In this fourth in a series of interviews by Irving Farm to the talented food and drink professionals we work in partnership with, we take a minute with the Sam and Jim at Cursive Coffee in Burlington, Vermont, to talk about their grassroots effort to bring the coffee to the people.
Tell us about Cursive Coffee? Where’d the name come from?
Cursive is primarily a mobile company, an itinerant pop-up, if you will, but we’re becoming a bit more sedentary as we move toward roasting. We do events, farmers markets, and are regularly accessible at an antique shop called Barge Canal Market, in Burlington, Vermont. With regards to the name, there really is no way to know—we blacked out and ordered a thousand business cards, and here we are. We thought about changing it for awhile, but then we started stamping cups, so I guess we’re in. The rest is history.
How’s moving all the equipment around going?
It’s fun, in a very frustrating and expletive-filled way. Both of us have been musicians for a long time, so we approached the notion of moving expensive equipment around very similarly to the way a band gears up for tour. We use a Gator subwoofer bag for our machine and grinder, and a Peavey microphone bag for most of our glassware. Since it’s Vermont, we were required to also use an array of wooden crates for our other belongings—our insurance requires a certain percentage of rustic impracticality. The biggest and most hilarious obstacle tends to be the plumbing—we use Flojets for our machine and pitcher rinser, and sometimes amidst set-up/break down we leave more residual dampness than we’d like to. Also we lose things often, which is a drag. Have you guys seen any cupping spoons that, ya know, probably aren’t yours?
When did you first get interested in coffee? What made you start to take it seriously?
Sam: My first job was in a coffee shop, I’ve been working in coffee for years and years. I’d always been more interested than most of my coworkers, least in the bad coffee shops I used to work at, but I started taking it seriously when I had my first noticeably good cup of coffee, which was during my training at Uncommon Grounds in Burlington, where Jim and I met and worked together for awhile. Compared to the dreck I’d been drinking before, it was definitely a STEP UP.
Jim: I haven’t been working in coffee for as long as Sam, but I do like to think I may have been responsible for the cup that changed his life. That’s how I tell it, anyway. For me, before working as a barista, I drank such an excessive amount of coffee and spent enough time obsessing about it that I figured, what the hell, I should do this for money. Uncommon was an awesome place to learn an array of things about preparation and roasting, and I think shit got next level for me when I went to MANE in 2012, and realized there was a whole culture out there, beyond the lakes and mountains of our dystopian New England enclave.
Where did you get the idea to pop up in an antique shop?
Well, we were really smitten with a lot of the odd pop-up situations going on in NY, foremost Parlor Coffee in [barbershop] Persons Of Interest, Verve at Poler, Brooklyn Jane, Sweetleaf inside a real estate agency—all those wacky pairings. At that point, we were only doing events and farmers markets, but getting a lot of great feedback, and wanted a spot where people could actually seek us out, at least for the winter. Honestly, I think that Barge Canal Market was the first idea we had – it’s a great big space, with tons of quirky antiques and interesting set pieces, as well as a built-in array of unique and endearing drinkware. The owners, Adelle and Jeremy, are swell as could be, and they loved the idea. It all worked out, and people seem to really enjoy being able to hang out and sip their drink in a midcentury living room. Admittedly our bar stools aren’t always the most comfortable.
How did you first hear about Irving Farm Coffee Roasters?
Jim: There was a drip pot of Don Pancho outside the room where I took my Barista Guild exam, at MANE 2012. I drank it, it was good, whatever. Year and a half later, when Sam and I started contacting roasters, Teresa won us over with her wit and charm, with which we strongly identified. Furthermore, as a company, we strive to emphasize the importance of transparency, and hardly anybody does a better job than Irving Farm in terms of making information accessible to the consumer.
Sam: Not to mention, the coffee is totally sick.
Jim: Yeah I guess so.
What’s your favorite Irving Farm coffee and how did you make it?
After hours of deliberation, a couple arm wrestles, and a lot of crying… we have concluded that El Molino is our all time favorite offering, and we loved it most fervently as espresso. Sticky sweet, apricot, peach syrup, honey. Adding a bit of milk made it taste like an orange creamsicle. Runners up might include the Dolok Sanggul, which we really love through the Kone, or the Idido through a good ol fashioned Chemex. But we don’t want the Rwandan Coopac that we’re drinking right now to overhear us and have its feelings hurt though…this is one of the most awesome and dynamic cups we’ve made through a Kalita in weeks.
Who writes those awesome tasting notes? Can you share with us some of your favorite verbiage?
Jim writes the verbiage, Sam actually can’t form grammatically cohesive sentences, since he didn’t go to college. Jim workshops them aloud until hearing what only he can identify as an agreeable grunt from Sam. In terms of our favorite verbiage, we encourage folks to check out our Facebook and Instagram and decide for themselves. Some are funny, some are provocative, all of them get some warranted furrowings of brows at every Farmers Market.
What does the future hold for Cursive Coffee?
Roasting! Our ambition from the very beginning has been to evolve into a roasting and sourcing company…and as we embark upon this adventure, we’re doing it one origin at a time, with Matthew White as our roastdoctor, workshopping and sample roasting every forthcoming offering for weeks until we feel it’s really up to snuff. Serving Irving Farm coffee sets unreasonably high standards, but we’re not looking to relinquish them. Our first run is a Kenyan from the Gatomboya factory in Nyeri, purchased through Coffee Shrub. We only have fifty pounds, and we’ve been taking pre-orders to ensure that none is wasted and that every bag is received fresh off the drum!
Anything else you want to add?
Seltzer, if you’ve got any.
Visit Cursive Coffee at the Barge Canal Market in Burlington, Vermont, and various other surprise locations to try Irving Farm staples as well as a rotation of in-house roasted selections, and of course, a heaping helping of wit.