"When I set out to start the business, about four years ago, I was determined to offer something that you couldn't find locally."
Each time I do a Brine Project interview, I bring with me a small digital voice recorder, similar to the one I used to use to record my voice lessons in college (I was a classical vocal performance major). I used to press Play and I would instantly hear piano chords, or a deep inhale, or flipping pages of a score. I would sit on a tiny piano bench in a tiny practice room with one tiny window in the door, and listen to my tiny recorder. That recorder was full of breakthrough learning moments and biting curse words of frustration, laughter and tears, noise and sometimes even music-- real music, that flowed with intention and breath and control. Despite all the haphazard, peripheral moments, there was the occasional moment of clarity. When I pressed Play on my new voice recorder recently to transcribe this interview with David Simon, the first sound I heard was the soft tssssss of a bottle of sparkling water being popped open. A sound that's simultaneously celebratory and calming. This sound, meaningless to probably anyone else, reminded me that there is clarity and intention and urgency in this project. It reminded me how grateful I am to be able to spend time with so many makers and thinkers in food and beverage. It reminded me that I get to train and engage my senses, just like in music, but in a slightly different way. Thank you to the first five interviewees who have taken a leap with me on this new endeavor!
On that note, I was honored to sit down with another incredible entrepreneur David Simon, the founder of a mobile coffee business called Black Magic Coffee Company, a few weeks ago: "I only started drinking coffee myself about seven or eight years ago. I haven't been drinking coffee for very long-- was never a 'caffeine person' at all. My wife bought me an espresso machine, and it just sort of took off from there. I quickly became obsessed with it, and experimented, mostly with espresso, ALL the time. I was working in the healthcare industry at the time, and it wasn’t until about four years ago that I left that field to work full time in coffee. During the couple years before that, I spent countless hours reading articles, watching videos, talking to people and experimenting with coffee at home."
"For me, it was more about the culture. I wasn’t so obsessed with how to make it at the time. I was more obsessed with the artistry. I actually started to work weekends at a coffee shop, which was my first real introduction to coffee. It was a bike and coffee shop, and because I've always been a big cyclist, that’s what really attracted me to the place. I went in and applied for a part-time job as a bike mechanic, and when they didn't need another mechanic, I said, sort of jokingly, 'What about a job as a barista?' And the owner said, 'Yeah, ok. We need help.' So I learned everything on the fly. But that’s how I was able to get more formal training, and how I was able to learn about the coffee roasters that we were serving through that cafe."
David kept his certification as a therapist all the while, but felt particularly drawn to coffee. For a while, he tossed around the idea of opening his own café. "I always wanted, and I still do to some extent, to own a café.... I think! I go back and forth… Once you open a café, you’re pretty much married to the place. And that’s not exactly what I want to be doing right now. So I set out to open a mobile business, because there wasn’t anything available like it at the time. Actually, one of the things that really did for me was the fact that when I was working in the healthcare world, I was going to conferences all the time, and I just couldn’t get an espresso, or a good cup of coffee."
"Being a mobile espresso bar, however, you’re faced with everything being mobile. A lot of times that’s weather. When you’re outside you’re dealing with wind, heat, humidity, etc. There’s always something that’s a challenge. It makes me appreciate being inside on occasion— vastly different."
"When I set out to start the business about four years ago, I was determined to offer something that you wouldn’t find locally. I have what’s called a multi-roaster coffee program-- I don't roast myself. At the time, I was the only mobile espresso bar in the country that was multi-roaster. So that bar you see out there? That’s my business."
Through the first coffee/bike shop where David worked, he was able to meet a number of roasters, and make connections. Because of that shop, he decided he wanted run a similar program that offered different coffees from multiple roasters. The four roasters David currently works with are Tandem Coffee Roasters (Maine), Passenger Coffee (Pennsylvania), Case Coffee Roasters (Oregon), and he recently added Novel Coffee Roasters (Texas).
David chose these four roasters through a good amount of trial and error. "What I like most about these coffee roasters is that they’re only roasting what’s in season. When you look at some of the bigger coffee roasters, you’re going to see 10-12 (or more) coffees that they're roasting at any given time. And they can all be good— I don’t doubt that— but I would rather see someone with fewer coffees, with more concentration on those particular coffees. All the coffee roasters I work with now roast maybe four to five coffees at a time. They always have one espresso option and a couple options for drip. In fact, Passenger Coffee roasters even has a cold brew blend that I use. So that really fit with my business model to keep it small."
For David, the same amount of research and care goes into the bottled water he offers, as well as the milk that goes into the espresso drinks. "You won’t find this water anywhere in the Northeast. Topo Chico Mineral Water has been around for 120 years, and I discovered it while visiting family in San Antonio, and thought, 'Wow! This is amazing water!' What sets this water apart from other sparkling waters, is that it’s naturally carbonated. It just comes out of the spring this way; it’s the only water like it. I spent 9-10 months trying to get it here, and I finally got it. For milk, I currently use milk from Thatcher Farm in Milton, Massachusetts. I’ve used many different local milks, but Thatcher is the only one that uses a low-temperature pasteurization. They pasteurize their milk at a lower temperature over a longer period of time, which helps retain the sweetness. Though milk is sometimes overlooked, I think the same emphasis should be put on the milk as the coffee. It does make a big difference as far as the way the drink should taste. Milk is kind of a big deal."
David and I discussed the difference between light, medium and dark roast coffee. Light roast best preserves the flavor of the actual coffee bean, while the heavy roasting of a dark roast more or less covers up the flavor of the bean. As it turns out, light roast often has higher caffeine content than a dark roast! "I tend to stay away from anything dark or 'dark roast.' With a dark roast, you don’t really get a sense of what that coffee tastes like— it’s roasted beyond taste. But the same could be true for extremely light-roasted coffees. You don’t want them to taste too 'green.' There are many schools of thought. For espresso, I tend to go with blends to get the right balance."
"Typically, espresso has, as its backbone, a Central American coffee that gives it a body, and then they may add an Ethiopian to give it a little sweetness, or a Guatemalan coffee… Sometimes they’ll throw in a Kenyan coffee. I personally enjoy Kenyan coffees the most because they’re the fruitiest and the most acidic. I try to find espresso that is suited for espresso on its own, or with milk. And that can be tough to find. Most people are going to order a cappuccino or a latte, and I want to have something that will cut through the milk-- I want them to be able to taste the coffee."
Lastly, I wanted to find out what kind of coffee David drinks at home. What's he doing that I could do to step up my morning coffee routine? "I mostly make Chem-X. It’s probably better that I don’t make espresso at home.... With Chem-X, you add the water over a 4-5 minute period. It’s a bit time-consuming, though the end result is worth it. But you can’t walk away from it; you have to really want that cup of coffee. With this particular method, it’s all about the process of making it."
Using the Chem-X to make drip coffee, David prepared the Condado Peaberry coffee (Brazil) from Tandem Roasters, and it was bursting with aromas of dark chocolate, raspberries, fresh flowers and vanilla:
Black Magic Coffee Company is a mobile espresso business that provides premium coffee catering services for all kinds of occasions including open markets, weddings, private parties and corporate events throughout the Boston area. You can follow along on Instagram @blackmagiccoffeeco to keep up with the latest happenings, or to find David at one of many farmers markets this summer.