I remember realizing this spring that coffee shops I knew and loved would not survive the pandemic. It especially hit home when Quills Coffee shuttered their U of L café— a shop where I had logged thousands of hours on bar.
With cafés around the country closing their doors or switching to takeaway-only, perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me when Fresh Cup Magazine notified me that my upcoming article about Turkish Coffee would be in their last issue. After all, who could imagine picking up a communal magazine off a random café table in the COVID-19 era?
My relationship with Fresh Cup started in 2014. I had seen the magazine in coffee shops before. At the time, it seemed like Barista Magazine’s dorkier older sister. Its inclusion of tea was curious. A disproportionate amount of ad space was dedicated to smoothie additives. That didn’t stop me from feeling honored and elated when I got an email from then-editor Cory Eldridge asking me to write a feature about the Louisville coffee scene. To my great surprise, Fresh Cup was even offering to pay me for it (previous writing opportunities from other coffee publications had been “for exposure”).
I had started this humble website with two friends in 2012 with the vision of documenting coffee culture in unlikely places. We felt, and still do, that some of the best coffee shops are not in shiny business districts, but tucked away in third-tier cities and small towns, often in neighborhoods no one had any interest in gentrifying. We were proud but slightly frustrated every time an out-of-towner would visit Louisville and express surprise at the depth and quality of the local culinary scene. So a Portland-based magazine noticing Louisville from the far-away West Coast seemed significant.
To my surprise, Cory sent the story back to me with editorial comments. I had written that the Louisville coffee scene was “decadent”— a nod to Hunter S. Thompson’s famous essay “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” Cory made me show my work. How was it decadent? Why was it decadent? He wasn’t going to let me get away with a lazy sentence. After a couple of rounds of edits, the article got to a place where Cory thought it was printable, bolstered by the excellent photography of my friend Ben Willis.
In many ways, the article felt like a one-off: a neat treat to see my name in print and have a little extra disposable income that month. But I had an upcoming trip to Istanbul, and I had heard a new wave of specialty coffee shops were opening around the city. I pitched the story to Cory, and to my surprise, he accepted.
From there, things grew organically. I destroyed my reputation in Louisville (among other places), by calling Nashville the South’s coffee capital. Cory asked me to take over the “Nine Bars” column, where I covered such riveting subjects as scale build-up and particle size distribution in coffee grinders.
Alternative service models, decaf, water chemistry, problems with tipping, ecotourism. The breadth of subject matter I got to cover surprised me. I even got to write a few articles about tea. Most of these articles are still available online, though I’m not sure for how much longer.
By far, the greatest privilege I had writing for Fresh Cup was interviewing some of the brightest minds in specialty coffee. Lucia Solis, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, Andrea Allen, Charles Babinski, and Wilford Lamastus are just a few of the people that come to mind. I learned something new with each assignment. Many of the relationships I made writing for Fresh Cup proved to be significant.
I will forever be indebted to Fresh Cup for the opportunities it afforded me. But more than that, I mourn what its loss represents. The loss of a print publication that brought the oft bifurcated coffee and tea sectors together. The loss of paid journalism focusing on our industry. The stories that won’t be told. Fresh Cup was so much more than an industry rag to peruse while your barista finished your cappuccino, and I’m not ready to say farewell.