Intermittently wedged between the incessant chime of the ‘drive thru’ was one demanding voice after another.
The once green apron tethered around his waist is now more akin to a mashed chocolate with cherry filling; stained Mocha brown and Acai red. The barista rushes from his ice bin. He tamps down the lid of a 64oz blender, filled to the brim with two large scoops of ice, 6 scoops of matcha, almond milk, extra base, 6 pumps of raspberry, 4 pumps of classic syrup and a shoe for texture.
Eyeing the gap between two idle cars, a rift of welcomed silence graces his headset.
Fade in the clamor of a lobby at max capacity, the endless hiss of steaming wands, and slip-proof shoes slapping wet fatigue mats as fellow baristas rush from one bar to the next. Below bars one and two, the sticker machines are spitting out a stream of custom orders on low adhesive stickers. From one cavalcade to another, this would soak anybody's neural tissue with paranoia and stress, right?
Well, as a clinically diagnosed autistic employee pulling a double-shift at your local Starbucks, this is hyper awareness and disgruntled outlook. Feeling overworked and underpaid for the sake of progress.
But what is progress?
Time management, customer satisfaction and ultimately sales. To what end? For a goliath entity like Starbucks, another store pops up on a freeway exit every six-hours.
All hail America’s second living room.
Like clockwork, the sleep-deprived, multi-tasking, over-scheduled and double-booked caffeine punks will swarm and clog the lot of any business park with a Starbucks.
When these people fly first-class, do you think they have to check the baggage under their eyes?
Imagine a socialist realism portrait of a frizzy haired salaryman, gazing out past the horizon, their khakis wet with hypertension spillage from their last latte. At his feet, army-green stoppers with chewed ends litter the asphalt.
But I digress. As a former Starbucks employee of 4 years, there was no unruly customer I couldn't face or an over complicated order I wasn't able to fulfill. Everyone is entitled to their preference, I can honestly say I’m not bitter.
Their coffee is.
While I'm now acclimated to YCC’s year round single-origin offerings, once upon a time the Starbucks selection of single-origin beans was respectable. They came retrofitted in colorful packaging paying homage to their country of origin. Brief descriptions outlining the plantation where their beans were cultivated and what notes to expect for each bean profile, respectively.
When I was working at a location in El Paso Texas, the company provided the Coffee Passport. It was a small book with the necessary guidelines for tastings in the café. This improved our customer connections, providing insight on the beverages we sold. Not to mention which pastry would pair well with a customer’s drink of choice. Ultimately, we were afforded the goal of turning our Barista status into the renowned rank of “Coffee Master”. Awarded with a black apron, as a badge of honor, reflective of your passion and knowledge of all things coffee.
Cut to 2022, the Coffee Master program is dead. And Starbucks’ standard roasts continue to slap us in the face with their brazen acidity?
So what’s the deal?
Take yourself back to 1985, It was this dark roast that allowed Starbucks to distinguish its coffee from typically weak gas-station brews. Eventually, rapid expansion meant the company bought millions of pounds of coffee each year and needed to replicate the taste for customers who expected a uniform flavor from Texas to Ohio. Well-roasted beans means higher temperatures which equals shorter periods of roasting time. Burning your beans' voids their natural qualities, like a finger print to a curling-iron. Then, like Ray Kroc did with the burger, Starbucks made brewing more efficient with uniform measurements and strict brewing guidelines.
Here’s the kicker, dark-roasted coffee generally goes better with milk and sugar. And milk and sugar are lucrative menu items. Forty years later, their Italian roast is freeze dried into an instant mix called “Frapp roast”. This was an economically sound progression. Considering the cost to make one handcrafted beverage from drink components, wage and utilities, moving forward, Starbucks proved itself worthy to boldly cut costs, raise prices and steamroll the competition.
From the “secret menu” items to their multi-colored, Instagram favorite Unicorn Drink and shaken refreshers; Frappuccinos alone continue to generate 20 percent of Starbucks' revenue.
If this is a byproduct of over-roasted beans, why would a corporate enterprise care to fuss over the time consuming art and integrity of roasting craft coffee? Starbucks is a lifestyle brand and ultimately a business, more power to them.
But what about those independent roasters littered throughout the United States and the world? Those family owned, local businesses like yours truly? In an oversaturated market like the coffee industry, how would Youngstown Coffee Co. ever try and compete?
- Back to our regularly scheduled programming
Part Two -
Last year I worked 4 jobs a week.
Notably, towards the end as I was consolidating my schedule, I would open at Starbucks, scheduled for 4:30am work until 12:00pm. Deprived of sleep and puttering my way down the empty streets of Boardman Ohio towards this cool joint up the street; Havana House.
A safehouse for both the cultured, the not-so-cultured, the old and the young. From the front counter, I would grab an unpretentious cup of Ethiopian, add a little cream and converse with the wide variety of regulars.
It was here that I learned about my hometown of Youngstown, more than any Wikipedia article could cite. From seasoned policemen, lawyers, artists, writers, carpenters, ex-cons to mathematicians, you name it. We exchanged ideas, concepts, opinions and forged fellowships that will echo throughout my life with resounding positivity and newfound motivation.
Although I'm native to Youngstown, coming back after 10 years from a franchised desert like El Paso, this was not the norm. I consider the amount of people spread throughout the world without a signature brick and mortar Café to frequent.
I count my blessings that Havana House just so happened to exist in my neighborhood. It served as the catalyst for many endeavors, including my eventual move to Youngstown Coffee Co.
Working as a YCC sales representative and administrator for the past year, it’s been a struggle to stand out from the plethora of established coffee roasters. We're on good terms with our local competition, and business is steady.
We're in the unique position of operating YCC out of Havana House, and I'm excited to see what's in our pipeline come to fruition. Everything from exciting new flavors coming this spring, to exclusive subscription bundles and merchandise.
Being a part of Youngstown Coffee, watching as the fruit of everyone's labor flourishes is an experience unfound in any job I've ever worked.
At the end of the day, when I’m taking a coffee break with my co-worker Timothy, I think of the savory, Swedish adage: Fika onto the brand of Youngstown Coffee Co.
While the majority of coffee blogs out there romanticize Italian and French coffee culture, it’s important to note that Finland and its surrounding countries rank number one in coffee consumption, globally. Furthermore, their outlook on bean juice is righteous to say the least.
kaffi -> ffi-ka -> fikaz -> fika
Exclusive to Nordic nomenclature, the act of gathering friends, family and co-workers alike to partake in coffee and biscuits Is so eloquently called: Fika. It remains an important tradition in Finland, Norway and Denmark. So much so that two 10-minute coffee breaks are legally mandated for Finnish workers.
Fika’s history is long and tumultuous. Coffee was banned as a commodity several times. Some Swedes were rebels and formulated their own spicy, secret word to meet for “kaffi”.
Enter Gustav III
The king viewed coffee consumption as a threat to public health and was determined to prove its negative effects. A royal edict was issued against coffee, heavy taxes were levied, and failure to pay tax on the substance resulted in, get this, confiscation of cups and dishes followed by hefty fines.
Tired of backlash and controversy from the public, Gustav III ordered an experiment to be conducted using a pair of convicted twins. Both of the twins had been tried and sentenced to death. However, they were commuted to life in prison on the condition that one twin drinks three pots of coffee, and the other chugs the same amount of tea, every day for the rest of their lives
The two physicians appointed to supervise this experiment would, in theory, report their findings to the King. Unfortunately, both doctors died before the experiment was completed. Gustav III, was assassinated in 1792 before he could see the results of his experiment.
Even though public interest died out the twins lived on, the tea drinker was the first to die, at age 83; but it’s undisclosed how the coffee drinker died.
As my boy, Tim pointed out, amongst the deluge of information this man can cobble together, 1652 saw the uprising hunger for debate and honest discourse in Oxford…
Read more if you haven't already
…as long as there are people so too is our modern world starving for intellectual reciprocation, fellowship and a hot mug of Java to tie it all together.
Our blends and roasts are bagged with the inherent knowledge that our beans might play a part in your contemplative morning routine, sit idle in the mug beside the board of an intense chess match or brewed for your loved ones during a special gathering.
"Great everyday craft coffee" plain and simple. In my personal experience, Youngstown Coffee Co. has proven that we shouldn't have to break the bank to experience a stellar cup of coffee, and we all need that time away from our screens to connect with the people around us. You never know what you might discover.
That's where Youngstown Coffee Company closes the loop.
Happy preemptive Valentines Day and thank you for reading.