Kat Melheim: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #70

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Kat Melheim: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #70

Coffee Insurrection
1- Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s your job.

I’m Kat Melheim - roaster, barista, coffee writer, artist, publisher, content creator… I do many things in the coffee industry these days! I’ve spent most of my coffee life in Denver, but currently live in Raleigh, NC, where I work for Black & White Coffee Roasters. I’m also the founder/editor of Coffee People Zine, a publication that celebrates the creativity of the coffee community!

2- When and why did coffee become important to you?

I first started in coffee around 2013. My background and education was in Social Work, so I did that for a few years after college and ended up burning out. I needed a non-emotional job, so I worked as a barista in a local bistro. It wasn’t long before the relationships with my customers and other coffee people in town drew me further into the specialty industry.
Not to mention the endless learning and opportunities for worldwide travel available within coffee. As I continued working as a barista and manager, coffee became important to me in a way that proved more than just a beverage or a jolt of caffeine. It was the community that really changed the trajectory of my life and brought me deeper into the industry.

3- Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?

For me, there wasn’t just one cup of coffee that sparked an “ah-ha” moment. It was more the people that drew me in. However, one time around 2014 I got a shot of a natural Ethiopian coffee at Amethyst Coffee Co. in Denver (roasted by  Commonwealth Coffee Roasters, RIP)  that blew my mind. It was so juicy, fruity, and full of flavor - more than any coffee I’d had up to that point.
I asked the barista to pull me another shot and unfortunately she couldn’t hit it the same way again. That experience definitely piqued my interest and made me want to dissect the variables that go into coffee, from the farm/processing through to roasting and brewing. I was working at a coffee shop at the time, but they didn’t focus too much on coffee’s flavor. After this I wanted to learn more about how to make coffee taste so great.

4- What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?

Walking into the roastery early in the morning just feels nice. It’s a bit calming (because I know how to do my job well) but it’s also kind of unknown (because each day our roast volumes are different). It’s the perfect blend of novelty and familiarity. Plus I love my coworkers, so we have a good time.

5- What’s your favorite brewing method and why?

My favorite brewing method changes with my mood and the reason I’m making coffee. If I’m brewing at home I cycle between the and a Kalita Wave. Though I also love an AeroPress for versatility and punch. But an espresso machine is also just lovely. I don’t have one at home, so it’s a treat when I go out and grab myself some spro.
I’ll add that I recently went on a family vacation with 15 family members and I brought along my Breville Precision brewer and it was a hit! It brews great coffee for many people and keeps it hot for hours. So, yeah. It totally depends!

6- Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?

I don’t know how to answer that! I’ve had plenty of delicious coffees, and I’ve enjoyed plenty of sub-par coffees that maybe weren’t the height of flavor but were served well or I drank them in good company so the experience was great. However, I’ll say that I’m a huge fan of washed Ethiopians. I feel like my pendulum is swinging back away from the fun, funky, fermented coffees and toward the delicate, clean, and balanced stuff. At least for the moment.

Kat Melheim

7- Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?

Every country has their thing, has something great to offer. But since you asked, I’ve been really enjoying Mexican coffees. I went to Mexico City in 2020 before the pandemic, and there were so many specialty shops that focused on only serving Mexican-produced coffee.
I thought that was really cool. Also, as I live in the United States, the transportation burden from Mexico to the US is lower than for many other states. As we talk more about creating a sustainable and eco-friendly industry, I think we could pay more attention to bringing in coffees from countries closer to where its being consumed.

8- Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one you working at/you use at work).

Check out Radical Roasters in Bristol, UK. Owner/roaster Cat is an awesome person, and I had the opportunity to hang with her a bit this past summer. 10/10 would recommend her coffee and hospitality :)

9- What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?

Wow, that’s a big one. I’m still learning for sure, but there’s the basic “I know how to properly steam milk, how to roast different coffees, how to taste things.” Then there’s the interpersonal/social lessons; new global understandings; and learning about my own strengths, limits, boundaries, etc. I don’t think I could specifically describe the “most important things” I’ve learned while in coffee… there’s just so much, and a lot that I’m still processing and teasing out what lessons to take away. Constantly learning.

10- How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new challenges for hospitality?

Personally, it’s been tough being self-employed and an independent freelancer for most of COVID. In late 2019 I quit my secure job in order to grow Coffee People Zine from a side project into an income-generating business. Unfortunately that didn’t work out as my sponsorships dried up overnight and sales flatlined. So I jumped back into the roasting world at the end of 2021, and have been trying to balance both roles - roasting and editing/running the zine.
It’s difficult to find the right mix, and I constantly feel like I don’t have enough time to do everything. But I also feel like I can’t let up on any of my projects or responsibilities. So, coping? Yes. By trying to do too much and keeping myself busy! haha

11- How do you see the specialty coffee scene in 10 years?

There’s only one thing I can say, which is that I have NO IDEA what the specialty scene will look like in 10 years. With advancements in technology, changes in culture, and as the climate warms, I don’t even know where to start! A swinging pendulum between experimentation, followed by decided “best practices” in fermentation/processing? More automation in the roasting and brewing spaces?
More science-backed research into sensory evaluation? Roasteries being bought out by bigger and bigger companies? Or more and more roasters opening their own small businesses? Cafés in the MetaVerse? It’s endless, and I have no clue where it’ll go.

12- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

At a café in the MetaVerse? Haha - no no. That’s a really good question (and one my therapist recently asked me). I’m still figuring that out. I would love to be traveling the world in some capacity, creating things that resonate with other people, healthy and active and feeling energized by whatever it is I’m doing on a daily basis. Other than that, I’m open!

13- Any last word? Any tip or suggestion you wanna share with someone that want to start this path?

There are many ways to get into specialty coffee, and they’re all legit. Whether you get a job as a barista, start as an at-home enthusiast, or just love checking out new coffee shops, there’s no one “right” way to be in the specialty coffee industry. Chase your curiosity. Explore your interests. See where that leads. And have fun! It doesn’t have to be all serious all the time.

Kat Melheim

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