Barista Snapshot: Jake at SteamDot Coffee

Jake SchmutzlerWho: Jake Schmutzler, Barista

Where: SteamDot Coffee Company, Anchorage, Alaska

What was the first coffee drink you remember tasting, did you like it?

I remember loving the smell and the sounds of my dad’s morning coffee ritual: stoking the wood-stove, boiling water in the brass kettle, grinding K-Bay beans by hand with his Spong while I stayed in bed and the wood-stove heat and steamy coffee wafted up to my loft. But I hated the taste of the stuff.

What do you drink now at home?

I actually don’t make coffee at home. I live half a mile from my shop and coffee is a great incentive to get out of the house in the morning. During the summer, when I’m not in Anchorage, my French press is hard at work every day.

What do you drink at work, if different?

I open the shop 4 days a week so my first coffee is usually tasting the house espresso blend and our single origin espresso of the day. Mostly I like a cortado or a Chemex of whatever we have fresh. Our Columbia La Virgen is pretty fantastic right now. Sometimes I’ll go for a small Americano with a dash of heavy cream, but just a dash.

If you could teach people one thing about coffee, what would it be?

Every step matters. There isn’t a ‘darkest roast’ or a ‘strongest coffee.’ Good coffees are roasted just enough to bring out their inherent positive flavors. They’re roasted so you don’t need to mask negative flavors with cream and subdue bitterness with sugar. Certainly there is a spectrum of coffee flavors, but within that there is a world of subtleties to explore. Black coffee is not one flavor.

What’s cool about the Anchorage coffee scene?

Haha nothing. Well, us.

Nooo, in Alaska there isn’t much of a coffee culture. Kaladi’s has been the biggest thing going for quite awhile [since 1986] but they really offer a different product and cater to a different crowd than SteamDot. It’s exciting to see people come into our shop for the first time and watch their face as they sip a Chemex brew and they realize why we don’t have brewed coffee waiting out all day. Anchorage is unique because we get to give a lot of folks their first single origin, or their first real cappuccino or macchiato.

As a barista what are your thoughts on coffee skills versus customer service skills?

Anytime you go out to a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop you’re paying for an experience. Part of that experience is the food, the booze, the coffee, part is the service, part is the place; it’s a mosaic. While each aspect takes more or less energy, the whole picture is ruined if any one piece is missing. Which aspect is the most important is going to depend on each customer and what experience they’re after. But why not be a decent person and try every time to pull a damn fine shot? I love coffee and I love talking about it, being rude just makes people go away; I try hard to be inclusive and informative.

Do you ever judge people by the drink they order?

We’re all here to enjoy our own beverages, some folks are more excited about drinks with coffee in them, while others are stoked to enjoy and explore the spectrums of flavors coffee has to offer on its own. I can’t fault someone for enjoying espresso covered in 16 ounces of scalded milk and stiff foam, white chocolate, raspberry and caramel sauce.

Are the espresso shots your dad pulls better than yours?

On our 3-group Strada? Hell yes mine are better. On his La Pavoni? Nope, his mad 2-stroke mechanic skills got me beat on the manual machine. But I taught him everything he knows about espresso!

SteamDot Coffee roasts coffee and espresso fresh in Anchorage, Alaska and operates two ‘slow’ coffee bars there.

photo by Tehben Dean
photo by Tehben Dean

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Nuova Simonelli MDX Coffee Grinder

Nuova Simonelli MDXCaring for your Nuova Simonelli MDX is an essential element of producing excellent espresso, and it’s easier than you think! The MDX features a burr configuration that adjusts the bottom burr instead of the top during calibration, so cleaning it doesn’t mean you’ll need to completely dial in your grinder again. It also has a super simple method for removing the front doser chamber for cleaning, so you can also keep this area in tip-top condition.

In addition to regularly running a product like Grindz through it, you should completely disassemble, clean and then reassemble the Nuova Simonelli MDX every so often to ensure optimal performance. The frequency of this is dictated a bit by how busy your cafe is — many businesses do this weekly, while others do it monthly. You’ll know which is the best schedule for your coffee shop once you start doing it regularly and can gauge how much coffee is building up in the burr chamber.

Recommended tools include a vacuum of some sort and a firm-bristled brush, like the Grindminder; other than that, a little soap and water for the bean hopper and doser chamber keeps everything squeaky clean. For guidance on this procedure and tips on how to care for the grinder once you’ve taken it apart, watch Brandon’s in depth video.

Tech Tip: How to Clean the Nuova Simonelli MDX Coffee Grinder