Portafilters, he tells me. Portafilters? I dont know this lingo; I only began drinking coffee a few months ago. And what is a barrista?
Portafilters hold the coffee grounds in an espresso machine. And a barrista is an expert at preparing espresso-based coffee drinks, I find out, as Trapp pours the frothy milk into my latte in a way that creates a foamy white heart on top.
Hes doing whats known as latte art -- something I didnt even know existed, although apparently, at coffee shops on the West Coast, its standard fare.
Essentially youre creating a canvas, Trapp explains, shaking the pitcher of milk gently back and forth to create a delicate leaf on top of his own latte. This is whats known as free-pouring, but sometimes he uses a thermometer, a screwdriver, or a leather needle to etch designs into the drinks. He can make elephants, skulls with halos, even dragons.
Latte art is not hard, Trapp says. People are amazed by its visual effect, but thats arguably the least important thing Im doing. The hard part is knowing enough about coffee to control all the variables.
The 28-year-old TC native certainly knows enough about coffee. He can tell you about coffees mythological origins--perhaps it was discovered by a goat herder in ancient Ethiopia. He can quote growth figures and raw crop costs. He can tell you about every step of the production process, from picking to roasting to brewing. And hes more than happy to.
Coffees just incredibly interesting, Trapp says. Green [unroasted] coffee is 600 chemical compounds. We can identify maybe two-thirds of them. One third cant even be identified on the periodic table of elements. We dont even know what coffee is.
Wars have been fought over coffee, he says. There are many misconceptions; for example, a shot of espresso actually has less caffeine than a cup of coffee.
And coffee is big. Its the worlds second-most traded commodity after oil. What was a $9 billion industry in 2005 is predicted to rise to $18 billion by 2012.
Trapp has worked at over two dozen coffee shops across the states since the age of 16. He currently works at TCs Another Cuppa Joe, but is moving to Marquette in late July to head the coffee division of a coffee shop and wine-and-tapas bar called Lattitude.
He trains coffee shop staff with a quote by John Reskin, a 19th-century philosopher: Taste is the only morality. What really drives him, though, is sustainability. Hes passionate about helping people who have nothing.
A barrista puts the face on coffee. We are, for most people, the only face theyll ever see, he says. However, hundreds of people contribute to every cup of coffee we drink; in fact, many peoples livelihoods depend on the industry.
If my shop goes under, I could always get a McJob. They cant. These are people whove been doing this for generations, these are people who have the culture imbued in them, he says. When I train my staff, its not just with the idea to treat people in front of us well. Weve got to treat the people behind us well.
Hes not a fan of fair trade, because its a model weve outgrown, he says. If farms want to be certified, they have to pay large amounts of money -- money they dont have, and Fair Trade often takes only about 50% of their beans.
Instead, he supports Cafe Sustenables, claiming the program provides better resources and monetary compensation to farmers, emphasizing sustainability and traceability.
Trapp loves the taste of coffee. He usually has about six espresso shots per day--the equivalent of a 24-ounce cup of coffee--but not all at once.
Hes even tattooed his devotion to coffee. One shoulder sports a huge portafilter; the other, a tamper.
What makes a good coffee?
Everything, he replies. Everything comes into play. Theyve gotta be good beans. Youve gotta have a good crop to start with. Taste also depends on processing methods, which are determined by culture.
Most Americans are lulled into the idea that dark roast, French roast, is the best, because theyre smoky, theyre peaty, he says. Theres no palate challenge at all. You dont have to guess -- you know what youre drinking. Most of the time, dark roasts are used to hide the fact that theyve used bad beans.
The lighter the roast, the more youll taste where your coffees coming from, he explains. Central American coffees tend to be spicy, floral and citric. African coffees are laden with dark fruit flavors, like blueberries. They dont age as well when they get cold, but when theyre hot theres nothing like an African coffee. Theyre intensely delicate and very fragile, he says. And Indonesian coffees? Hell yes to Indonesian coffees, he says. Theyre earthy, peaty and mellow.
His favorite, depending on his mood, is either a traditional Italian-style latte or a wet macchiato: two espresso shots topped with one ounce of milk. A straight shot of espresso is also nice.
Tra[[ is as passionate about poetry and politics as he is about coffee. He studied poetry at the University of Arizona, where he won a prestigious Hattie Lockett award. His book, An Experiment in Change, was published in 2000, and another book is in the works.
He hopes to one day open a nonprofit that translates confusing legislation into everyday language. No one can be truly responsible anymore. It makes it difficult to be a civic-minded citizen, he says.
Perhaps one day hell combine that mission with his own coffeeshop. It should be a place where you can perch one Democrat, one Republican, and one Green Party member and say, the topic is X. Discuss. He hopes to offer workshops on everything from sustainability and roasting profiles to local politics and whats muddying the waters.
In short, it would be what every coffee shop should be--a revolutionary space, he says.
For more information about Cafe Sustenables and UTZ, visit www.sancristocafe.com and www.utzkapeh.com.