Matt Viser is an award-winning journalist and reporter for the Boston Globe. He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool coffee geek. As the creator of Double Shot, the Globe’s lifestyle column on all things coffee, Viser finds the stories that exist at the intersection of coffee and politics. He is one of the finest coffee writers in the biz. Or rather, he is one of the finest writers in the biz, and incidentally, when he’s not covering elections, he’s writing about coffee. Viser was nice enough to sit down with me via chat to discuss his love of coffee, Double Shot, and his daily coffee routine.
Zac Cadwalader: How did you first get into specialty coffee? What’s your coffee origin story?
Matt Viser: For me, it's been a slow evolution. In high school, I used to get those sugary French vanilla cappuccinos at a nearby gas station. Later, I went through phases with Starbucks, Caribou, and Peet's. Eventually, while living in Boston, I started to discover a few independent shops like Diesel Cafe, Simon's, and 1369. Starbucks was also testing the Clover machines in Boston, so I would often stop on my way into work and pay about $4 for a coffee. The taste was much better, and it got me used to trying new things.
But I think I really started getting into it during a trip to New York maybe 10 years ago, when I went to Ninth Street Espresso. The cappuccino was like nothing I had tried before. As I started to travel more, I was always on the hunt for new coffee shops. To me, a trip to San Francisco suddenly meant making the pilgrimage to Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, and Sightglass. Going to Chicago meant Intelligentsia.
You split your time between Boston and Washington, DC. What are some of your favorite cafe haunts in those cities?
The Boston coffee scene has gotten quite good over the last few years. Some of my favorites are Thinking Cup (it's cozy and, as an added bonus, they have old Boston Globes laminated on the tables), Render, and Barrington Coffee (they have a Steampunk in their new store on Newbury Street). I also have a soft spot for Simon's and Diesel Cafe, two shops I frequented while living there, and George Howell is obviously doing amazing things. And the DC coffee scene is getting better and better. My favorite new store is Slipstream (serving Madcap), but I'm also a huge fan of Dolcezza and Peregrine.
What was the impetus for starting Double Shot?
The idea really emerged out of story I pitched last year about Dunkin' Donuts finding and helping grow a new market in South Korea. This was a thinly-veiled way for me to get to South Korea and explore its incredibly explosive coffee market, one that not only has more Q graders than any other country but one where there are cat cafes, a coffee shop where the primary draw was a live sheep roaming around, and a shop where you drink coffee and get a fish pedicure.
But with all my fanaticism for coffee, our editor, Brian McGrory, asked me to consider doing a coffee blog. The Globe for several years has had a blog on craft beer, called 99 bottles, that has been a success. This also comes at a time when the paper has been experimenting quite a bit and trying some new, different and—as a journalist who works here, exciting—sections, on everything from Catholicism to politics.
Double Shot covers just about everything coffee-related—coffee and politics, new gadgets, tips and tutorials, new shops, businesses—do you dictate the content? I can't imagine too many non-coffee geek editors would approve an article extolling the merits of a gooseneck kettle.
Right now, I decide the content, along with my editors Katie McLeod and Jason Tuohey, and write most of it. Some of it is guided by my own quirky interests (we recently did something on a coffee that puts you to sleep), and some of it by what's happening in Boston (we broke the news about Ogawa, the Japanese roaster, planning to open). Some of it is for a mass audience, and we do cover what some of the big chains like Starbucks or Massachusetts-based Dunkin' Donuts are doing. But I also want it to attract coffee geeks like me, who may want to know about gooseneck kettles or new mail-order coffee outfits like BeanBox or the thoughts of Brandon Loper while he was making “A Film About Coffee.”
Your story about the coffee served in the White House went viral. Were you surprised by the amount of traction it got?
A little bit. But from covering the White House and politics, I also know that it's sometimes the non-serious stuff that gets a lot of attention. There's a lot of interest, and mystique, about the White House and I had a feeling that people would be interested in knowing about the coffee. I tried to write it in a way that was fun and interesting, while also giving a nod to the fact that I know this isn't the most serious topic in the world. But that doesn't mean it's not interesting.
You eventually solved the mystery a few months later while attending a White House dinner. Was it a thrilling revelation, knowing your super sleuthing paid off?
It was actually kind of amazing how easy that part was. I had spent months trying to discover what is served at the White House, hounding the press office and talking to some of Obama's top aides. People either didn't know, didn't care, or wouldn't tell me. And then one night in December, I was there for the annual holiday party for the press, and saw a woman serving coffee. She had absolutely no hesitation in telling me what was in the cup: Starbucks Verona decaf. I was thrilled to know, but also a little disappointed. An immense amount of thought goes into every detail at the White House, and it strikes me that at a time when America is exploding with great coffee, not enough is going into their coffee. Even if you're going to go with Starbucks, at least pick one of their Reserve blends!
For your My Morning Cup series, you interview politicians and business people about their daily coffee routines. Who has been your favorite interview?
I have loved doing this, because people have such unique and interesting ways of going about their coffee routines. I think my favorite might have been the first one, Michael Dukakis. He buys Colombian coffee at Costco, which he insists works out to only 3 cents per cup, and he programs his Mr. Coffee machine to brew it at 4:30 a.m. His routine is as unassuming as mine is pretentious, but yet we are both starting out our mornings with the same basic drink.
Whose coffee routine were you most impressed by?
One that jumps out at me is this woman Grace Ackerman, who is a 72-year-old hardware store cashier. She works part time and lives on Social Security, but good coffee is one thing she spends her money on. And every morning, she's grinding her beans and using an AeroPress to make her brew.
Let's flip the tables, a My Morning Coup, if you will. What is Matt Viser's daily coffee routine?
Ha! So I've gotten increasingly elaborate in this. On weekdays, I wait until I arrive at work for my first cup. I’ve got my digital scale, hand grinder, Bonavita gooseneck kettle, and Kalita Wave Style Set at the ready. I’m usually dosing 25 grams of coffee for 415 grams of water. I sit down with my first cup around 9am. Depending on what kind of day it is, my next cup will come around 1pm. I will always have at least two cups of coffee and sometimes I'll have a third later in the afternoon. These days I'm usually making my own coffee, but when I go out, I usually order a cappuccino or, increasingly, a macchiato (the cappuccinos at a lot of places are too milky for my taste).
Do you ever read the comments on any of your Double Shot articles? They're really something else. They make me happy Sprudge disabled the comments.
I do read them, and they're pretty incredible. Sometimes they're quite brutal, either at me for writing about coffee or at someone else for their choice in coffee. But I mostly find them amusing.
Next time you see the President, tell him Sprudge says hi, even if he does drink tea.
Will do. Maybe he'll give you a “latte salute.”
Zac Cadwalader is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.