Photo by Marty Skovlund, Jr./Coffee or Die Magazine.
It’s no secret that the Black Rifle Coffee Company team loves coffee. We regularly publish recipes and origin stories about the best beans in the world, the best ways to brew those beans, and the people behind making it all happen.
For International Coffee Day, we spoke to some of the most hardcore coffee lovers in the Black Rifle Coffee family to find out how they became passionate about the drink that fuels our lives.
“I’m not exactly sure to be honest. I think it has something to do with the environments coffee creates. The contrast with cold weather, the start to every day … it’s interesting, I’ve always been a morning person. I think it symbolizes fresh starts and epic things.”
“I’ve always been a coffee consumer but only became passionate about coffee origins, brewing methods, tasting notes, etc., after I started working at Black Rifle Coffee. I continually expand on my coffee knowledge with each passing year that I spend with this company, which is awesome! The only downside is that my taste for it has become refined and I can no longer bring myself to down a gas station cup of joe when I’m in a pinch for caffeine. My latest goal is to roast my own batch!”
“When I came to BRCC in January 2017, I had no more experience in coffee than visiting some local coffee shops in North Carolina and brewing at home in a cheap drip machine and a French press. Growing up, I always had a passion for science that I seemed to lose along the route to ‘growing up’ or ‘being an adult.’
“I remember the first time that I saw Edwin [Parnell, BRCC master roaster] make coffee with a Siphon Brewer. If you’ve never seen this, look for it on YouTube right now. That was the point that I realized that coffee was just as much if not more science than art. I dove into reading, asking questions, and learning about coffee roasting, brewing coffee, espresso, and everything I could find. This, from learning how it worked and the science behind coffee, is how I fell in love with coffee and fell in love with science all over again.”
“I didn’t really start drinking coffee until I joined the military, and from then on it was a necessity. I started out drinking really shitty black coffee from the dining facilities and instant coffee from MREs when nothing else was available, and this went on for a few years until I was stationed in Washington state.
“I had a little more free time on my hands so I would visit local coffee shops in the area, and one day I remember ordering a black coffee from some local place and I remember the coffee not tasting like coffee at all. My face didn’t twitch when I took a sip. I didn’t feel the urge to mask it with a shit ton of cream or sugar. I couldn’t really describe it. It just tasted delicious. I asked the barista, ‘What the fuck did you put in this?’ He just laughed and responded, ‘I just roasted that the other day,’ and it was from some random origin country I didn’t even realize coffee came from, and then he mentioned the processing method. This started my rabbit hole.
“I started researching coffee and searching for more cups of coffee like this. I wanted to get deeper into the process, so I purchased a 1-pound coffee roaster and started ordering green coffee from all over and started a new hobby of roasting coffee. My obsession only worsened. I started ordering every brewing device that I could possibly find and visiting every coffee shop in the Pacific Northwest searching for better ways to prepare my coffee and learn from local roasteries. I quickly learned that it wasn’t just how you roasted coffee that made it excellent. There was a whole chain of events that had to happen. The farmer had to be passionate about the coffee and process it correctly; the exporters and importers had to be responsible in the handling; the roaster had to know what he was doing to roast it correctly; and, ultimately, the barista or home brewer had to know how to prepare the coffee to get the full experience.
“Since then it has turned from a fun hobby into a full-time career, and now I get to travel all over the world searching and tasting new coffees. It’s a fun and exciting industry to be in. Every day when I think I’ve seen or heard of it, some innovative farmer comes up with a new processing method or someone designs a new device to make the coffee experience even better, so I believe it will be a quest that will continue on indefinitely, and I’m okay with that.”
“Teenage boys have an idea in their head of what it means to become a man, or what they must do to prove they’re a man. That internal checklist varies, but for me it revolved around a successful deer hunt, going to war, having sex, and drinking strong whiskey and black coffee.
“Not necessarily in that order.
“For me, black coffee came before all the others. I was on the first leg of a 200-mile kayaking trip down the Missouri River with my uncle, and we had made camp for the night. The sun was ducking below the high plains, smearing beautiful streaks of purple, gold, and orange all over the fading sky. We gathered beach wood for the fire, and after it died down to an acceptable bed of coals sufficient for cooking, we put a pot of water on. My uncle dumped a few scoops of coffee grounds directly into the water, along with four eggs — two for each of us.
“‘You’ll know the coffee’s ready when you see the grounds coming up in the bubbles,’ he said. ‘And that’s right about the time you’ll wanna take the eggs out, too. You drink coffee?’
“He said it in a way that wasn’t so much a question as it was a statement. Almost as if he knew I didn’t, but it was about damn time I started. We had just survived Y2K after all, no sense in pussy-footin’ around about growing up now.
“I sat there in the sand, one eye on the beautiful scenery, the other on those bubbles. I was tired from the day’s work but excited about crossing one of my first gates into manhood. Can you even imagine the surprise on Dad’s face when I get home and make a cup of coffee for the both of us! I thought. He’s gonna shit bricks!
“This method of making coffee isn’t quick. To pass the time, my uncle talked about his time in Vietnam and his buddy Rudy and this river we’re sittin’ on sure beats the hell out of the Mekong. My uncle was a full-fledged, card-carryin’ man. He’d been to war, was one of the best hunters I knew, drank strong whiskey and blacker coffee … and gross, I don’t want to think about the other one.
“Right about the time the last light had left the sky and the first stars emerged, coffee grounds revealed themselves in the boiling water. It was ready.
“My uncle scooped the eggs out with a spoon and put them in a dish with cold water to complete the hard-boil process. Then he poured the steaming coffee into each of our cups, careful not to let too many grounds pass.
“‘Give it a minute to cool,’ he said.
“I begrudgingly gave it the minute. Then I took my first sip.
“Not great, I thought. I hope combat and sex are better.
“‘Whaddya think?’ my uncle asked. Before I had a chance to answer, he said, ‘This is how coffee’s meant to be drunk. You don’t dump a bunch of sugar and shit in, you just come to appreciate it on its own.’
“And I did come to appreciate it. I fell in love with coffee as recklessly and quickly as I did with my first woman. Coffee and I are still going steady though. Not because of how it tastes or where the beans come from or the method in which it’s prepared or how it smells — those are all great aspects of coffee consumption, but not what makes you fall in love.
“I fell in love with coffee because of the people I shared it with and the moments I experienced while drinking it. I drank it around the fire at deer camp, I drank it before combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I drank it with awkward bedmates. Coffee has never done me wrong, unlike whiskey. Coffee is faithful, and it’s the common ingredient in all the best and worst moments of my life.
“I’ll likely drink coffee ’til the day I die, but none will ever be as simultaneously good and bad as that first cup on the banks of the Missouri River.”
“I started drinking coffee when I was in my early teens. When I was growing up, my stepdad’s side of the family was all Swedish, so they come from a long history of drinking coffee as a dessert. It was natural for me to have a curiosity about coffee from a very young age because my initial impression of it was this dessert-type drink that you would have after these big Swedish meals. So I tried it when I was very young, and I think because of the attachment in my head to this dessert thing, this like fruity thing, it resonated with me more than it would with somebody who was just trying it, you know, kind of in this early morning perspective.
“It was a very relaxed, family-time type environment in which it was being consumed. So that was my first impression of it. And then, just the amount of early mornings when I was a teenager — growing up, it was either hockey super early in the morning or football super early in the morning or going to work on the farm super early in the morning.
“It became ingrained in my routine from a very early age. And then it was really cemented through my time in the military because it was an activity much in the same way I think it was for Evan. It was this mental freedom that it would give me while on deployment. I carried a GSI French press with me everywhere I went, with a jet boil. And coffee was fairly easy to come by in Afghanistan, I remember walking through the main FOBs in Sangin, and there was just pallets of coffee. So I had like this, anytime I got to resupply, almost like a shopping experience when it came to coffee overseas. I got to choose from all these flavors, and I would take the time to try and learn about where it’s coming from and trying new brands.
“And every time somebody was making coffee, I’d go over there and talk to him about it. That was how I was introduced to Peet’s coffee was in Afghanistan. No matter what was going on, whether we were on patrol for multiple days, or I had a little bit of relaxing time, it was every single day, that 15 minutes where I got to boil my water on my own and pick whatever coffee I wanted to include in my French press. It was a time of solace for me mentally because I could check out and strictly focus on the process of developing this one thing. And then obviously, we have this deep connection to anything that will help keep you awake while you’re in a combat environment.
“So it was all of these things stacked on top of it, which equals becoming one of the most important parts of the routine. And you do that for so long. It just becomes ingrained in you as this completely positive experience that you can do every single day. And you think about that, why wouldn’t you want to have that be part of your life?
“And then kind of the third act of that was Black Rifle in the sense of going further down the rabbit hole to learn types of beans, roasting methods, countries of origin. So, I got to take this thing that I already loved and it already meant a lot to me, and essentially further that relationship, and then have the opportunity to go to the places in which this thing is being produced. I remember specifically my experience back in 2017, when I went to El Salvador was like, I really got it — it hit me that the environment which this product is coming from isn’t a pristine place necessarily. You go to El Salvador, that’s a third-world country — it’s gritty. It was overrun by communism in the ’50s. The farm that we went to had to leave it because communists took it over, they were in fear for their lives, they had to fight to get that coffee back. And they, the farmers, loved the branding of Black Rifle because it was something that they related to — they have weapons over there to defend themselves from communists. Our brand resonated with these people, and I didn’t really expect that going over there.
“And on top of that, coffee became an adventure. We had to take these trucks up to 10,000 feet on this mountain, you have to pretty much walk sideways to get to where the coffee cherries are. And then you bite into the coffee cherry, and it tastes like a peach. It’s this beautiful experience all across the board. And all of those things from going back to almost my childhood being stacked on top of each other to the point now where I have a single-head espresso in my kitchen, and I have developed my palate to the point where I can identify when I’m drinking Yirgacheffe coffee and develop what type of tasting notes. I love the process of honing that, and it’s super fun for me.
“So I get this profession where it’s not just a job, it’s an opportunity to be extremely passionate about this thing that, really, in the long run, when you think about it, it just generates so much joy for so many people. It’s this consumable that really just has positive benefits both from a physical perspective and a mental one as well.”
Coffee or Die is Black Rifle Coffee Company’s online lifestyle magazine. Launched in June 2018, the magazine covers a variety of topics that generally focus on the people, places, or things that are interesting, entertaining, or informative to America’s coffee drinkers — often going to dangerous or austere locations to report those stories.
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