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.
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.
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.
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