Tom Vincent opened the Texas Coffee School in 2011 to teach the world how to make great coffee. And that might sound a little crazy. But, Vincent perhaps is a little crazy. After being laid off as a creative director at an ad agency several years ago, he decided to pursue his passion for a great cup of coffee. It's started out extremely small, like literally teaching one couple how to make espresso at their house, but has grown into a consulting and barista training center. Vincent also offers one-day classes on how to simply make an amazing cup of coffee at your house.
Here's our chat about the world's most popular drink after water:
So, let's start with some basic tips on how to make a great cup of coffee for the regular Joe at home. No fancy machines, just a man with his beans and hot water. Well, you have to start with good beans. I've got a great coffee in from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters recently called Pacamara Honey from Nicaragua.
You want to definitely weigh the beans before you grind them; it's much easier to get your coffee to water ratio correct if you weigh it first. (A scale cost about $14.)
The best ratio is 2 grams of coffee to one fluid ounce of water.
What's your favorite method? For this coffee I'm going to use a Clever dripper ($21.50 on Amazon). It's a really cool way to brew coffee because it's kind of a hybrid between the French press method and the pour over method; you get all the benefits of each, without any of the drawbacks. You won't get any of the sediment in the cup the press leaves you with, but still get the full immersion brewing. Also you don't have to worry about uneven water flow going through with the pour over.
You always want to pre-wet the filter when you're brewing in small batches because the filter will absorb a large amount of your water and throw off your water ratio. A lot of little things make big differences.
(The coffee is steeping now.)
Have you ever been stuck in a place with bad coffee? Yeah. A lot of times I just won't drink it. If I'm really hard core, I'll just take a little hand grinder and get a cup of hot water from a gas station.
Have you ever gotten a headache for not getting any caffeine? I hate those. Oh yeah. But I've also had headaches from too much coffee.
What's too much? You'll laugh, but sometimes three cups. The variable is the strength. My parents are perfect examples. They're two pots a day people, but when they drink my coffee, they only have one cup. When the beans are fresh, they are so much richer.
How can people get fresh beans locally? Everyone should certainly order their coffee directly from a local coffee roaster, which you can do right on their website. Do you find that a lot of restaurants serve good coffee? I think there's a great disconnect between great chefs and great coffee. I ate Joel Robuchon's restaurant L'Atelier in Las Vegas and had one of the greatest meals of my life followed by one of the worst cups of coffee I've ever had. We were just blown away by the tasting menu, then thought, "How can someone with such a palate have such awful coffee?"
Maybe it's because they've spent so much time drinking bad coffee working 16-hour shifts in a kitchen. That's what I was thinking too.
Why's it so hard to make a great cup? There's so much science that goes into making a great cup of coffee. People don't realize how much thought has to go into a great cup of coffee. A lot of people look at it as a caffeine source, whereas those that really appreciate coffee look at it as the most affordable luxury in the world.
(My cup of coffee is now ready).
And for the hardest question of the day. Got milk? Is that a no-no? You can do whatever you want. The variable is do I have any? The answers is, no, I don't have any.
Was that a bad question? It's not that it's a bad question. The thing is I realize people enjoy their coffee a certain way, but since there is so much bad coffee out there, a lot of people have never had great coffee and they just do it automatically because they don't know better. It's not their fault.
[I sip.] That's amazing. That's an amazing cup of coffee. You're right. Milk would ruin it. This doesn't even taste like coffee. What's it taste like?
I don't know. Because the reality is, it taste like real coffee. What do you normally drink?
Well... Starbucks. I grind it at the house though. You sound like you're embarrassed.
Yeah. You shouldn't be. I'm just happy you drink coffee. There's nothing wrong with Starbucks. They're the reason people are willing to come take classes with us. Starbucks is widely responsible for paving the way. They're the reason people are willing to pay three or four bucks for a cup of coffee. So, I don't have any weird animosity towards them.
Do you like their coffee? Personally, it's not my thing. They're kind of a victim of their own success. One of my friends in the industry is a buyer for Starbucks and is basically a quality grader. His job is taste the coffee on the container ship when they arrive at port. He's told me they get some really amazing coffee, but the variable is there may only be 30 bags of that coffee and that's not enough to supply all their stores.
Also, sometimes I just go and sit in a Starbucks and observe. I'll be an anthropologist and try to figure out what they're doing that's different. Why are they a billion dollar company versus any other coffee shop?
Have you figured that out yet? Yeah. They're a people company. Not a coffee company. Coffee is the conduit. For them, it's about the people. They spend an extensive amount of time training their baristas on great customer service. For them, it's really about, 'How can I give you the best possible experience in the least amount of time?' Which is a great lesson to learn.
What about that fancy machine down at Ascension? I don't personally know enough about that one because I haven't worked on that particular machine, but from what I understand, it's a great machine. But the reality is that an espresso machine is only as good as the barista using it. That's just like saying you'll cook better if you have great knives. What's your favorite local coffee shop? Frogg Coffee Bar and Creperie in Allen. It has the best crepes ever and they sell Oak Cliff Coffee. It's my favorite place to go in all of DFW for coffee.
What's a good way to rate a coffee shop? The first way to evaluate a coffee shop is to order cup of drip coffee because I find that if they're not willing to put the energy into doing that well, they're probably not going to do anything else well either. That's just basic.
What's one piece of advice you give future coffee-shop owners in your classes? It's important to really keep things simple. Don't have a huge menu, focus on simple things but do them really well.
I also read a lot of books by chefs and I find that one universal thing that ties all chefs together is not trying to be all things to all people. It's about focusing on what you love. If you look at your menu and there's one thing you don't love, then it shouldn't be on there. Passion is the number one reason people succeed or fail in business.
When you tell your students that in class, honestly, do their eyes glaze over? Oh. They glaze over every time. And I look forward to it. The whole point of my coffee class isn't just to teach coffee skills; I'm not just a passionate coffee-nerd, I'm also a passionate entrepreneur. I read a lot of books about businesses and the one thing I've learned that ties all entrepreneurs together is passion and tenacity. People who just won't take no for an answer. So, I really try to inspire them during the class.
Did people tell you no when you told them you wanted to open a coffee school in Texas? They still do. It's funny when I'm out and people will ask what I do, "I run Texas Coffee School." And they're like, "Oh... how's that going for ya'?" But, it's worked out great for me.
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Who are most of your clients at the school? People who are looking to open coffee businesses.
Do you get a lot of clients from out of state? A lot. The majority of my out-of-staters are opening coffee business. The owners will come here before they open a coffee shop, then later on often they send their baristas here to get trained as well. Barista training is just one aspect of what we do. We also have a one-day class just for home coffee makers, which is a lot of fun. The science is the same no matter what you're doing...
Because it's just beans and water. Yep, it's just beans and water...
(Not really. We both know this, but it's fun to say anyway.)