Almost as soon as QED Coffee’s Matt Greenfield graduated with a math degree from The Evergreen State College, he knew he wasn’t going to use it. At least not directly. But the owner of the three-month-old cafe in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood has been able to sneak in principles from his math background into his cafe in surprising ways. Starting with the name.
Mathematicians write “Q.E.D.” (Latin for, Quod Erat Demonstrandum) as a formality at the bottom of proofs. That loosely translates to “which had to be proven.” It’s a math joke, see. “On one level it sounds a little douchey, but that’s not our intention,” Greenfield says as he sips coffee from a Frasier mug.
Instead, Greenfield is trying to demonstrate his good coffee intentions to customers on a quiet retail pocket near downtown Seattle. “We’re not using abstract algebra to wizard the coffee into being good,” he says. “We’re using a lot of things that are tried and true, but our approach is to take those things and play with them.” Greenfield admits that roasting while anticipating variables or making operational calls purposefully isn’t groundbreaking; in this day and age, those are just smart business practices.
Greenfield got into coffee while he was an undergrad. While working in the shipping department at Dillanos, he sat in on cuppings, eventually learning to roast. After college, he pulled shots at Seattle’s Trabant (which is now his largest wholesale client) and Caffè Fiore.
QED started as a wholesale side gig, with Greenfield roasting out of his garage in West Seattle while working three other jobs. He kept the operation quiet and slowly began to build a few word-of-mouth wholesale clients. Soon a neighbor offered to invest in and manage the business side of the project.
After finding the right location, QED’s cafe buildout took seven weeks. Greenfield had spent time doing kitchen remodels and building houses with his dad, a general contractor, and was able to take on a lot of the work himself. His father lives locally and would often spend a few hours after work each day helping his son build the small space, starting with refurbishing the wood floors and working up.
QED keeps pounds of coffee and drinks affordable and caters to the neighborhood’s demand, even if that means making sacrifices to a purist’s drink menu. “There’s a spectrum of what I want to do and what the general population that has money wants me to do,” Greenfield says. For example, he decided to put Italian sodas on the menu–sacrilege in some places, but an unapologetically tasty treat here.
Another priority for QED is service, which Greenfield says can be lacking in Seattle coffee, “especially with some of the stalwarts in town.” He went on: “They’ve lost sight of the fact that these are our customers, and they have options. It’s really easy to be nice to people.”
When he’s not putting in one of eight shifts a week behind the bar, Greenfield is running deliveries and roasting offsite on a Diedrich IR-7. He likes that it uses about 30 percent of the fuel of a traditional roaster. The air that goes through the roasting drum is significantly more free of unburned fuel, which Greenfield says produces greater flavor clarity. QED’s espresso blend and two single origins are refreshed monthly.
QED’s espresso profile has been the same for the past year, but “for all the variables with coffee”—from processing varieties to soil variance at origin—Greenfield says he’s always tinkering with the blend and anticipating changes. “We can use all of our scientific tools and knowledge to get the best product, but I have a hard time when people think that there is a yes and no,” Greenfield says. And so he reveals himself as the mathematician, trained in absolutes, made humble in the face of coffee’s ever-shifting parameters. “It all comes back to doing things intentionally. We need to continue to learn. If you’re not learning and getting better then you’re moving backwards.”
Sara Billups (@hellobillups) is a Sprudge staff writer based in Seattle. Read more Sara Billups on Sprudge.