Tag Archive: third wave coffee

Get to Know Us: Nick Brehany

Nick Brehany

Nick is an avid record collector, airmchair philosopher, and coffee wizard currently roasting for Utopian.

Coffee Roaster Nick 2

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.


Coffee Roaster Nick

5 Tips To Taste Coffee Like a Pro

Nick Brehany

Taste Coffee

One of the most challenging parts of enjoying coffee is understanding what you’re tasting! Trying to put into words the flavors we all taste in coffee can be a huge feat. As a professional, part of my job is to come up with “tasting notes” that reflect the coffee, and sometimes even I am at a loss for words for what I’m tasting. This can be even more difficult for a person who wants to learn how to taste coffee at home! Luckily, the skills necessary for developing a palate for coffee is available to anyone. Here I’ve listed five completely practical steps that will help you learn how to taste coffee like a professional!

Eat diverse foods!

Tasting coffee is all about building up memory reserves where you can recall flavors you’ve tasted before. Imagine if all you ever ate was french fries. You would only be able to speak about flavors in terms of what french fries taste like. Fortunately, there are a number of diverse foods available to the average person, and the more foods you eat the greater ability you will have to create new flavor reserves and recall what you’ve tasted, eventually recognizing these flavors in coffee! I recommend trying new dishes at your favorite restaurant, as well as switching up your grocery shopping list to include new things. Vegetables and fruits are the easiest foods to access when trying to diversify your palate.

Think about what you’re eating

It’s easy to eat an entire meal without thinking twice about the flavors that you’re tasting. Every time you eat without stopping to savor the flavors you miss an opportunity to learn and to make memories for recalling later on! What may begin as an average dinner featuring mom’s spaghetti can now become a challenge to evaluate and discover flavor nuances like never before. Try and pick apart the major ingredients first like tomato paste and noodles, then try and pull out very specific flavors like basil and thyme.

Use high quality water to brew your coffee

Since coffee is more than 90% water, the kind of water being used to brew coffee is very important! In essence, the different mineral qualities of the water will either aid or hinder in extracting the best flavors from the beans. Avoid water with no minerals because the absence of minerals will cause an absence of flavors being extracted. Similarly, water straight from the tap generally has too many minerals and will pull unwanted flavors from the beans. The perfect water can be created at home by referencing the Barista Hustle water recipe or by purchasing some Third Wave Water!  If you’d rather keep it super simple, try brewing using remineralized bottled water from the store. Try out different brands and see which one makes the best brew.

Nathan 1

Nathan focusing on the characteristics of the coffee

Drink coffee from all over the globe!

Coffee from the heart of Ethiopia will taste completely differently from coffee cultivated in the Peruvian highlands. Because of this, learning to taste coffee like a pro means drinking coffee from different origins. Try buying two coffees from different origins and tasting them right next to each other! Once you’ve mastered this, try drinking coffee from the same country but with different regions, varietals, or processing methods. You’ll soon learn that no two coffees are the same.

Drink coffee with friends!

One of the best ways to learn how to taste coffee like a pro is to drink coffee with others! It’s one experience to sit by yourself and think about flavors, but gettings the opinions of friends can be extremely helpful. While you may taste candied almonds, a friend may taste something closer to vanilla bean. By discussing the flavor of coffee with others you will learn how to taste coffee in an entirely new way! 


Lastly, the most difficult part of learning how to taste coffee like a professional is being humble. Sometimes you won’t pick up on the obscure tasting notes that some people will point out. At other times, you will taste something might not be present due to factors influencing your smell perception. But above all, have fun! Learning to taste the nuances of coffee is a challenge but with these simple tips you can develop the skills to taste coffee with industry professionals.