Dispelling some espresso myths

Jared Rutledge is serious about coffee. It's not only evident in the fact that he owns a coffee shop in West Asheville, Waking Life Espresso. It's not in the fact that Rutledge has been a barista for most of the years that he's been legally able to work. It's most evident in a near-reverent and rather technical approach to the art of brewing coffee that many — especially in this town — might expect from a master beer brewer. His coffee talk can easily leave one behind, still mulling over an unfamiliar brewing technique he's just breezed through.

The crema always rises: A correctly-pulled, fresh shot of espresso will have a little bit of foam on the surface, also known as crema. Photos by Jonathan Welch

He's happy to be patient, however. After all, Rutledge intends to influence the way that people think about coffee. The product that he turns out at Waking Life is a big step. He hand brews each cup of drip coffee. He makes homemade syrups — caramel from cane sugar, chocolate from high-quality dark chocolate and vanilla from real beans.

Those, by the way, are the only flavorings to be found in the shop. He views sweetening coffee before tasting it as akin to salting food before taking a bite. He is familiar with the tasting notes and nose of his beverages and beans, and speaks about them in terms that are fairly reminiscent of a wine taster's notes.

In fact, Rutledge feels that it's high time for people to think coffee on the same level as oenophiles view their wine. To that end, there are several coffee myths that he would like to dispel, and certain things he would like to promote.

Espresso beans are like bananas. "I wish that people would think about coffee like they think about produce," he says, referencing a quote he discovered on Twitter that compares beans to bananas. "Because that's about how fast they go bad," he says.

Pour house: Waking Life Espresso's Jared Rutledge brews his drip coffee by the cup.

Coffee shouldn't be about speed. "I understand that some people need to get in and out," he says. "But I haven't heard one complaint so far about the pour-over," he says, referring to his technique of brewing every cup of coffee by hand. "I think it tastes way better, and most people think it's really cool that I'm brewing them a fresh cup of coffee. If you're worried about fast, that's what the espresso machine is for."

It's espresso, not EXpresso, people. "The word 'espresso' means 'pressed out' in Italian."

Coffee is as acidic as pumpkin  which is to say that it isn't. "It's way less acidic than orange juice," says Rutledge. "When people say that the acidity bothers their stomach, it's usually the caffeine."

Dark roast does not have more caffeine than lighter roasts. "That's just weird to me. Really, a dark roast takes a minimal amount of caffeine out — you're burning something."

"Fair Trade" doesn't really mean much of anything. Fair Trade is a registered trademark, says Rutledge, which basically means a company charges money to farms to slap the label on their coffee. Also, says Rutledge, the Fair Trade price levels were set 15 years ago, which means that a large proportion of Fair Trade farmers aren't necessarily making anything close to what's fair. All of Waking Life's coffee is purchased through companies that are transparent about their practices, he says.

Want to learn more about coffee? Waking Life Espresso's website, wakinglifeespresso.com, is a great resource. Or, stop by the shop. Waking Life is located at 976 Haywood Road in West Asheville, and is open daily from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.

Send your food news to food@mountainx.com.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Dispelling some espresso myths

  1. Jimm

    This is a fantastic cafe and based on my experience and knowledge, the best place for coffee in Asheville and a top 5 in the State. It was extraordinarily refreshing to enter a coffee shop that approached coffee as they do and with the dedication to coffee’s perfection as coffee itself.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.