The Road to Coffee

The coffee industry has a way of attracting creative types and artists. Coffee is infinitely complex and yet impossibly simple. It’s a welcomed challenge for anyone with a creative and passionate spirit with a knack for details. Making coffee properly is a craft and requires a sharp mind and skilled hands to execute properly. I think this is the primary reason that many baristas are musicians, writers, poets, painters, and etc. The life of a barista meshes well with people that create, hone, and strive for constant improvement. My name is Frank. My wife and I own The Caffeinery. 

For me the parallels are between recording and coffee. For my wife, the parallels are between photography and coffee. This blog post is going to focus on my journey from music into coffee. I’m sure at some point later, Lauren will add her own post regarding her journey. After all, it’s her story to tell… Shall we proceed?

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I was going to open up a coffee shop in the heart of my hometown, I probably would have told you that you were crazy. At that time I was trying my best to abstain from landing a dead-end job. I was naively attempting to “make it” as a musician at a time when the entire music industry was just entering a post-napster-hello-myspace mid-life crisis. I use the term “musician” lightly… I was largely self-taught and understood just enough musical theory to be considered dangerous. My writing process was a messy combination of tonal trial and error, but after a decade of musical experimentation, I became quite competent at looking like I knew what I was doing. I couldn’t teach anyone how to play an instrument because I lacked any sort of academic understanding, but I knew enough to write songs and put out a few albums. Later on I would discover that I wasn’t so much a musician as I was a recording engineer who enjoyed creating my own source material. So what does any of this have to do with coffee? Nothing and everything at the same time! However, up until this point, coffee was just coffee to me. It was still just coffee. It was to me what it is to the majority of coffee consumers, it’s a bag of charred beans bought at a grocery store and made in a $20 Mr. Coffee. Oh, and because I was fancy, I had a Hamilton Beach blade grinder. My eyes still had yet to be opened to the glorious world of boutique coffee. Nope. That revelation had yet to come at this point. Back to the story.

The plight of the self-sustaining musician became increasingly more difficult; further complicated by the fact that I dabbled in peripheral genres. Unlike the majority of my friends who attended college immediately after graduating from high school, I opted to work part-time jobs and play in bands. I always figured that college would be waiting for me when I was ready for it. Besides, I was pre-occuppied with learning the intracacies of writing and recording music whilst reading books that weren’t forced upon me.

In 2009 I had officially made the transition from being a musician with an interest in recording to a recording engineer with an interest in making music. I decided to go to Ball State University and get my undergrad in audio production, because we all know that you don’t really know what you’re doing unless you have a diploma that says so (</sarcasm>).  So yeah, that happened. I graduated from college to the surprise of my family who had assumed I would never go to college in the first place, let alone graduate. I don’t blame them. I wasn’t an easy person to deal with during those years. haha!

After getting my undergrad, I started to focus all of my time and energy into recording music. I was pulling twelve hour days in the studio and was drinking an exceptional amount of coffee. Sadly, it was still Foldgers at this point. It wasn’t until I started my internship at Electrical Audio that I started to realize the artistic side of coffee. Steve Albini was quite particular about his coffee and bought his favorite stuff in bulk. Interns were even instructed on how to make the signature studio latte for clients and staff. The whole concept of coffee being more than just a substance that people choked down for a caffeine rush had completely blew my mind. Little did I know that this would grow in to a full on obsession later on.

My internship was cut short by my grandfather’s failing health. He ended up being admitted to the hospital for a stroke while I was in Chicago. I dropped everything to come back home to try and see him before he passed. He meant a lot to me and I didn’t want to miss his passing. When I got back to Muncie it was around 8PM and my family had told me that he was doing much better and that I should just go home, settle in, and come see him in the morning. I took their advice. The next thing I remember is being woken up by a phone call informing me that he was coding and that he wasn’t expected to make it. I had never driven to the hospital so quickly in my life. No regard for speed limits or laws. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the hospital in time. He had passed just before I arrived. This also had a big impact on my life. It made me take a long, hard look at my life and prioritize everything. It was a stark reminder that time was, in fact, of the essence and it was a fleeting commodity. I realized that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do in life and then figure out how to make it happen.

Soon after the passing of my grandfather, I married the girl of my dreams after being together for 7 years! I was accepted to teach post-audio production at Ball State University as a graduate teaching assistant in the telecommunications program whilst getting my Master’s Degree in Digital Storytelling and Journalism. Lots of projects, long nights, and studying. Lots of coffee. At the same time, I was recording more and more bands. My coffee game at the recording studio had improved dramatically. I had started ordering specialty coffees via the internet, but with wreckless abandon. I didn’t understand coffee at the time and didn’t know what to look for. This made me extremely susceptable to clever advertising.

Lauren and I also decided that as much as we both loved living the free-lance lifestyle, it was a bit hectic and would make it difficult for us when we decided to make any new additions to our family. We were both extremely hard workers and always gave 100% to our jobs, so we figured the best thing we could do was start a business together. Our only challenge was figuring out what business would be a good fit for us. Whatever it was, it had to be more steady than the feast and famine world of free-lance. We decided that instead of trying to force it, we would just take our time and let it come to us.

We were actually at a local pub, called the Fickle Peach, when we overheard a group of people complaining that downtown Muncie lacked a proper coffee shop and how dissappointing it is to live in a town where you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee. Lauren and I looked at each other and started to realize that coffee was the one thing we had always had in common between our two lines of work. She was always meeting clients at coffee shops and I was always making and serving coffee in the studio. Coffee seemed like it was something we could both do and do well. However, we don’t like to half-ass anything that we do. We knew that if we were going to do this, we were going all in. We spent a solid two years doing research and even went so far as to become certified baristas. We took it upon ourselves to learn everything we could about coffee and the industry that surrounds it. The process is ongoing because it is constantly evolving and changing with science and technology. This is one of the oldest beverages on the planet and it’s just getting started.

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