That perfect latte or cup of coffee starts with the person who prepares it.
And just as people have their favorite coffee beverage, they also have their favorite barista. Coffee connoisseurs develop loyalties to their baristas, such as is the case with Joe Thompson at Roast & Toast in Petoskey.
“I have been here for seven years and I make a lot of coffee and coffee drinks for people everyday, so I have built quite a following,” said Thompson.
But Thompson is quick to credit his fellow baristas as well.
“It is not just me, it is the others who work here as well. Plus it is the vibe here at Roast & Toast that attracts people.”
It was that “vibe” that initially attracted a then 17-year-old Thompson to start hanging out at Roast & Toast while in high school.
“I grew up in Alanson, but always hung out in Petoskey, and one day I walked into Roast & Toast and felt at home,” said Thompson. “The staff was really friendly, all the other people in the place seemed cool and the coffee drinks were delicious, so it became my hangout.”
“After three years of hanging out they eventually offered me a job. I started washing dishes and eventually progressed into preparing food, and then to making coffee drinks,” said Thompson. He started at 20 – or seven years ago.
While he was given some initial training on how to make coffee drinks he has done his fair share of experimenting.
“I am constantly blending together different bean flavors trying to come up with new drinks and cool names,” said Thompson. “I also pride myself in getting people to try new drinks.”
As to why he feels he was voted the Best Barista in the Petoskey region, Thompson attributes it to quickness and quality.
“I think I am successful because I am fast and the drinks taste good,” said Thompson. “We get two types of people in: The person on the go who wants their drinks quickly but also expects the quality. The other type of person is the one coming in for a break, they want to sit down and relax, read or converse with friends and enjoy a beverage.
“Regardless of the type, quality is the key.”
Thompson adds that there is an art to getting the perfect cup of coffee.
“It is importance to get the right balance of grounds when making a pot of coffee. We have it set with our grinder to make the right amount for the perfect pot of coffee,” said Thompson. “If you put too much in it, it is going to be bitter and not taste good and if you don’t have enough grounds in it, it will be watery. So you have to experiment with your coffeemaker at home to know the right amount of grounds for the perfect pot.”
While for some it is an acquired taste, Thompson feels the French Press is the way to go.
“My favorite way is the French Press,” said Thompson. “It is delicious and I feel it is more full -flavor than coffee made in a pot that goes through a filter. It is definitely a bolder cup. We serve a lot of coffee via the French Press. People like ordering them and you get to choose your beans and we grind them for you. It is a nice feeling having that press right at your table.”
While a big fan of straight espresso Thompson prefers it only occasionally.
“I do like espresso and before I worked here I drank lots of it and then even more when I first started,” said Thompson. “Now I just have it every so often and I think I really appreciate it a lot more by not drinking it everyday.”
Fancy designs on top of the latte or other coffee drinks is often a sign of a great barista but Thompson proves that is not always the case.
“I don’t make fancy designs with my drinks only because I have not taken the time to learn. We have people here who have taken a class and know how to do it,” said Thompson.
Despite not liking sweeteners in his coffee Thompson does enjoy the occasional fancy coffee drink.
“I used to drink the Dirty Irishman a lot, which is a café latte with créme de coca, Irish Créme and fresh whipping cream. My taste buds have changed and I don’t prefer sweet drinks as much anymore,” said Thompson. “But I still enjoy this one on occasion.”
For Thompson, working at Roast & Toast he has not developed “donut shop or candy store syndrome,” (where the employees get tired of and won’t eat the products they make).
“I love coffee and being around it everyday,” said Thompson. “There isn’t a day when I don’t want to drink coffee, make coffee drinks for the people or come into work. I am fortunate I love my job and I get to drink and make coffee for a living.”
Roast & Toast is located at 309 East Lake St. in downtown Petoskey. Check out roastandtoast.com for more information.