Against all odds, the Chicago Cubs are the 2016 World Series Champions. But when it comes to coffee, Chicago has been a champion for a long time. On our most recent trip to the Windy City these five coffee shops stood out amongst a slew of great options….
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If Andrew Klass is taking the photos, you can add to that word count. Klass’s work in many ways embodies the core values of the craft coffee movement: precision, intentionality, and artistry. We asked the Chicago-based product photographer what inspires him, and, more importantly, what’s in his mug.
Judging by your Instagram feed, you seem to have a thing for specialty coffee. How did that get started? Do you have any experience working in coffee shops?
I’ve always had a love for coffee. I started drinking it when I was about 10 years old, albeit with an abhorrent amount of cream and sugar. Luckily, as I grew up, so did my palate. The more time I spent in specialty coffee shops, the more I got to know the people in them and the more they taught me about their products. I’ve never had any experience working in specialty coffee shops, but I have a little in what I call “corporate coffee”. Corporate coffee isn’t big on educating its baristas on much of anything other than their own products, so I had to go searching for that education on the outside. It helped that a good friend of mine was already headlong in the specialty coffee scene. People who are passionate about their craft love to share their knowledge and I am grateful for that.
You’re a craft beverage photographer. How is that different from other types of photography?
Craft beverage photography is an interesting thing. I consider it a subgenre of product photography, but there are more variables. It requires someone trained to prepare that beverage and as soon as they are finished, the window of prime photogenic quality is closing. I often need to set up and decide on the shot before I even have the finished product. I really enjoy that challenge.
What inspires your work? There’s never been more competition in the freelance photography world. What sets your style apart?
I find myself being inspired by a myriad of things. From the farmers who cultivate the initial product, to the people who transform it, to the spaces they are served in. I am tasked with presenting this temporary product and it’s temporary beauty. Not only making it look good, but making people want to drink it. I take on the responsibility of doing justice to the hard work of every hand that has touched it. That is a task I don’t take lightly. All of us involved with this product are artists in our own way and I have to uphold that until the end of this product’s life. My favorite way to capture that is by shooting these products in the places they are made. I want to put the viewer right there, in that café and make them wish they could drink that delicious coffee. In a world filled with all kinds of talented photographers, I’m trying to give people an experience.
Have you had a favorite assignment?
I would have to say my favorite recent experience was in Nashville. I was lucky enough to meet the owner of Barista Parlor, Andy Mumma. I spent a lot of time during that week at his second location, Barista Parlor x Golden Sound which he initially opened with Dan Auerbach. Andy and his staff there were amazing and so welcoming. I drank a lot of incredible coffee and took a lot of photos. Ever since I left, I’ve been dying to get back.
You’re based out of Chicago. Where are your favorite places to drink coffee around the city?
All Things Go at Bow Truss Coffee Roasters
Chicago holds an important place in the history of American coffee. America’s Second City was the first place Starbucks expanded outside of the Pacific Northwest, and few companies have shaped third-wave coffee like Chicago natives Intelligentsia. While these companies have production in scale with the Chicago skyline, a new wave of artisanal roasters have been …
An Accidental Coffee Drinker
I started drinking coffee by accident. At the time I was working at a coffee shop in my hometown between semesters in college. I had no interest in coffee but enjoyed the free smoothies. In retrospect, I’m appalled to think about how bad of a barista I must have been. One day after cranking out a slew of drinks for an unexpected afternoon slam, I discovered that I made an extra iced mocha by mistake. I figured, “What the heck? Why not?”, and proceeded to add two extra pumps of chocolate sauce before taking my first sip. I was pleased to discover that it tasted just like chocolate milk.
I don’t have any academic sociological studies to back this up, but I’ve noticed that people who ride bikes are more likely to enjoy craft coffee, or perhaps the converse is more accurate. Either way, the evidence is staggering: Intelligentsia made a cycling cap (which almost immediately sold out), the Coffee Collective made some limited edition demis for the Bike Film Festival, famed headset builder Chris King made a tamper, and, perhaps most convincingly, the bike rack in front of your favorite cafe is probably full — I know mine is.
But the relationship between cycling and coffee has reached a new level …