Coffee Query: Jenn Rugolo, Tamper Tantrum
Although she’s extensively trained in music performance and ethnomusicology, Jenn has focused most of her career endeavours on her love of coffee—first kindled when working with what is now Ceremony Coffee Roasters in 2005—by joining the 3FE team in Dublin, where she eventually became the Director of Wholesale and coordinator for all things Tamper Tantrum. In 2013, Jenn took a brief hiatus from official coffee work and spent a year working with Facebook in Menlo Park, CA. She returned to official coffee work as WCE’s Comms & Marketing Manager and has since become the Post-It Note Queen of Tamper Tantrum.
Jenn is passionate about education, community, and organising things. When she’s not entrenched in the world of social media, you can find her reading and applying odd academic theories to the coffee industry, straightening out her impressive collection of coloured pens, or waxing poetic over spreadsheets.
What got you into coffee and what’s kept you in coffee?
What got me into coffee was… it was my last year in high school, I still didn’t have a driver’s license (I still don’t, which is unheard of in the US, I guess), and I wanted to get a job - it was important for me to get a job - and there was a local roastery around the corner from my house. It was walking distance. I went in and they seemed all really friendly, and I was like, “Great, this’ll work!”
I had no knowledge about coffee at all. I was definitely a coffee drinker at the time, but not in the way that I use the term “coffee drinker” now. I was like any high schooler would’ve been in America at the time, which was the occasional Starbucks as a treat, like, “I really enjoy this!” Or eating chocolate-covered espresso beans, which is something that I really should never admit to, but was a thing that I definitely did!
That was how I got into it – so the roastery/cafe, Caffe Pronto, were pretty much a family-run business, and they were based on the Starbucks model when they first started, but were kind of getting into this realm of speciality. I remember seeing copies of Barista Magazine around the cafe and going, “What, there’s competitions for this shit? That’s weird… But that’d be kind of cool to participate in, maybe I’ll do that someday.” I’m not sure if that’s irony or merely ironic?
And then I do remember participating in one of the Monin Syrup Masters competitions, with the ridiculous recipe that I actually used on my CV when I applied for my job at 3FE, which probably really turned Colin [Harmon] off to me at that time! [laughs] I was very proud of that! I gained, like, an honourable mention… it was awful.
Yeah, so that was how I got into coffee, and it was moreso that I was just really fascinated by what was going on in the roastery, and then I went to university and I would come back, and I would always continue to work with them because I really liked the people there, and I started to learn more things about coffee, they started to hire more people who were really into their coffee, really geeking out about coffee. Now, they’ve turned into one of the foremost speciality roasters on the East coast - Ceremony Coffee Roasters. Their roaster, their head roaster at the time, was Andy Sprenger (who’s now doing his own thing and was the first Brewers Cup champion in the US for 2yrs running). They actually turned into something that was really exciting, but I’d actually left by that point, and had come to Ireland when all of that happened, so it was this weird sort of feeling of, “Aw, I wish that’d happened when I was there..!” It was still pretty cool to be a part of, and the people were awesome (as pretty much all coffee people are).
So what keeps me in it now… the fact that there are so many people that are interested in learning more, and there’s this real drive for knowledge. There’s this incredible community behind coffee - people who want to know more, and want to do more, and just be better. That drive and the community keep me involved.
What have been your favourite coffees, both in filter and as espresso?
Most memorable would have to be… so it was 2011, and it was an espresso, which maybe tells you how much espresso I have or have not been drinking recently! I was away in California for a year and a half, at a time when I wasn’t working in coffee, and the coffee that was available to me where I lived was terrible, and there was nice coffee up in San Francisco, but to get to San Francisco was difficult, and I wasn’t really drinking the espresso then anyway.
SO, this espresso was a Viphya Geisha from Malawi, it was a washed coffee, roasted by Has Bean, and we’d ordered it in, and I’d just come on board as a wholesale director for 3FE, had just replaced Ger [O'Donohoe] after he left to go to Melbourne in Australia, and I was like, “Well this sounds tasty! It sounds citrusy and has stone fruit and all of that stuff, that’ll be lovely on espresso!”
And I remember everybody going, “No! Why did you order that?! Has Steve [Leighton] already shipped it? Yes? Okay, I guess we’re going to have to deal with it..!”
So we put it on bar that morning, and I was a little bit nervous and worried, but we got it dialled in beautifully, and it was super lime, and all kinds of pineapple, citrus - it was gorgeous. Like, super-bright acidity, and really lovely little bit of sweetness - delicious! But definitely scary. Very scary to some of our regular customers! So I didn’t order anything like that for a while afterwards, but it was certainly my most memorable espresso!
And then, the most memorable filter coffee would’ve been El Salvador Finca La Illusion, washed, made for me in a v60 by Pete Williams, probably around the same time. I’d just met Pete, he was very enthusiastic - I was not a fan [of Pete’s enthusiasm] at the time, but the way he described this coffee to me was just incredible, and I remember watching him compete with it, and then he made it for me - this was just before I was working for 3FE. He made it for me as a customer, and he was so enthusiastic about this coffee, and when I tasted it, it really did taste like effervescent pink lemonade. It was incredible.
What’s your home coffee setup?
Ah - my home coffee setup is a Kalita, one of the stainless steel ones, a Kalita pouring kettle, and my favourite robin-shaped mug (a gift from Petesie when I moved to California), and a Hario hand grinder! And some scales, naturally.
I used to use a much more extensive coffee setup - I have a Chemex and an Aeropress as well, but I found myself gravitating towards the Kalita. It’s not very exciting. Now that I work from the 3FE office, I get very, very spoiled - when I worked from home, it was a nice thing to be able to make coffee for myself, but it was also very much a chore with the hand grinder. Now I’m very spoiled and have all the nice coffee made for me.
Actually, I consider 3FE to BE my home, so actually my home grinder is an EK-43, and I have an Uber Boiler… it’s really great! Fabulous. It’s probably the best home coffee setup ever. I don’t even have to make it myself! [laughs]
Where do you want Dublin/Europe’s coffee culture to develop next?
Em, well in Dublin specifically, like, the reason there’s been this huge boom of interest in speciality coffee and lots of speciality coffee shops popping up - part of that is what’s happening with World of Coffee next year, 2016, and part of that is general consumer interest.
But what I’m noticing is that there’s been sort-of a rift between… it used to be that speciality coffee here was just fairly tight-knit and very close, and now there’s lots more competition, and there’s a lot more of that… no one’s sharing as much as they did “in the old days”; there seems to be less goodwill between different shops and people, and I don’t know if that’s just the nature of things as things grow? And maybe I’m imagining it all. But I would like to see Dublin progress back to, in some ways, not progress, but step back to where it was - you had a sense that everyone was willing to share, spread the knowledge, and be more of a community.
Like, I think it’s better here than it is in lots of places that I’ve visited, but it could be better still. So in Dublin that’s what I’d like to see.
And then, just generally, what I’d like to see across the world is just more transparency, like, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing the things we do, and a look at the sustainability of our industry - a lot of people have been talking about it, and some people are moving somewhere towards it, but I feel like we’re still very disjointed. And how we can make it sustainable from the farmer, all the way up to the shop in a way that allows for growth across all of the different scales - not just the coffee industry growing in and of itself, but also the consumer interest growing, and how do we do it in a way that is good for everybody, and also good for the planet?
That’s what I’d like to see.
Who’s someone you admire in coffee?
I have all the people!
Well the person who actually, really, influenced my development in coffee was probably between Colin Harmon and Ger O’Donohoe. So, like, Colin was around when I would work on bar, and it was amazing, and I was learning so much, and I think there was always an assumption that I sort-of knew more than I did because I had worked in coffee before and I was still very, like, “Ah, okay! Sure!” I just totally skated through, totally made it sound like I knew a lot more than I did, which I probably shouldn’t have done, to the possible detriment of 3FE...!
But the person who really took me aside and went, “No. No, no, no,” was Ger. Like, I will never forget training moments with Ger in terms of steaming milk - being told to be a barista swan, because I was moving the milk jug improperly and indelicately and that. was. wrong. And those moments really stuck with me! So I’d have to say Ger.
There’s also Pete Williams. If you’ve met Pete, you don’t really need any further explanation, but he did have a pretty massive impact on my relationship with coffee. I am still annoyed that I didn’t get the full Petesie training experience with all the graphs on the blackboard by the machine!
And then in general, broader terms, I’d have to say Steve Leighton. Like, I think I might have the best job in coffee, getting to work with Steve and Colin so closely! They’ve got crazy mad ideas that push me to expand my skill set constantly – although they are sometimes sigh-inducing (sorry, guys!) – but working with 3FE and HasBean, both teams – because I’m super lucky – is always amazing. So many good, sound people.
But, then, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about people like Trish Rothgeb, and Kim Elena Ionescu. Katie Carguilo, even, Joanna Alm, Jess MacDonald, Rouki Delrue, Ellie Hudson, Julie Housh, Monika Palova… Actually, let’s be honest, I think I just have a thing for lady coffee professionals that I don’t usually admit, but, like, all of my heroes that I follow online? All lady coffee professionals. And yeah, I’d be really remiss if I didn’t mention them!
What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in your field?
My field is kind of strange, isn’t it?
Well, anybody starting in coffee should - like, behind the bar or just having an interest in it - should read as much as they can. Books that are already available, or things that are online; blogs… Like, there used to be a really huge online coffee community, and to a certain extent that’s still there - there’s new things popping up every day, but I still think that it’s hard to sift through everything find good content. You have to dedicate the time to find the things that are already out there, and that means spending a lot of time in front of your computer - not so much time pulling terrible shots - but maybe it means you’ll pull less terrible shots when you do finally get to that point!
And then to anybody who’s interested in working within coffee without working WITH coffee, which I guess is kind of where I am - you just need to work with coffee first. Like, I think there are a lot of people who assume, “It’s fine, I can just jump into working around coffee,” and I think some people have the drive to be able to do that, but you kind of have to get to know the people and the product before you can understand where they’re coming from and what they’re interested in and develop programs...
Like, I certainly wouldn’t have developed… and, to be perfectly clear, my breadth of knowledge when it comes to speciality coffee is so small, like my window is so tiny and narrow because, like, I don’t roast, I don’t green source, I’m not even a real barista any more - most of my reading has been focused on how people connect through coffee, because I came from an Anthropological background, so I’m really fascinated about that. I’ve read some science on extractions and most of it goes over my head! ...I think it does for most people but no one wants to admit it. [laughs]
But just, like, get to know who people are, and do the thing. Mostly, I think if you’re looking at working around coffee and you haven’t ever worked IN coffee before...and maybe you’ve come by a job sort of on accident, which is totally cool and really exciting, because coffee people re amazing..! But, like, try some time behind the bar, or try to get involved in that way, and learn from the frontlines. And if you were on the frontlines and transferred into one of those “working around coffee” jobs - I think it’s good to try to make it back every so often.
I regret the fact that I haven’t been on bar in ages, and it’s something I sort of miss. I miss that flow state, like, stuff is happening, and I’m learning all the time… Now I’m learning all the time, too, but it’s more self-directed learning, which is part of my job and totally awesome, but working on bar was learning in a different way. It was really exciting, and I miss that a little bit.
So, stay connected with the roots of where we came from.
What are you drinking now?
There were these four guys who were regulars – Keith, Al, Will, and Joe - and they’d sit at the end of the bar and you’d have the chats and do the things, and one of them was a chef who would always ask if we had Cacheoira, he would get so excited when we did have it in. For ages, I only knew Will [the chef] as “Cacheoira guy” in the way that you “know” your regulars. It’s all kinds of dark chocolate and nuts.
So I’m pretty excited because I haven’t had it in a long time, and I saw it on the menu this morning, and I went, “Aw, Will!” Warm fuzzies, man.