It wasn't long ago that everyone in the service industry was talking about the man behind the The Bitter Barista. Matt ‘Spek' Watson was racking up attention from virtually every media outlet for his clever, at times acerbic, thoughts from behind the coffee counter that turned into a full-blown controversy that cost him a job behind the espresso bar at All City Coffee.
Watson, who spends most of his time as a musician, remains one of the best-known shot pullers in Seattle and now works at a cafe in Beacon Hill. Eater caught up with Watson to see what he's been up to lately.
What's changed for you in the barista world over the past year?
Well, for one, I only barista on the weekends now, and I'm working at a smaller, more community-minded cafe on Beacon Hill, The Station. The cafe that spawned the Bitter Barista character was really concerned with high volume and maximizing profits, and the change in emphasis towards a more experience-focused approach has been a great reminder for why I got into this business in the first place. I'm able to make enough money from music and studio work now, so I'm really only doing the coffee thing as a way to spend some time out in the world and get some occasional inspiration to keep the website updated.
How did being fired affect your blog and finding a new job? Did you have to lay low for awhile?
Obviously it helped the blog a ton. And the job thing wasn't really and issue because...The Station was pretty eager to have me on board. I got the job managing a studio a couple months later, and the whole thing was the best thing that ever happened to me.
What are a couple of recent site highlights for The Bitter Barista?
The site definitely still sees a surprisingly high number of visits per day, and folks who visit spend a lot of time on the site, so I feel really lucky in that regard. The posts are definitely more infrequent than they used to be because I feel like there's really only so much material and I don't want to be too repetitive...right now there are 340 entries, and I think once we hit 365 we'll print up a desk calendar and call it a day. There have been a few posts in recent months that I've really liked though:
- The third time she tried to correct my coffee-making technique, I poured out her latte and handed her a job application.
- Here's the deal...I won't expect you to know the Italian names for drinks, if you won't expect me to know the candy bar names for drinks.
- "I meant to ask for this to be iced." -- Well, I meant to go to grad school and do something fulfilling with my life. So...Oops, I guess?
As for book sales, they're also remaining surprisingly steady. We're lucky enough to have secured Amazon distribution, so they're handling all the printing and shipping now, which is a huge relief because if this situation has taught me anything it's that I'm not good at going to the post office.
Tell me about The Station? What's the culture like -- people, music, and clientele?
The Station is a small cafe on Beacon Hill that, to me, represents the best of Seattle's rapidly changing communities. Most of the city is grappling with the best ways to cope with gentrification and an influx of new affluence, some neighborhoods more gracefully than others. Beacon Hill seems to be one of the few communities that is trying to channel those forces into something progressive and inclusive, trying to incorporate new people into the neighborhood without losing what makes it special, while much of the rest of the city takes a seemingly adversarial approach.
The Station is at the heart of that effort, located right next to the light rail station, serving and welcoming folks from all walks of life and giving them a place to meet and be neighborly. There are a ton of artists who frequent the shop, and it's sort of become the unofficial daytime spot for Seattle's hip hop scene, while still offering a place for old guys drinking lattes and young moms with strollers. To me, The Station serves the quintessential cafe role in the Beacon Hill neighborhood and I'm really grateful I have the chance to be part of the community.
Can you give a quick "day in the life" -- maybe describe what it was like last weekend at The Station.
Sunday was a great example of what an average day at The Station looks like. I showed up around 1:30, a half hour early for my shift, so I could finish watching the Seahawks game along with a cafe full of very disappointed people (we lost, they weren't just disappointed because I was there.) After the game I put on the new Run The Jewels album loudly to brighten the mood a little, and then I bounced around and made drinks for folks for about an hour.
During my first smoke break, a car pulled up and I could hear the new Gabriel Teodros album...it was Gabriel's mom, proudly playing her son's record on her way to the shop. A few minutes later Evan Flory-Barnes came through, sipped on a couple americanos and talked music for an hour or so. Around 5:30, the kids from Youth Speaks, an incredible crew of young poets, started gathering in the cafe for their monthly performance. I closed up at 6, and stuck around to hear a bit of poetry before walking home to work in the studio. Flawless day, really.
Got a tip or two for new baristas, or people in the service industry in general?
Any good restaurant owner understands that the employees work for the customers, not for the person who signs their checks. An owner's job is to give you the tools you need to give your customers the experience they value. Be weary of any owner who doesn't understand this dynamic (or at least keep your options open, because that business isn't going to be around very long.)
My second piece of related advice is to be friendly...that doesn't mean be unwaveringly nice in the face of wackiness, it means doing what you can to genuinely connect with customers and coworkers alike because it's easy to stay motivated when your workday is all about hanging out with friends. And if none of that advice works, just know that service industry gigs don't last forever. Keep your head down, get that money, and get the f*ck outta there.
Got any ideas on coffee? Like where to get it and simple shot pouring tips?
If you're in the South End, you probably should just go to The Station. If you're on Capitol Hill, I'd probably go to Vita because they're reliable as hell and they've done a lot of dope work supporting local artists in the last few years. If you're in the North End, I'd hit up Herkimer in the U-District, and then I'd drive as quickly as I could out of the North End.
It's always tricky to give advice on pulling shots because every roast and machine is different. I'd just suggest spending a great deal of time with your tools and making sure you know how each variable effects the final product. A timer and thermometer are really helpful at first, but you'll be able to do it by eye/ear/touch in no time.