Sunday, October 11, 2009

Getting the Most Out of Your Coffee: Cleo Coyle Interviews Kevin Cuddeback, Founder and CEO of Gimme! Coffee

What is the use of ART?
Or a BOOK?
What is the value of a song? A poem?
Or a cup of COFFEE?

You may not think answers
to questions like these define us.
But they do...

Do you SWILL or sip?
Do you REALLY taste?
Are you AWARE?

Such is the stuff of "foodie" fiction. At its best, the cozy, culinary mystery is more that cute. The world of food is a landscape of metaphors for philosophies of living. One of the most admirable recent efforts along those lines can be found in the Oscar-winning movie Sideways.

When one of the characters in Sidewaysopens a bottle of wine, she finds herself considering the origins of that bottle—where the grapes were grown, who harvested them, what the weather was like on the day they were picked. Was the sun shining? Was it raining?

I like to approach my coffee-drinking the same way. I marvel at how the beans can arrive at my doorstep from half a world away; how they can be grown by people of vastly different cultures, speaking different languages, living a completely different way of life. When I learn about the coffee beans, I also learn about the people who grew them, about their world, about the care they took to cultivate the coffee I drink.

Likewise, I've found so many of the people who work in the coffee trade, (like the writers and artists I know), are seriously dedicated to what they do. They say that God is in the details and I believe the care we take in the details of our work is what defines the level at which we operate.

Kevin Cuddeback, the founder and CEO of Gimme! Coffee, is an industry professional operating at the highest level.

Passionate and committed, he began humbly in an out-of-the way Ithaca, New York, location and built his business into one lauded by The New York Times and named by Food and Wine magazine as one of the top coffee bars in the country.

(Kevin is pictured above with coffee farmers of Colombia's Las Mingas Project. Photo courtesy of Gimme! Coffee's Web site. Click here to learn more about Kevin's trip to Colombia.)

I was so happy when Kevin agreed to answer a few of my questions for this Sunday feature...(Especially since he just became a new father! Congratulations, Kevin!)

Cleo: So many people in this biz are in it for the love of the bean and the bean business. Can you briefly tell me a little about your background?

Kevin: I was born in Waterloo, NY, and grew up working in my family's auction business. I experienced the joys of small business from an early age. Come to think of it, my first culinary job was selling hot dogs from our auction-house concession stand. I became interested in coffee after college in the mid 90's and opened my first place toward the end of the decade. My appreciation of the complexity of coffee has continued through today. The more you know, the more you don't know. The first Gimme! Coffee was located in a 14 x 14 storefront located in an Ithaca neighborhood. {To see all of Kevin's current Gimme! locations, click here. The above pic of Kevin is courtesy of andy s. at Flickr.}

Cleo: Can you tell me the story of starting Gimme! Coffee? How did you settle on the company’s fun name (!)?

Kevin: Our first bar was boot-strapped, started on just over $10k. We had a great location; quaint as heck, really. I was so happy to be in business for myself, and so motivated to deliver a product of locally unrivaled quality, that we just had lots of fun and flew by the seats of our pants. The name was suggested by a pal and veteran roaster, John Gant. It struck me as soon as he mentioned it: It so aptly conveyed most people's relationship with coffee that it resonated on and on. The urgency of it is palpable.

Cleo: I'd like to ask about your excellent Sidamo Amaro Gayo, which I have happily selected as my "Coffee Pick" for fall. How did you decide to carry the coffee?

Kevin: We bought this coffee because it tastes great! On top of that, we were eager to take it because there were supply chain interruptions in Ethiopia this year making it difficult to book coffee out of the country. We purchased the coffee through a greens importer in the US who had been doing extensive quality control development work with Ms. Thomas.

Cleo Note: "Ms. Thomas" is Asnakech Thomas, the owner of the Amaro Gayo Mill and 250 hectares of farmland. She is Ethiopia's only female coffee exporter. Although the price for her excellent coffee is at the high end of market, Ms.Thomas uses the money to create social programs including coffee job creation, schools, clean water, and medical care.

Cleo: Some say a master coffee roaster uses heat much the same way a top chef uses it—to bring out the best flavors possible in the product. Would you agree?

Kevin: Precisely...We roast coffee to the degree we feel optimally displays the best balance and complexity the bean has to offer. (Picture courtesy of Gimme Web site.)

Cleo: How do you decide on different roasts for different coffees? How, for example, did you decide on a light roast for the Amaro Gayo?

Kevin: We taste our coffees exhaustively. [In the case of the Amaro Gayo,] we wanted to preserve some of the clarity and sweetness and give it a bit on the toasted end of the spectrum. Ethiopian Naturals are known to have lots of fruity characteristics, but sometimes it can be fermenty. We loved this coffee for the clarity and the acid/sweet balance, and because it remains clean, not dirty.

Cleo: Gimme! is one of the only online vendors I have come across that offers a flat vs. cone grind! What's up with that?

Kevin: To be frank, your readers should buy in whole bean and grind their coffee daily using a hand crank mill with conical burrs. There are some new grinders out there don't cost an arm and a leg, and give you the uniform grind that is an ABSOLUTE necessity.

Most people use a cheap blade grinder at home, which is the equivalent of grinding beans with a hammer... Tragedy befalling your "fine, expensive, epicurean, delicious, all the way from half-way around the world" beans, before you even begin the brew process! Grind a minute before you brew, treat it as a ritual, take time to taste the difference a slight grind adjustment makes.

Cleo's full disclosure: I absolutely agree on the use of a burr grinder, but I drink way too much coffee for hand cranking to make sense for me. I use an electric burr grinder.

Cleo: What’s your favorite way to drink coffee? Does it change at different times of the day?

Kevin: I prefer it in 1.25 oz portions of espresso. For brewing single origins, I'm a fan of a pour-over cone. (To see the Gimme! Coffee feature on how to use a pour over cone properly, click here. Picture to the right is courtesy of Gimme!)

Cleo: Is there a "must try" coffee on your Web site's online store other than Amaro that you’d like to recommend to us? What is the most popular coffee you sell?

Kevin: I couldn't name just one, since our offerings are fantastic right now, in my opinion. I tend to grab the Kenya and the Amaro Gayo. The Leftist espresso is a top seller.

Cleo: Finally, what is your vision for your company’s future?

Kevin: Remain aware of current trends, find better coffee, keep evolving, while expanding sensibly. Reward people who consistently perform. Change the consumer's relationship with coffee such that they become impassioned for coffee as a daily, profound sensory experience. Not addicted, but devoted and mindful.

Sending a final thanks to Kevin Cuddeback for his thoughtful answers and especially for making his company a shining light of excellence in the coffee trade. In a weary world of indifference, Gimme! Coffee is a refreshing example of passion and commitment; and although a road less traveled may be a harder one, the person who takes it inspires all of us, no matter what road we're on.

Drink with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle
author of The Coffeehouse Mysteries

To find out more about the books in my mystery series or download my latest free recipes, visit my Web site...
"Where coffee and crime are always brewing..."


  1. Interesting interview, Cleo and Kevin. Especially the part about blade grinders. I had no idea.


  2. I love drinking coffee, but haven't spent nearly enough time thinking about steps I could take to brew a better pot. Thanks for giving me something to mull over and work on, Cleo and Kevin!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Good interview. I'm a big fan of coffees with unique flavors and your pick sounds like a winner. Thanks. Cleo! Can't wait for Holiday grind!


  4. Interesting interview. Kevin sounds like a very nice man and a smart businessman. I can almost smell the coffee.

    Shelly P.

  5. That's interesting about the burr grinder. This coffee looks good. (I sip, by the way.) Your books sound interesting. I'll check them out.

  6. I just found your blog, I am a big fan of the coffee shop mysteries and as a stay at home grannie of a 5 year old, I love me some coffee.

  7. Krista - Thanks for dropping by today! Yes, the burr grinder is a real revelation. Kevin is right on that one. For coffee drinkers after the best possible flavor, grinding fresh and with the proper grinder will really help give the best cup.

    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. Hi Elizabeth - I know tea and sweet tea are a lot more popular in the South than coffee. I sometimes wonder if people who don't like coffee have actually tasted good coffee! LOL! Thanks for dropping by...


  9. Mary - I'm so glad you dropped by today and thanks for reading my books!


  10. ShellyP - Yes, Kevin is a nice, smart, and very busy man! I'm so glad he was able to agree to take the time to answer my questions! (That photo of the Gimme! roaster has me almost smelling the coffee, too! LOL!)


  11. CarlyK -

    LOL on the "sipping"! Coffee time is often an "oasis" time for people. Some may think they have no time for that. But my view is: As tough as the world is, as demanding and hectic as it can be, well, that's all the more reason for people to be good to themselves - if only in the small idea of enjoying a really good cup of coffee well prepared.

    (I'm glad the idea of a Coffeehouse Mystery intrigued you. I hope you enjoy the read...)


  12. Hi maria - stay at home granny's rock. Good luck on the coffee drawing and I'm so glad you found our blog. I hope you drop by again!

    ~Cleo Coyle
    "Where coffee and crime are always brewing..."
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  13. This was an interesting interview. I am a big coffee drinker. "Gimme Coffee" IS a very good good name for the company because that's how I feel about it every morning! I have not tried this coffee from Ethiopia. (Maybe I will win it!) Thank you, Cleo. Your books are great reads, especially for coffee lovers like me.
    -Veronica T. from NJ

  14. I have found that, out of all the coffees I have tried, I like the African origin coffees the best. There is a brightness to the flavors that make my taste buds just sing. When I tried the Amaro Gayo, there was a flavor I couldn't quite pin down until I read the label describing the flavors (I try to id the flavors myself first but I am a rank amateur. My id tends to be "MMM, good!"). The label listed one of the flavors to be raspberry and that was the flavor I had noticed! One of my favorite gums is Raspberry Sorbet and the coffee has the same sweet bite that the gum does. Don't laugh, I know I'm a total peasant in the taste department but it's a great flavor in a coffee. I love it!

  15. That was a great interview. I love reading about people who are absolutely passionate about their careers. It shows in the work or products they produce.

  16. I really enjoyed the interview...I never realized the importance of the type of grinder, so I'll be on the look out for a burr grinder. I'm really anxious to start trying better qualities of beans as I can afford it too, now that I can tell the difference I can hardly stand to use cheap beans anymore....

  17. Your books have changed my attitude toward coffee. You keep teaching me how to achieve and enjoy a really good beverage with your website. Thank you. Burr grinder...another item you have inspired me to purchase.

    Barbara T.

  18. Veronica, Nurse Judy, Janel, Rachel, and Barbara...

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comments and good luck on the coffee drawing!


  19. HAyyyy, to all coffee lovers guess what my favorite brand of coffee i.e. Lavazza coffee is in India I have been waiting for this for a long time check out their web site now we can have the best coffee in our house