If you have a love for scrolling through coffee photos on Instagram, chances are you have come across Bryan Schiele’s work. Not only is he the man behind @letsbrew.coffee, but he also runs the I Brew My Own Coffee podcast in conjunction with Brian Beyke, also known as @abandoncoffee. With a love of photography, following Schiele’s feed is more like watching an expertly planned photoshoot than just a coffee lover who shoots a few photos here and there. There’s always something different, and with his regular use of color, cups of coffee, beans, and coffee grinders all stand out far more than they ever would on your kitchen counter.
Although he runs a popular coffee-related Instagram and coffee podcast, you might be surprised to learn that Schiele doesn’t work in coffee at all. In fact, he is a software engineer with a defense contractor in Phoenix, Arizona, and also dabbles in freelance real estate photography and web design in his spare time. But getting interested in coffee, and documenting it all on Twitter and Instagram, has led to some pretty interesting connections for Schiele. “I've developed some very strong relationships with fellow coffee lovers all over the world across those platforms,” says Schiele. “Getting involved in the I Brew My Own Coffee podcast is a great example of the power of those connections. Last year our friend Alex Carpenter, the creator of the podcast, approached Brian Beyke and myself about taking over the show to give him more time for some other projects. We jumped at the opportunity and have been recording episodes every two weeks since then.”
We caught up with Schiele to learn more about his process and more about his inspiration.
How would friends of yours finish this statement “Bryan is…”?
“… a huge nerd for coffee!” Fortunately, many of my friends share my passion, but the rest just smile and roll their eyes whenever they come over to the house and I offer them a brew on the Dragon or when I whip out my coffee tracking spreadsheet.
How did you get started doing your work? How has your work evolved since then?
I’ve been documenting my coffee journey on Instagram since 2011. Last year, I decided to focus a bit more on shooting more consistent photos, telling the stories behind each cup, and also engaging a lot more with the folks who follow me. It’s been a great experience over the years learning from others, discovering new coffees/roasters, and also sharing my own experiences. I’ve tried to focus a lot more on the “why” behind my posts and to offer a more genuine voice to our conversations about coffee rather than chasing the endless pursuit of likes, followers, or trying to “get featured”.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you have done in the last few months?
This past holiday season a few of us contributed to the #25cupsofchristmas hashtag on Instagram, and I’d say each post in that series was a unique and fun challenge to think outside the box. I’ve also been tinkering more and more with video posts lately, with my spinning SCAA flavor wheel video, a modified coffee-themed Super Mario Bros video, and my latest tongue-in-cheek take on Instagram’s like button.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your creative process?
My process has certainly evolved a lot over the years. Having a background in real estate photography, I had a bunch of gear laying around that I now use for Instagram, including a DSLR and a bunch of supplemental lighting gear. If you couldn’t tell by my feed, I’m a big fan of color—which I attribute completely to inexpensive sheets of poster board I find at the dollar store or art supply store. As much as possible, I try to get creative with my shots and shoot something that’s not only unique and beautiful but that also contributes to a larger story about the coffee, roaster, or product. I usually mull over an idea for a few days before shooting and then use my early mornings or late evenings when my family is in bed to shoot in my studio at home. I typically shoot tethered to a TV in my studio to get a better idea about framing and lighting and then save the images to my Dropbox. I’m a big fan of editing in Snapseed or ArtStudio on my iPad, but sometimes the photo requires editing in Photoshop. I guess you could say that I enjoy my photography like I enjoy my coffee—fussy.
I love your Friday follow series, where you take a picture of your phone and an account you love. How did you come up with this idea?
Sometime last year, Cabell Tice shocked me by spontaneously reposting one of my images and directing his massive follower-base to go follow me. I remember how that made me feel, and how grateful I was for that kind of unexpected thoughtfulness. I’m far from the originator of this concept, but this past year I decided to use my “reach” (or whatever you want to call it) to do the same and highlight folks that inspire me who are doing some really great work. Most of these accounts don’t have a ton of followers and they usually don’t get a lot of recognition, so I just thought it was a fun idea to pay it forward, so to speak. These posts rarely get me a ton of likes, as if that really matters at all, but it’s great to watch their follower count grow in the days following the mention.
What are some of your sources of inspiration?
Aside from the many coffee professionals and enthusiasts that continue to propel me forward in my journey (@abandoncoffee, @sethmills, @maxwellamooney, @thecoffeecompass, @caldwellcoffee, @departmentofbrewology and many, many others), more recently I’ve been inspired by a bunch on non-coffee feeds as well. I always dig the minimal stylings of folks like @mattcrump, @runnerkimhall, and @ack_bos. Also, I’ve been clearly pulling some inspiration from the video wizardry of @zachking.
What coffee are you drinking right now?
Favorite coffee shop?
I’d have to say the shop that has had the most impact on me has been Augies Coffee in Redlands, California. I just can’t say enough great things about those guys. All the way from their ownership to their baristas to their amazing coffees and on-point customer service—few shops have ever made me feel like such a part of the family as they have.
If you could drink coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
That’s easy! As silly as it may sound, I’ve never actually met my co-host of the I Brew My Own Coffee podcast, Brian Beyke, in person. It’d be great to someday go crawl some shops, drink some crazy coffee, and shoot some ‘grams with him.
Anna Brones (@annabrones) is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in the American Pacific Northwest, the founder of Foodie Underground, and the co-author of Fika: The Art Of The Swedish Coffee Break. Read more Anna Brones on Sprudge.