There's something special about enjoying a cup of coffee made from house-roasted beans sourced from small farms or plantations around the world.
Matt Toomey, owner and roaster at Boomtown Coffee, cares deeply about all the work and labor it takes to produce a single serving of coffee. He values the work it takes to make an espresso-based drink, or even simple drip coffee, and understands that it doesn't begin with a barista. It begins with the farmers.
No matter which coffee you drink at Boomtown, you can taste the thought and care put into every single drop. Toomey spends much of his time looking for incredible beans from farms around the world to serve each customer the best cup of coffee. In fact, the espresso used at Boomtown is made from four different types of beans. The goal: a coffee that sustains its flavor and holds up in milk.
We sat down with Toomey to chat about his love for coffee and his role at Boomtown, and received a lesson in the Kalita Wave slow-brew method -- we even have a video of the demonstration.
What is your role at Boomtown? I founded Boomtown, so I'm an owner, operator and I roast most of the coffee here, and occasionally work behind the bar now.
How long have you been making coffee/being a barista? My first job in coffee would have been in 1996. It was a place [called] Toopees Coffee, across the street from West Alabama Ice House. Now it's a little Italian joint, but Toopees Coffee was where I got it, and then I went to Cafe Artiste after that and spent a lot of time there; just bounced around.
When did you open Boomtown? 2011. And then we have been in this space almost two years.
What is your favorite part about making coffee drinks? Gosh.I don't know where to ... I don't know a favorite part ... I really like so many facets of it, I don't know that I could break it down. For me, it's more of like the bigger-picture thing being able to connect the green coffee and the story behind those farmers, and like what they are striving to do and all the efforts they're making to ensure the quality of their coffees. And then when I hand someone a drink and they taste it, and you get that reaction of, "Oh that is the best" whatever, or "That's what I needed," then you tie all of that together. I know that's not a very poignant answer, but for me it is more big-picture, and I'm kind of an energy guy ... like if I have to be deliberate with something, it's usually energy-based.
I just love knowing the customers, and everything has a story behind it, everyone has their own thing going on in life, and back it up all the way to these farmers, they all have little things going on in their life, too, and a lot of that goes untold. So, I like to bring some of that story to the front.
Where do you get your beans from? I work a lot with InterAmerican Coffee. They have a local office and they also have offices in port cities all around the country, so they have coffee everywhere. But, a couple of importers as well. Sometimes I buy directly from a farmer, whenever possible. Costa Rice, Guatemala, Ethiopia, so just all over the place.
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What is your go-to coffee drink? Oh boy. It depends on what time of day it is. I have to start off with drip coffee, and then I graduate to espresso-based drinks, and I feel like I have set myself up for that. People are creatures of habit. So I can't get off on the caffeine; I have to have the drip and then the espresso. I'm a drip-coffee guy definitely, but if I'm going to drink espresso, I like a cortado. Like a 1:1 ratio of espresso to milk, and that's perfect for me.
How do you take your drip coffee? Black? Sugar? Cream? Black. Try and taste what some of the inherit flavors are in there. I have nothing against putting anything in your coffee. I just say taste it first. Sometimes you will find that you can retrain your palate to find different things that you weren't used to.
What is your favorite bean that y'all have? I am definitely partial to East African, so Ethiopian coffees, Kenyans. I think that they are the most complex and at the same time well rounded. That seems like an inherit contradiction, but typically, Ethiopian coffees are of older varietals and aren't cross-bred to combat growing conditions or some pest; they're all heirloom varietals over there. I think that's what I'm attracted to. You know, you go to the store and buy an heirloom tomato and buy a conventional tomato, slice it, eat it, and be like, duh, I want the heirloom. It's kind of like that for me. They have a broader range of roast ability, so to speak. You can go light roast, or dark roast, and all along the spectrum it's really good, whereas with a lot of other coffees if you get too light, you get some sour notes, or too dark it's too bitter. Ethiopians are just really flexible coffees.
What type of roaster do you use? It is an American-built, US Roaster Corps, and they are out of Oklahoma City, and we currently use a five kilo, and we are going to be setting up a 12 kilo here downtown whenever we open [The Honeymoon].
How much do y'all roast at a single time? A little under ten pounds.
When you first started making coffees, what was the first drink ordered that you made? Oh geez, besides drip coffee, I think it was a mocha. I'm pretty sure it was a mocha. It was probably pretty bad. It was probably like really hot and too sweet.
If you weren't a roaster, what would you be? I think I'd probably do something like wholistic healing, something like that. I have this calling to be a healer. That's the only answer I have for you really. That sounds kind of funny, but it's true, like a wholistic body approach to well-living.
Where do you go for coffee if you're not getting your coffee here? Who do I want to plug here? Ha ha! I like a lot of coffee in town. I guess it just depends on proximity. If I'm in the Heights and I don't want to go to Boomtown, I go to Revival. If I'm not going there, I like Southside a lot, Catalina of course, you know the usual suspects. Blacksmith. Like I need to say that. They get enough press. But they're all really good. So right now I'm looking forward to a couple of other places that are going to be opening.
When you go to these places, what do you usually order? I kind of let them choose for me. We all know each other, so they're usually really excited to share something they're really excited about. I just give them the barista's choice and I usually end up with like an espresso and some alternative brew from a guest coffee, or something like that.
Somebody comes in and doesn't know what to order, what do you suggest that they have? Well, I always start with drip coffee, for a lot of reasons. I think that it's really easy to make a milk and espresso drink; almost anywhere you go it is going to be good. I think there's more to be told about drip coffee. It's the purest form that you can taste the coffee and you're not ... I don't mean to say tainting it, but you're not adding something to it to give it another flavor profile. You're just getting it as it is. So, for that reason I think it's a really great introductory point for coffee novices or for people who have been drinking coffee forever. People expect to taste something when they put coffee in their mouth, and just like with anything, your palate becomes trained to expect things and you kind of have to, if you're interested in that, retrain it. I give people the black-coffee challenge: drink black coffee for a week and then come back and drink it the way you did and you'll either switch, or you're going to just drink it the way you've always drank it.
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What's one thing about roasting people might not understand? Probably just the sheer man hours that go into it. Not just for me roasting the coffee, because that act doesn't take very long, but when, say you were to trace that coffee and follow its life cycle, you would be shocked at how much went into it. I think on average about 500 man hours per cup of coffee. That, to me, is really amazing, and the act of coffee roasting itself is not complex or difficult, it's more about being conscientious about the variables you can't control. I think that most people take for granted what goes into it. People just want it as a vessel for their caffeine a lot of times, and I think that there's more to it than that. Not that there is anything wrong with people just wanting their caffeine.
What is your favorite coffee drink to prepare? I guess the Kalita. It's a really fun brew, single-cup method. You can make it how you want it. That's what I like about it. It's not just a big brew out of a big air pot. It's a single cup brewed just for you or someone just the way they want it. It allows us to highlight coffees in an elevated way that maybe if it is just our drip coffee, it is still good, but it's not as special, and it's more unique, individualized. I think it also helps when I pull someone aside and do the brew with them that they've ordered, it shows them everything that goes into making that cup, because essentially the principles are the same and the ratios are the same that we do for other brewing methods, but it's just about the interaction, that connection, it's communication and building on your knowledge base and experiential knowledge.
The Kalita Wave Slow Brew Demonstration