We’re always looking for books to spice up our coffee table. When the book is about coffee and written by an coffee industry pro, that’s triple points in our book. Throughout her career in coffee, Liz Clayton has documented her moments through interviews, photography, and all-around “nice coffee times.” To commemorate this, she created a book out of these memorable moments.
Liz is an accomplished writer, contributing to industry site Sprudge as well as Serious Eats. Her ability to condense verbose and overwhelming information into understandable language for coffee consumers is appreciated by everyone in the industry. We spoke to Liz about her first book release, “Nice Coffee Time
,” which you can purchase online or in select stores.
Coffee Kind: Who are your inspirations in the coffee industry?
: This sounds like a cop-out, but I think the whole industry is inspiring as a really inclusive, enthusiastic subculture—so much more excited about bringing people in on the excitement than many, many other niche cultures of any kind. It’s this warmth and “it’s totally okay to be really geeky” vibe that won my heart, right after the great coffee did. Of the individuals I can call out, Andrew Barnett is probably at the top of the list. He’s the best example I can think of of a person who’s genuinely, deeply in love with what he does, and conveys his knowledge and excitement generously and with warmth to all who cross his path. He’s well-loved in the industry for both his palate and his attitude towards great coffee and its potential. Others who I’ve learned heaps from and who continue to impress me all the time tend to come from paths crossed in my own Great Lakes homelands: Scott Lucey, Mike Phillips, Charles Babinski. All amazing coffee professionals who’ve made giant coffee dreams & careers happen and shared their smarts and passion with the world around them.
CK: What do you consider to be the necessary components of having a Nice Coffee Time?
You just have to want to have one! A great cup of coffee is a wonderful base for this, but a friendly interaction with the person handing you that coffee can be all it takes sometimes, and make a mediocre cup totally worth it.
CK: Do you believe that Nice Coffee Times can be planned? Or are they more like serendipitous moments?
Like I said above, I think it’s more about wanting to have a Nice Coffee Time than anything else. Be receptive. Be receptive to the fact that coffee is a celebration of something culinary and delicious, but it’s not limited to that. If you wanted to only have perfect coffee experiences, you could perfect your brew methods at home. But you don’t want that. You want to see and taste new things and be part of the world around that, an industry (for lack of a warmer word) that’s raising standards for everyone and delivering the end product in a welcoming environment. And stopping to take a break, to focus on just enjoying a cup of coffee and a moment in time, can be so worthwhile. Even though you’d think it would be second nature to me by now, I still have to remind myself some days to stop whatever I’m working on and seek out a cafe and just sit for a moment and have a cup of coffee. Put down the computer or phone for a second, just be friendly with others, just enjoy that respite. It’s amazing how effective this is in causing a Nice Time.
CK; You're in a pretty niche profession, writing about coffee for Serious Eats and Sprudge- where do you think coffee journalism will be in three years? Or, if that's too difficult to predict, where do you hope coffee journalism will be in three years?
: That’s a giant question: mostly I’m hoping coffee journalism will be more educated, and that people get more of the details right in a way that the mainstream reader can actually care about. I hope the growth in interest we see now is concurrent with a mainstream acceptance of the fact that we have to value coffee more, and pay more for it, to make the whole movement sustainable and beneficial for farmers. Then we’ll really have something to write about.
CK: Hoping you have a copy of your book handy for this- flip to a random page and describe to us the story behind the photo.
I’ve landed on page 51, which has a photograph of a cafe in Ypsilanti, Michigan called the Ugly Mug, and a portrait of a former roaster there (he’s now at Gaslight in Chicago) named Miro Lomeli. The Ugly Mug is a different place than it used to be, mostly for the better: visiting it during its earlier heyday was a little more like going to a rock club than a coffee shop. Smoking was allowed, and you’d often run into tables of people playing massive multiplayer online games, while smoking. I mention this in the book, but there was also a long period where you couldn’t flush the toilet and have the barista pull a shot of espresso at the same time! I first met Miro in 2008 at a barista competition in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—you’ll have to ask him for the rest of that story—and he’s a total sweetheart.
For this photo shoot, his house wasn’t far from the Mug, and we went to his house to make and drink coffee while we listened to records by my friend Fred Thomas’ band, Saturday Looks Good to Me, and talked about art and Michigan and music. Ypsi is a small town and if you know people there who drink coffee or make music, they probably all know each other. Then again, as I’ve come to learn—coffee is a small town!
And now that we’ve chatted about Nice Coffee Times author Liz Clayton on her first book, we’re ready to have one ourselves! This week, take a moment and enjoy your coffee at your favorite cafe.
Book photos courtesy of Amazon.