional, or everything about it is just relaxed. They were like, “Cool, here’s what we do. You guys are from America. Why don’t you try this espresso?” Like it’s going to be something crazy. You’re like, “It’s good.” Everything about going into Cup, every time I went, it’s the only shop I enjoyed going into every time. Josh Russell, the guy who’s their roaster and owner, he’s a badass. He’s just cranking them out on a refurbished six-kilo roaster in back. [to Donchey] He’s now opened up a roastery/coffee shop, which I meant to show you the pictures of last week. I’m just see a lot of him in us.

Donchey: What we’re trying to do, he’s doing. Ironically enough, I would like to pull a shift at the Lamplighter in Richmond, Virginia. That would be cool. My hometown has never had anything. I went to this coffee shop called the World Cup that was like Snickerdoodle lattes. I just think it would be cool to pull a shift in my hometown.

Chambers: On the funny side of things, it would be cool to pull a shift at Starbucks.

Donchey: I have done that.

Could you see roasting at some point?

Chambers/Donchey: Yes.

Donchey: That’s one of the reasons we went to Australia and hung out with Peter Wolff, who’s now with Wolff Roasters, but he was at Veneziano Caffe. He’s one of the original owners over in Melbourne.

Chambers: Former Australian barista champion. He left Veneziano to open Wolff Coffee Roasters. We helped him right at the beginning. I say we helped him open. We did a lot of bitch work. I remember my thumbs bleeding when I was scrubbing the roasters out of the box, all that goopy shit that was on them. It was a great opportunity, great experience. [Donchey] got to take some roasting courses from him. I was gone, but I can only imagine, because he’s brilliant when it comes to roasting. Josh actually learned from Peter at Veneziano before he opened Cup.

Full circle. What will roasting your own coffee allow you to do?

Donchey: Play with the big boys, I guess.

Chambers: It would be nice to have our own – it would basically be like owning a restaurant and having a chef working for you and putting out his food – and then when he leaves and you have to take the reins again, you want to sculpt it to be your own. It’s not like we’re going to do anything crazy different with the menu. We’re still going to serve, in a Chemex, brewed coffee and espresso. It’s just our own. We’re the ones who – say we want the draw a little sweeter – we’re the ones roasting that to how we want it to be, instead of the guy roasting in Chicago…Making it your own, more so, and having a hand in serving your thing, instead of a cute little coffee shop that serves Intelligentsia.

What does a barista have to be to work here?

Donchey: Personable.

Chambers: Passionate obviously being one because you want to hire passionate people, but you’ve definitely got to be patient and personable, because you’ve got to be talkative. You’ll get eaten alive here. Customers want to know everything about you, who you’re dating, everything, who you’re married to. It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s exposed here, and unless you have thick skin – unless you’re basically ready to be a bartender – because if you’re quite, it’s not really your gig.

Donchey: We generally don’t have more than two people on a shift, so you’ve got to be ready to move. A bunch of multi-tasking.

If you could only have one more shot of espresso, who would you have pull it for you?

Donchey: My last shot of espresso on the planet?

Chambers: Myself. That would be kind of cool. That sounds really arrogant.

Donchey: Any of the guys that work for us. They all have their own styles, but it’s just nice we had a hand in their coffee path. That’s who I had at first, so it would be cool if that’s my last shot of espresso. Whoever’s working behind the bar at Steady Hand.

Chambers: Just for the hell of it, maybe any of the people in the last 10 years who have won the World Barista Championship, who I’ve never had a shot from. I know in 2009, that guy Colin [Harmon] from Ireland, I had a shot from him on that guest bar, and he won a couple years later, so I’ve had espresso from him, and the espresso I had was good. Gwilym [Davies], Stephen Morrissey, even James Hoffmann, Klaus [Thomsen], I’ve never had a shot from them, so it would be cool to try it and see their style.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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