Barista Cabell Tice moved cross-country with his family, touring eleven cafes in America's heartland in the process. Mr. Tice ran the coffee program at Thinking Cup in Boston for three years, and after notching a few CoffeeFest Latte Art titles on his belt and helping “The Cup” with two store openings, Tice decided his hometown of Astoria, OR was the place to be. Tice put together an epic coffee road trip with his wife and 4-month old son.
We reached out to him to hear more about this whirlwind tour of coffee shops across America.
What was this coffee road trip all about? Why did you decide to do it?
After a wonderful run at Thinking Cup, I got to the point in my coffee career where I needed to do coffee in a different capacity. Not so much in stores, and a bit more exploration, a bit more training. I decided to move back to the Pacific Northwest to have more time to do all that. When my wife and I solidified our departure, I knew I wanted to make a coffee tour of it. I sent an Instagram blast and booked trainings, bar shifts and guest appearances at shops across the US. I wanted to meet some of the baristas I'd only known through Instagram on this trip, and did just that.
Tell us about all the coffee shops you visited?
I visited 11 in total. The list includes Not Just Coffee and The Daily Press in Charlotte, Barista Parlor in Nashville, Quills in Louisville, Octane and Condesa in Atlanta, Quay and The Roasterie in Kansas City, Burgie's in Ames, Oak Lawn Coffee in Dallas, and Little Owl Coffee in Denver.
So many were beautiful, so many had great service, so many had incredible coffee. I don't even know where to start. Two notable shops for me were Quay and Barista Parlor. They both placed emphasis on all aspects of service and did such a killer job. Coincidentally, I didn't work a shift at either spot, but as a customer it was awesome. Not to mention how beautiful the design of the shops was. Too good.
How did you find working guest shifts different than regular barista-ing?
Guest barista-ing is different because I only work with that staff one day. I see those customers only once. Everything is a one-shot deal. It's a risk for a shop to bring in a guest barista because the manager/owner, or whoever makes the decision to allow it, is trusting the guest barista to treat their customers well. It's a big deal to me and I do my best with every interaction to honor that trust.
Were there regional differences, in terms of shop design and/or service?
Not really. I mean, it's hard to say that there are no differences per region. Obviously in the slower shops the service is different than busy stores. That's not too much of a regional difference, though. It was interesting to see how much space shops down south had compared to the smaller, tighter designs of shops in bigger cities. I appreciate the craftiness of the smaller shop designers to make those spaces work.
Any favorite stories, people or drinks you encountered along the way?
There are too many to tell here. Folks everywhere were so kind, welcoming and hospitable. I think I could talk for an hour about every stop. One fun visit was to Ames, Iowa and Burgie's Coffee Company. A family-owned shop, they had us out for a training and were absolutely great. The shop was being revamped by two brothers, Jordan and Andrew Burgason, who are around my age, so we had a blast together. Cupping coffees, pouring latte art, grilling out, having brews. We went fishing in their family pond four times in two days! The pond is in the middle of a cornfield. I think we caught something like 30 fish. It was a relaxing stay. But again, I feel like this is one of the 25 stories I could tell you. There is so much love and respect in the coffee industry. Every story was a favorite story.
If you could sum up the coffee shop scene in America now having seen many of them, what would it be?
Progressive. I could tell that every shop I stopped at was trying to push the envelope. They were encouraging the staff to be better baristas. Not only in skill, but also in service. As a whole, I am seeing a bigger push to be better servers first, and baristas second.
This is Chas Wagner's first piece for Sprudge.com.