Liz Clayton’s book Nice Coffee Time is now available on the shelves in Shibuya, online, and in limited quantities from the author herself. You can find her at Sightglass Coffee Roasters in San Francisco later on tonight, where she’ll be talking story and signing copies. A similar shindig will be hosted by Third Rail Coffee in New York City on July 10th
We sat down with Ms. Clayton – herself a frequent contributor with a considerable byline on Sprudge – for a freewheeling interview on her brand new book.
Sprudge: Liz, do you remember your very first nice coffee time?
I had a really nice coffee time at Mercury Espresso Bar in Toronto in I think 2006. There was a knit sweater around my latte. I was impressed.
A knit sweater? Around the porcelain?
It was in a to-go cup. I was living a fast-paced life then.
Mercury offered a knit-sweater for go cups?
It’s strange, right?
Maybe it was to-stay. Canada blurs the mind. Oh! It was probably in a glass. LATTES, AMIRIGHT? How’s this interview going so far? Really well?
Totally understand. Lattes are delicious. You do you! And yes, it’s going great. So that was your very first nice coffee time, ensconced in a knit sweater. We know this question is tough, but if you had to choose, what’s been your *nicest* coffee time?
Maybe one of the nicest was visiting New York City in fall 2006 and going to a little place called Cafe Grumpy. They had just opened up their second cafe in Chelsea. The baristas were all very handsome and wore fedoras, the entire cafe didn’t have any chairs, all the other patrons worked at competing coffee shops, and the delicious espresso was Ecco Reserve. I drank a macchiato sitting on a little piece of the pavement on 20th street and a stranger named Alberto told me about a place I should go to that had just opened called Cafe Collage. This all seemed like New York had a very delicious and exciting scene that I should check out or something. That macchiato was really good.
We remember that era. There was magic in the air in Manhattan in 2006. Cheryl Kingan was working as a barista at that Chelsea Grumpy, and now she’s the lead roaster in Greene Point. She’s featured in your book, and it looks like she brewed up something in a Chemex. What’s your favorite way to brew a nice coffee time at home?
I believe it’s Greene Pointe. They’ve raised the rent since the popularity of “Girls”. I brew quite often in a Clever dripper, usually the small size. If I am entertaining, though, I might just fire up the Bonavita Brewer!
We think you’ve brewed us up some coffee with that Bonavita, in between eggs benedicts and kale smoothies.
I don’t like to give away all the Twitchy Labs hospitality secrets at once, but…yes.
Liz, tell us, this book goes to a lot of places, and shares some pretty touching moments with coffee folks. How long did this project take?
It takes a long time to touch that many coffee folks. The photography component and traveling took place over about ten months. You know, when you’re making a book, and thinking about how many pages it should be, sixty photos doesn’t sound like a lot. But when you’re actually going to thirty cities, it sounds like a lot.
There must be a lot of outtakes.
Will you share one with us?
We were thinking – brewing can be dangerous – any slips, spills, breaks, or trips to the burn unit during your research?
Lots of strange (and occasionally tragic) things happened to people I was visiting during my research but none specifically related to the brewing of coffee. Someone did brew me coffee in a ceramic cone held together with blue painter’s tape (surprisingly durable). Oh and at Jay Cunningham’s house the oatmeal was cold.
You’ve got a double life as a music photographer, and you’ve shot for some of indie rock’s most beloved bands. Do you ever talk coffee with Yo La Tengo? How do they react to your life in coffee?
They text me from places like Milwaukee and Greece asking me where to get the best coffee and, occasionally, if there are coffee people in whatever city they’re in that might like to come to the show. I don’t know how they react to having to listen to their own music in every cafe in the world, however. In general they seem to support my extracurricular activities. Though their front of house sound guy has some funny ideas about espresso. He’s more of the Schomer school.
If our parents asked you about Nice Coffee Time, how would you describe it?
I still haven’t explained this book to my own parents. My dad understands that I am occasionally some form of an artist and he is very polite to me even though he probably, rightfully, thinks coffee photography is a bit frivolous. He does seem to enjoy a cappuccino, however. My mom is a big coffee fan (don’t get her started on roast dates!) and a huge supporter of the coffee community vicariously through me. Her favorite World Barista Champion is Mike Phillips.
Your parents watch the barista competition Livestreams, right?
My mother does.
Yes! Often after people she knows are good friends of mine compete, she will email me her opinion of their routine. My mom definitely knows how to have a Nice Coffee Time.
So you’ve got this thing at Sightglass tonight… is everyone invited?
Everyone is invited.
Will the book be available to purchase?
Yes, there will be limited copies available to purchase and I can write in them if people like. Other people can order them through Last Gasp in San Francisco, or ask nicely for their local cafe to stock a few copies. (There is another party in NYC on July 10)
If I’m in Nice at the World of Coffee Expo and I wanted to get my hands on a copy of NCT, how would I go about doing that?
The quickest way would be to fly over to Japan and pick up a copy at Parco Bookstore in Shibuya, where they are being sold alongside fresh bags of delicious Heart Roasters coffee. The second quickest way would be to order online.
Awesome. Congratulations on your beautiful book!