My Coffee Journey

I have always been a coffee drinker. I have made great use of my Keurig machine, and frequented the Starbucks in the student center on campus during college. However, that's all I ever knew about coffee, and during that time, it's all I needed.

Fast forward several years, and in place of my Keurig sits an electric kettle, a coffee dripper, and a coffee bean grinder. To most people, this looks like a science experiment, but to me, it's a hobby.

How It Started

My coffee journey started on a random Saturday morning in Austin, Texas. That day, I felt like venturing out of the house and getting coffee from a place other than my Keurig. After seeing some recommendations from a local Austinite's YouTube video, I decided on LeverCraft Coffee.

LeverCraft's cafe wasn't your typical coffee shop. Located in a small, gravel lot on the East side of Austin, their coffee was brewed and served from a refurbished trailer. With limited parking and only a few shaded picnic benches, it made for an intimate experience.

After wedging my car into a small parking space, I walked towards the trailer that smelled of freshly brewed coffee. I noticed a small menu taped next to the entrance which I began to observe like a map. Indeed; I was lost. The menu listed items I've never heard of, such as cortado, freddo, and espresso lemonade. Up until this point, I had only placed orders for my coffee as "small coffee", "medium coffee", etc. It was obvious that I was going to need to consult a barista for help.

Already feeling out of place, I finally entered inside the cozy trailer. The first thing in sight were two shelves of mason jars filled with coffee beans, and in the back of the trailer, an abundance of industrial looking equipment that I could only assume was for brewing coffee. After a few moments absorbing the coffee museum around me, I was cheerfully greeted by a barista behind the counter, who then kindly recommended me a pour over after recognizing my indecisiveness and uncertainty with their menu. To avoid looking any more ignorant, I happily agreed, not realizing I had just purchased a fairly expensive cup of coffee.

As I made my way outside the trailer to wait for my coffee, I overheard a conversation from a couple sitting on a picnic bench in front of me. One of them claimed that "LeverCraft is the best coffee in Texas", which I thought was was a bold statement to make given the sheer size of Texas, but what do I know? Because this person seemed to know what they were talking about, I tried to make note of what they were drinking, but it didn't matter, because I barely even remembered what I just ordered for myself.

About five minutes later, and still hearing the couple rave about LeverCraft, a barista announced my name from behind the trailer window to pick up my order. I grabbed my drink, wished them well, and then made my way back to my car to head home.

Not surprisingly, the coffee aromas took over my car immediately, and trust me, it was different. I wasn't sure if I had just ordered a cocktail, or if they had given me the wrong order. I thought to myself, I wasn't carded, right? Is there actually alcohol in here? Being fairly new to Austin, I wouldn't have doubted that possibility.

Once I arrived to my apartment, I hesitantly took a small sip of my coffee after putting it through an identity crisis the entire ride home.


What in the...? I thought. I was so taken back by the flavors that I assumed it wasn't coffee. I'm not joking; I literally put down the cup and began driving to purchase yet another coffee from a different coffee shop so that they could serve me my regular "medium coffee". And yes, you read that correctly. I did purchase two cups of coffee that morning, each from a different place. The last thing I wanted to do was head back to LeverCraft and make a claim that they had given me the wrong order when I was barely even able to decipher their menu to begin with.

Despite only taking one sip from LeverCraft's coffee that Saturday, my curiosity was increasing throughout the week. Surely enough, the very next weekend, I was driving back to the trailer on a mission to figure out why their coffee was so different than any other coffee I've tasted before.

The Flavor Wheel

I arrived at LeverCraft the next week with skepticism and intrigue. The first question I asked the barista was related to the alcoholic content of their coffee. After a smile and chuckle, they casually explained that their roasting process for the coffee consisted of fermenting the beans in orange barrels and finishing them off in Colombian Rum barrels. As you can probably imagine, this didn't explain much to me other than that I might have been correct in regards to the alcoholic content. Looking confused, I asked the question again, but this time, more explicitly: "So there isn't any alcohol in this drink, as in, I can't get tipsy drinking it?". Another chuckle later, the barista patiently replied, "No, there isn't any alcoholic content, but the coffee does pick up flavors and aromas from inside the rum barrels." Not understanding any of these coffee roasting techniques, I still nodded confidently to assure the barista I was absorbing all of this information, and a few minutes later, I walked out with another cup of coffe, but this time, one that apparently wasn't fermented.

Instead of making my way to my car, I decided to hang out on the upstairs patio. Nobody else was there, so I had the entire space to myself. While dequeuing my train of thoughts, I went in for my first sip of the coffee.


Wow, I thought. It's happening again. Despite the barista serving me a coffee that wasn't fermented in orange barrels or finished in rum, I still did not associate these flavors with coffee. At this point, I needed more concrete answers. Why did coffee from this trailer taste so drastically different? After a heated 10 minute debate with my social anxiety, I decided to go back into the trailer and ask more questions.

It must have been a slow morning in Austin that day, because when I went back inside the trailer, it was just the three baristas and myself. I approached the counter with my drink and asked, "Can you remind me what exactly I'm drinking again?", and the barista happily replied, "You're drinking coffee from Antioquia!"

Feeling even more helpless, I realized that I didn't have the foundational coffee knowledge to ask the right questions. At this point, I blatantly admitted that I was very new to the coffee scene, but that I had been amazed with the coffee they had served me the past two weeks. I went on to mention how I've been purchasing coffee from cafes for years, but that I've never tasted the fruitiness and booziness that I was getting from the coffee served at LeverCraft. Slightly surprised, one of the baristas tinkering with coffee equipment quickly remarked, "Really? That just means they aren't brewing it right." Before I could even respond, another barista reached under the counter and grabbed a thick, white binder and placed it directly in front of me.

"Here!", they said while flipping through the binder. "Take a look at the coffee taster's flavor wheel." The flavor wheel they were pointing to was a colorful donut chart sliced into nine categories. Each category represented a flavor profile associated with the taste of freshly brewed coffee. The categories ranged from "floral" and "fruity" all the way to "nutty" and "sweet". These categories housed even more specific subcategories, in which I finally located "whiskey" and "winey" underneath their broader "fermented" category. This was the moment I realized I had entered a rabbit hole.

Amazed at what the baristas were explaining to me, I continued talking to them about coffee for another 10 minutes, until I finally started to feel guilty for distracting them. I wished them a great rest of their day, we exchanged names, and then I left LeverCraft with an entirely new realm of information to explore.

Home Brewing

At this point, I was determined to learn how to brew specialty coffee at home so that I didn't need to venture out to a coffee shop every day. My first coffee related purchase was a book by James Hoffman titled "The World Atlas of Coffee". Although this book did in fact touch on coffee brewing techniques, I bought it with the intent to better understand the coffee bean itself. I figured it would help me appreciate what I was drinking, and also help me make more informed purchases when it came to buying coffee equipment. For the following two weeks, I'd wake up and read the book for an hour after grabbing a hot cup of coffee across the street from Flitch Coffee (another coffee trailer).

My main takeaways from the book were that coffee beans come from a harvested fruit that can be processed in a variety of ways, and that there are many techniques to brewing coffee. Both of these together greatly influence the resulting taste of a brewed cup of coffee.
  • Coffee is a fruit that comes from a plant
  • The coffee bean is actually the seed of the coffee fruit
  • Removing the seed from the coffee fruit (called coffee processing) can be done in a variety of ways
    • Two common techniques:
      • Natural processing: tends to make coffee fruitier
      • Washed processing: usually results in a "classic" coffee flavor
  • Before being roasted, coffee beans (i.e., the seeds) are green
  • There are three primary ways of brewing coffee, simplified as:
    • Immersion: you immerse coffee grounds in hot water , e.g., French press
    • Percolation: you pour hot water over ground coffee, .e.g., drip coffee
    • Espresso: coffee is ground so finely that you need a machine to press hot water through it, e.g., shot of espresso, Americano

Upon finishing the book, I wanted to get my hands dirty. In order to brew my own coffee, I needed the means to do it. Many text message exchanges and internet searches later, I ended up with the following items:

To somebody who's never brewed coffee, the grinder and kettle might seem expensive. Why not just use a $20 coffee grinder, and why do you want to pay extra for a digital kettle? Well, if there was one takeaway from my rabbit hole digging, it was that precision and consistency were essential. Brewing coffee is finicky, and keeping variables the same from brew-to-brew is important. A digital kettle provides you with an exact water temperature, and a burr grinder is better at grinding beans uniformly, meaning the ground particles are consistent in size. When it comes to a coffee grinder, you get what you pay for, and technically, the coffee grinder I bought is cheap relative to what most people were recommending on the Internet. Fortunately for me, I had an experienced friend who recommended that specific grinder to me as a good starting point.

As most new hobbies start out, I wasn't too great at brewing coffee. The cups I brewed often tasted bitter, and if we refer back to the coffee taster's flavor wheel, a bit too ashy. Knowing that all good things come with time, I kept at it. It took me about a month before I could finally start making coffee that I was excited about. It ultimately came down to:

  • Purchasing coffee beans I know I'd like
  • Trying a variety of brewing techniques
  • Becoming more coordinated pouring with my kettle

Finding out which coffee beans I liked was tremendously helpful. It mind sound obvious, but with so many coffee bean choices out there, it can be difficult to know what to pick; shopping for coffee beans is another rabbit hole in itself. Through some trial and error, I concluded that I preferred naturally processed coffee beans, which for the sake of this blog post, means they have more time to absorb the coffee fruit's sugars, thus yielding a more exotic cup of coffee.

Brewing the coffee itself is the trickier part. To start, there is no de facto technique when it comes to brewing coffee. There are a number of ways to go about it, but almost always, a pour over boils down to:

  1. Grinding coffee beans
  2. Adding ground coffee to a filter
  3. Pouring hot water into filter

Pretty straightforward, right? Well, it turns out there are many more variables to the equation. To name just a few: how finely you grind your coffee beans, the temperature of your water, and how much water you add relative to coffee. With all the combinations of configurations that come with these three variables alone, changing just one of them will affect the taste significantly. This is where the precision tools come in handy.

How you physically pour the coffee is more a science than anything else (if you need proof, take a look at The Physics of Filter Coffee). With this being a bit over my head, I reached for recipes floating around the Internet, and eventually stumbled upon one shared by Tetsu Kasuya (a World Brewers Cup champion) called the 4:6 technique. Without getting too nerdy, the benefit of this technique is that you can easily control acidity and sweetness of the coffee, which enabled me to bring out the fruitiness and funk I was originally after.

As time went on, I got more comfortable with my tools and Kasuya's technique. I knew that I had accomplished what I was after when I felt as though I didn't need to go to a specialty coffee shop to have a great drink. I could confidently say I had graduated from my Keurig.

Saying Goodbye to LeverCraft Coffee

Even after my newfound hobby of brewing coffee at home, I still enjoyed going to coffee shops for the experience itself. I became a regular at LeverCraft, making it a weekly routine to grab a cup after my Friday morning runs. LeverCraft was also the first place I would take out of town friends visiting Austin, hoping they would have the same amazement I did my first time there. Suffice to say, LeverCraft Coffee was the catalyst to my coffee journey. If it weren't for the baristas who were willing to explain coffee concepts to me, or for the amazingly roasted and brewed coffee itself, I would have likely never discovered my passion for any of this.

Very sadly, though, one Friday morning, I walked into the LeverCraft trailer and got some unfortunate news. Drenched in sweat from my morning run, I caught up with the barista while my coffee was brewing, both agreeing the aroma was that of cherry pie. As I grabbed my cup, and just before I was about to leave, they dropped a bomb on me: "Hey...just so you know...the cafe is closing in two weeks."

With the state the world was in, I shouldn't have been as shocked as I was, but I still was. Right on par with the five stages of grief, I was in the first stage of denial. I immediately asked if they were joking, but surely, they weren't. I sat there for a couple of minutes and reminisced with them about my experiences with LeverCraft, only to walk out shortly after still stunned from the news.

Of course, I visited their shop one last time their final day of running operations. I drank a delicious Ethiopian coffee, and also splurged on a shot of espresso while sitting on the same upper deck patio I had mentioned before. The energy at the cafe was high; this time I was accompanied by many other Austinites there to celebrate the joy that LeverCraft had brought the area.

Eventually, the time came to officially say goodbye. I wrote a thank you note on their chalkboard and then was on my way. Fortunately, I was able to walk away feeling much more confident about my coffee brewing abilities than I did the first time around, meaning LeverCraft will always be a part of each coffee I brew.

Wrapping Up

Coffee has been an incredibly fun adventure. While I've always enjoyed drinking coffee, I've never enjoyed it quite like I have over the past year. Like craft beer, there are many varieties to explore, each with their own characteristics that help describe the region it originated from. With so many ways to harvest, roast, and brew coffee, it seems like an endless exploration.

While the shop that gave me this inspiration is now closed, I've been spoiled to have so many other wonderful roasters in the same vicinity, namely: Greater Goods, Flat Track, and Try Hard. I've even taken coffee classes from Greater Goods to keep my curiosity alive.

Next time you're at a coffee shop, take note of the many steps the baristas take to make your order, and make sure to tip them!