“How did you get into coffee?”, people ask me. It’s kind of a long story.
I was riding my bike down Riverside Drive, on the river trail, for what felt like the millionth time, and my mind sort of hit this pothole and it was deep and red and depressing, and I felt like I couldn’t ride that path any more.
I started out, like everyone else, sipping the last, cold remnant of Folgers out of my parents’ squat, heavy, ceramic cups. I can still remember the taste. And the smell. But it wasn’t until I was a big boy that I started actually drinking coffee. It occurred to me one day, and I distinctly remember this, that I was completely independent and that I could do anything I wanted. Anything. (Not true, but an enticing thought nonetheless.) That feeling of freedom was liberating. I had freedom and responsibility. I had my own apartment, all by myself, and I was responsible for paying the bills. I owned my own business and was responsible for making the money to pay those bills. With freedom comes diversity. Decision-making. Discovery. I did all sorts of things and tried all sorts of coffee. And I learned that coffee tasted better without sugar. I found out that french press was a good way to brew coffee. But not with a blade grinder. I made “espresso” and pourover coffee, and moka pot. And then one day, much to my surprise, I learned that coffee didn’t have to come to me already roasted. It didn’t have to be roasted in a factory or in a large, industrial roaster. I could buy a very small coffee roaster and learn how to do it myself.
I’ve told this story over and over again through the years, and you’ve probably heard it before, but it’s the core of the very beginning and the true essence of the DoubleShot. I bought a small home roaster and various green coffees, and I read a book about coffee and roasting. I roasted and brewed and tasted coffee for the first time. The explosion of flavors in my mouth was startling. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I knew coffee had changed forever for me. It was the first time in my life that I’d ever tasted coffee that wasn’t stale. And thus, the foundations of DoubleShot Coffee Company were conceived. After a few years roasting in my apartment kitchen and riding my bike down the river trail, I decided to strike out, take my bike and roaster to Colorado, and open a coffeeshop in the Rocky Mountains. To share fresh, delicious coffee with the masses!
As you know, that didn’t work out. And after two years slumming it in pristine mountain country, I returned to Tulsa, where this taste for fine beverage began.
There are endless details to this excursion: trials, hurdles, victories, mistakes, discoveries, everything. Just about anything I can imagine; it’s happened here at the DoubleShot. I remember some things, and a lot I don’t.
The beginning of life in this long, skinny strip mall space at 18th and Boston was difficult. I was younger and much fitter and so I guess I had a lot more energy to work more and still play a little in the night. Everything I had went into the creation of this concept, and so each night I would go home to an apartment that was really more a storage unit for my sleeping body. For three-and-a-half years I lived without gas or electricity in a run-down habitation, in order to skimp on the bills. And truthfully, it’s likely the DoubleShot wouldn’t have made it with that extra burden. And so I suffered for my craft. It was cold in winter and hot in summer, and the shower was always a little warmer or cooler than the air. And then one day I upgraded, beneath the smog of mold-infested lungs. My lungs! Possibly my biggest asset, my lungs have carried me far throughout my life. And taken the biggest punishment.
One December day, as I find myself every December now, I decided I was fat and out of shape, and I needed to do something drastic. So I signed up for an ultra-marathon. My first one. I started taking one day off on the weekends and I implemented a training regimen that was based on 9’s. I’d run 9 miles the first weekend. Then 18 miles the next. 27 miles the next, and so on until I got to a distance that was unrealistic. I finished that first 100, but it took a lot of caffeine and perseverance. (They don’t call it “running a business” for nothing.)
Running has been a parallel to life for me, ever since I realized the liberation that running gave me. Just like in life, you can’t choose your natural ability, but you can decide the effort you put in and your willingness to persevere. And, as I’ve coached aspiring entrepreneurs through the years, it’s that unwillingness to quit that makes all the difference. My high school football coach, Chris Stiles, used to say, “Men,” (he was the first person in our lives to call us men)… “Men, we’re all going to face adversity, but you have to keep on giving 110%. You’re going to get knocked down, but you have to get right back up.” He was right, and I’ve tried to live some version of that doctrine.
As I reminisce about the history of the DoubleShot, there are two times in my life that I can’t really remember. For ten months, I worked the DoubleShot all by myself. With no employees, I barista’d all day and then roasted and ran the business (poorly) at night. I was sleeping ~5 hours per night, sometimes lying down on the floor by the sink or napping on the sofa when I was just too exhausted to finish the dishes. And I was exhausted, fighting TMJ and sleep deprivation. But that was one turning-point in the life of the DoubleShot. I proved I could go it alone, found some extremely supportive friends, and made a statement about how important it is that coffee quality be foremost at the DoubleShot. But, like I said, most of that time is a blur. I was a robot. An exhausted robot.
Most people don’t know this, but the DoubleShot almost didn’t come into existence, because I came near to death just a couple months prior to its opening. I was staying with my parents in their new house, and my dad was working in Chicago. My mom went to visit him, and while she was gone, I began to feel sick. After a couple days, I woke up early in the morning and realized I was about to die. So I went to put the dishes away, so my mom wouldn’t find the dishwasher full when she got home. (I didn’t want to be remembered for that.) But I couldn’t do it. So I sat down to think. And it occurred to me that I had carbon monoxide poisoning. I can’t remember all the details, but I remember driving to Lowe’s with terrible tunnel vision to buy a carbon monoxide detector. I remember the look on my mom’s face when I picked her up at the airport. I remember not being able to stand any more because lactic acid had built up in every muscle in my body. I remember the doctor telling me I should be dead. And that I also had the flu and meningitis. And I remember the pain. But I survived.
And so did the DoubleShot. It has survived the downturned economy, employee turnover, crazy neighbors, debilitating thefts, a car through the window, threats from Starbucks, twitter, myriad disappointments and failures, and the tragic loss of a few friends. And it has continuously grown, and seen even more daily successes. We’ve developed new coffees and relationships in Colombia, and seen the real face of coffee in many farms throughout Central and South America. We’ve doubled the size of our store, employed professional bakers, and trained the most talented and passionate baristas around. We’ve been featured in a documentary (The Perfect Cappuccino) and a story in Wine Spectator, and inspired an episode of Portlandia. (We even got to serve coffee to Kevin Bacon.) And we’ve seen the delighted faces of countless customers throughout the years who experienced that same amazement I felt all those years ago after my first home roast, my first taste of fresh coffee. And that was the goal. So for all of you who enjoy our coffee and appreciate the effort we put in to always make it fresh and delicious, we count each of you as part of our success over the past 10 years. Thank you.
This week, we will be celebrating with a few delicious coffees. Online, we are offering The Decade Collection, a set of 3 coffees that I think encapsulates the DoubleShot at 10 years old. You can buy that set here starting at midnight on the morning of our birthday. Mark Brown and I discussed the Decade Collection and what it means to be 10 on our podcast, AA Cafe #87. In-store on this Wednesday, we will institute a new brewing method for the DoubleShot. And in that brew, we will be drinking the new Ethiopian natural, Beloya, as well as the amazing Perci Red - a natural Gesha, and probably the most interesting coffee we’ve ever sold. Perci Red, as you’ll remember, is from Ninety Plus Gesha Estates in Panama.
The first time I visited Panama, I walked up the mountain at NPGE, skirted by tall, thin Gesha trees, and at the top, where the rainforest crested the other side of the mountain, I waded through tall grass into what seemed like a paradisiacal scene. Valleys swept away all around, hawks floated on mountain breezes, wild flowers colored the otherwise-green landscape, and trees laden with huge, ripe, orange fruit guarded the entrance to this eden. These oranges enticed my palate, and so I plucked and peeled one bright, textured orb. And upon biting into the first dripping slice, I was shocked. Absolutely shocked. As this was the most sour thing I’d ever tasted. It turned out not to be an orange, but some sort of orange-looking lemon. But this is as it should be with life and with coffee. The unexpected is what makes it exciting and memorable. You think you know what coffee tastes like until that one day you taste fresh, DoubleShot Coffee.
And the story continues.
Celebrate with us Wednesday, March 5 with amazing coffees all day and a party from 7-9p that evening.