Interview: coffee pro Lorenzo Perkins (Cuvee Coffee)

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Coffee Texas

Photo credit: Trevor Corlett, MadCap Coffee

Lorenzo Perkins built a strong reputation while working for Caffe Medici in Austin, and parlayed that success into an opportunity with nearby Cuvee Coffee. He handles wholesale customer support and training, and he’s also an accomplished barista. In February, at the South East Regional Barista Competition, he outperformed top coffee talent from Texas and surrounding states to capture the crown. Perkins recently shared more caffeinated insights, which hint at why he’s been successful.

Was it a given that you’d work with coffee for a living, or did you consider other careers?

I took a job working in coffee as a way to help finance my university education. Initially I was working towards a B.A. in History, when due to the politics of that particular college I decided to leave that and pursue a B.A. in Literary Theory with the goal of freelance writing and teaching. The University of Texas offers a Masters program in Ethnomusicology, and I considered enrolling in the program to help further my ambitions of be a music writer, but in the end, the call of the coffee siren was too great.

Do you have a first coffee memory, good or bad?

I must have been six or seven years old, and as I sat at the kitchen table, admiring the adults reading newspapers and drinking coffee it seemed that if I wanted to be in their company it was imperative that I too drank the coffee. It was Folgers out of my parents Mr. Coffee. And it was horrible.

What was your very first day like working behind a coffee bar, and where was it?

My first day behind a coffee bar was an opening shift at Starbucks. I wasn’t allowed to make coffee, as I hadn’t been trained on the ways of the Linea, so stuck at the cash register, I soon become glossy eyed and overwhelmed as the line grew from 2 people to 20 people and I was spilling coffee, running out of coffee, dropping pastries, giving incorrect change. In short, it was immensely stressful and I failed miserably.

How did the opportunity come about with Cuvee Coffee?

I had been working at Caffe Medici for a few years, eventually designing and implementing the internal training program, doing equipment maintenance and working bar shifts. Another part of my job was to act as liaison to the roaster, who was Cuvee Coffee. Through that relationship I got to know Mike [McKim] and Clancy [Rose], and as they grew the business they needed someone who could do wholesale customer support and training, and voila.

What’s your current title with the company?

That’s actually the cool thing about Cuvee. None of us hold “official” titles, although we all have our own unique primary responsibilities. We are still a pretty small company (I’m employee number 5), so all of us kind of do a little bit of everything. Except roasting. They don’t let me touch the Samiac yet.

Would you consider anybody a coffee mentor? If so, what did they teach you that was so valuable?

Hopefully, I’m open enough to learn something from everyone that I meet. Sartre said other people are hell. I think other people are delightful.

Walk me through a typical coffee consumption day for you. What would that be like, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed?

I start the day with an hour long drive to work before I’ve had any coffee. Grumpy. Get to my Lab and make an espresso, taste it, and throw it out because it’s usually awful. I forgot to purge the grinder and the coffee is stale. Still bleary eyed and sleepy. The second shot is much better, and I sit back for a moment and enjoy how delicious coffee is when your body really needs the caffeine. Make a Clever to drink while I clear my inbox. Then the training day starts. I make one good shot and one bad shot and we all taste and talk about them. Taste 10-15 terrible espressos, and 2 or 3 good ones, made by the students. Lunch. Make a Clever to drink with lunch. Begin class again. Steam milk, drink warm milk. Sleepy sleepy now. One more shot of espresso, to make it through the class. Clean and backflush the MP Linea, make and drink a few more shots on the MP GS3 before I hit the road. Drink beer to achieve homeostasis and sleep. Dream about kidney failure.

What’s your preferred brewing method at home, and how come?

The Clever Dripper, because it’s my preferred brewing method anywhere. Simple, effective, consistent, easy to clean up, and DELICIOUS!

If you could travel to any city in the world right now, primarily to drink coffee, what would it be and why?

I don’t think I’d make a trip just to drink coffee in any city. I believe that we in the coffee industry tend to fetishize coffee and espresso. These beverages are not the end, they are a means. The people to whom they are served are the ends, the conversations they create, the meetings they encourage, the life that happens around coffee is the goal, not the coffee itself.

If you could only have one more shot of espresso, and you couldn’t pull the shot, who would pull it for you?

I think that depends on the scenario of my last espresso. If I’m about to die, and this is to be my last coffee before I shove off this mortal coil, then I’d have Gwilym [Davies] pull it, mostly because he’s just so nice, but also because it would be tasty. If it was because my doctor said that if I had more coffee I would die, then I’d let Scott Lucey kill me with espresso. And if it was just me being done with coffee forever and moving on to some other mad obsession, I’d probably go to a shop in Austin and have a barista that I helped to train make it for me. Kind of a bittersweet end to a career, enjoying for one last time the fruits of my labors.

Address: 22601 State Highway 71 West, Spicewood, TX 78669

Joshua Lurie

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

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