Ryan Woldt: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #64

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Ryan Woldt: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #64

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

Im Ryan Woldt. Im originally from Wisconsin (USA) but have moved around quite a bit. For the past ten years, Ive been in Southern California.

I started the Roast! West Coast and Coffee Smarter podcasts that focus on telling the stories of coffee people—roasters, scientists, baristas, cafe owners, farmers, etcetera—and sharing coffee education that enables listeners to brew a better cup of coffee at home or better appreciate their coffee drinking experiences.

I also write. The podcasts are accompanied by a free and paid newsletter. I write about coffee and alcoholic beverages for the local newspapers. Ive also published several novels, including the Eli and Jane series, which features some great coffee-drinking scenes.

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

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to open a coffee and beer bar, but I didnt know anything about coffee. I backed out of the deal. It really bothered me that part of the reason I decided not to do the deal was my lack of knowledge. I asked my friend, Chris OBrien, a truly brilliant coffee mind, if he would teach me.

He agreed that if I helped him at Coffee Cycle, his new coffee shop, he would teach me. I worked there as a barista part-time in the mornings—before going to my full-time job—learning about coffee. Along the way, I stopped being mad at myself about the deal, and I realized how lucky I was to find this thing I loved.

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

I remember the very first cup of coffee I ever drank. I was nearing my 30th birthday. My cousin and friend Dylan told me I needed to learn how to drink coffee as an adult. He took me to Star Lounge in Chicago, Illinois, where they serve Dark Matter Coffee.

I decided I needed to ask the baristas for advice because I had no idea what to order. The conversation went something like this.

Me: What would you drink if you were drinking your first cup of coffee?

Barista: You mean your first cup today?

Me: No. I mean, ever.

He looked at me with a bit of shock on his face, but then he got really excited. Within a few moments, there were a half dozen baristas arguing over what I should order. None of them agreed. They all had different favorites, but they did agree on one thing. Whatever I drank, I should drink it black (without cream or sugar) so I could taste all the flavors the coffee offered.

4-Whats your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?

Today for Roast! West Coast, I got to chat with an icon in the coffee roasting industry, connect with you—a coffee professional across the world, connect with an innovative packaging company in my hometown, and I was able to get outside between the dark clouds for a bicycle ride. Seven seasons in, and I still really love working on this podcast because I get to hear and share inspiring stories from inspiring people.

5-Whats your favorite brewing method and why?

Im partial to the French press. Its simple to brew. I love the design of the brewer, and I think it offers up a rich flavor profile. I also associate it with some really enjoyable coffee experiences from when I first moved to Southern California. One of my favorite coffee shops, Zumbar Coffee & Tea, offers a French press, and Id often order one while working on business ideas.

6-Which is the best coffee you have ever tasted?

No comment! Ive had a lot of great coffee from cafes and coffee roasters from all over the world. It would be impossible to choose the best.

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

Ive always been partial to coffee from Sumatra (Indonesia). The coffees Ive enjoyed from the region are often balanced with low acidity, and I find them to be particularly rich and chocolaty. If given a choice, it is what I order on a new menu.

Recently, Ive been drinking a lot of coffee from Colombia and Guatemala and really enjoying them. I think our tastes change throughout our life. I try not to get too attached to a style or region. Ill generally ask a barista what their favorite coffee is and if they have any suggestions before I order.

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

Im connected to a lot of great roasters through the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast and I recommend that any Coffee Insurrection followers check them out. As for a roaster that I dont have any connections to, Id suggest checking out Ruby Coffee Roasters in Central Wisconsin. They consistently roast great coffees, and every experience Ive had at their cafe has been fantastic.

9-What are the most important things youve learned while working in the business?

Some coffee is good. Some are bad. Sometimes bad coffee is good! Taste is subjective. What is important to me is how coffee connects people. By drinking and supporting craft coffee, Im a part of a network of human beings around the world that impact each other. My experience in the coffee and hospitality industry continually reinforces to me that were connected to others. I take that knowledge with me in everything I do.

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

I left my job revitalizing struggling restaurants only a few months before the coronavirus shut down the world. Hospitality work is incredibly rewarding but also very stressful. I needed to take some time off.

I started the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast because I was both passionate about coffee and looking for an opportunity to connect with other humans without actually going out in the world. It worked. Ive met and interviewed nearly 75 coffee professionals over the past few years and have been able to explore my love for coffee at work. Ive also been able to create a more flexible schedule which leaves more time for traveling with my Wife, writing books, and drinking more coffee.

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

I think the demand for craft coffee is only growing exponentially, and the coffee consumer is gradually getting more educated, creating more appreciation for coffee. That is good for coffee shops, craft farmers, and roasters in the short term.

That growth is worldwide. Long term, that growth will put a strain on the farmers who are already dealing with the impacts of climate change. I dont know if farmers will be able to keep up with demand. Im guessing that coffee will become more of a luxury and there will be growing pains as the consumer adjusts.

12-Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Who knows? Ten years ago, I never would have guessed that I would be where I am today! I just hope that Im still able to pursue the opportunities afforded me and that my Wife and I are healthy. If I can write, we can travel, and drink a little bit of coffee along the way, Ill be pretty happy.

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

The best coffee for you is the coffee you like. I believe that to be true, but I also think it is important to remember that our purchasing choices and our engagement with products as consumers impact others. In coffee, that is particularly true. So, buy good coffee!

And if you want to learn more about coffee, listen to the Coffee Smarter podcast. If you want to be inspired by coffee people from around the world, listen to the Roast! West Coast coffee podcast.

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