Nick is an avid record collector, armchair philosopher, and coffee wizard currently roasting for Utopian.
What was your first experience with coffee?
I’ve had many “firsts experiences” with coffee. When I was a kid, my parents always had a pot of coffee brewing. This really made me think of coffee as a “life-sustaining” substance, specifically for the working person. You could say I was captured by the mystery behind this beverage. Unfortunately, this was before specialty coffee had really taken off, so my first experiences drinking coffee were quite terrible. Because of this I had no interest in drinking coffee.
My first time really experiencing specialty coffee was at a cafe in my hometown of Warsaw. The cafe manager made me a pour-over and I immediately dumped a bunch of sugar in it because I thought this was the only way to drink coffee. He stopped me and said, “That’s not how you drink good coffee” and made me another, instructing me to drink it black. Immediately I was amazed by how sweet it was; it didn’t need sugar at all. That was when I discovered that coffee could be sweet and complex, not just bitter and ashy.
What Utopian coffee offering would you recommend to someone who is new to specialty coffee?
I would recommend our Colombia. It’s our “house roast” and is available year-round. This Colombia is sweet and complex, yet is full-bodied in a way many people appreciate in a coffee, so it’s a good place to start.
What is your main function at Utopian Coffee?
I oversee coffee quality including the roasting process. I cup our coffees throughout the week to ensure consistency among the roasts.
Which aspect of the new Utopian cafe location at the Landing has you most excited?
My goal is twofold. First, I want to provide a unique experience for customers that expands their view of what coffee is and can be. Second, I’m excited to tell the stories of our partners at origin, whose hard work and dedication to their trade enable us to bring amazing coffee to Fort Wayne.
If you could travel to any country of origin, which would you choose?
I would go to Ethiopia. As the birthplace of coffee, it has major historical significance that affects everything we do today. I studied history in college, so I would love to explore all of the traditional methods of growing, processing, and roasting coffee in order to have a deeper understanding of my trade.
What’s something you would like the average coffee consumer to know about coffee roasting?
Roasting is both an art and a science, simultaneously. Every part of the roast is a delicate balance of chemical reactions inside the drum, every input affecting the taste of the resulting coffee. At the same time, I have a responsibility to everyone who put work into these coffee beans before me at origin to bring out the innate flavors unique to each farm, varietal, and processing method.
If you could spend a day anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d definitely spend the day in Traverse City. I would visit BLK MKT in the morning for coffee and homemade poptarts. Afterwards I’d go for a drive and explore near Sleeping Bear Dunes. I’d spend my evening eating and drinking at Gaijin. Every single day I crave their authentic ramen and dumplings.
What resources or strategies would you recommend to someone who wants to deepen their understanding of coffee?
The best way to improve your own palette is to taste as much good coffee as possible.
To truly appreciate coffee you have to invest in it. Buy good brewing equipment, use remineralized water, and buy fresh beans. Start to watch tutorials on how to make a pour-over or french press. From there, continually refine your process until you have created a ritual. Once you do this you can learn to truly appreciate what coffee is all about.
If you’re traveling, go out of your way to find the best local cafe or roaster. Order a black coffee and soak in each experience. If you want to know more, don’t be afraid to ask questions!
A good print resource is Drift Journal. They publish about once per quarter and highlight the coffee culture of a specific city such as Tokyo or Havana. It’s a fantastic inside look inside how coffee can be seen as a case study for an entire culture. Not to mention, the photography is stunning. I always end up learning a lot about coffee, but even more about humanity as a whole.
What do you want to see from coffee in the future?
Right now, coffee is a very polarizing beverage. Some people only drink lattes with several syrups and some people only drink black coffee made via pour-over. I think there is nothing wrong with either! The problem is they both tend to be done with little authenticity or dedication to craft and science behind it all. In the next few years I hope to see coffee become a more holistic experience, one where anyone can find a drink they love that is idiosyncratic and authentic. I really want the stunning flavors of coffee to speak loud and clear and tell each consumer a story.