Category Archives: Beverages

Earnestness in Action: Flatlands Coffee

While it can slip over the thin line into withering zeal, earnestness is an underrated quality that many of us who are new, or just romantic, in the beverage industry carry. Whether it’s the way your eyes brighten and your voice rises when you share the story of how you ‘got into coffee’, or it’s how assiduously your cling to the early visions that sustained you in spite of the morass of normality surrounding, earnestness is a beautiful thing.


When Ben Vollmer of the nascent Flatlands Coffee in Bowling Green, Ohio, first reached out to me last year with what seemed an unrealistic Kickstarter goal of raising $60K for his ‘third-wave coffee shop’, I was struck by how refreshing it was to see young baristas like Ben and his wife and business partner Casey throwing down their hats into the ring without fear.

Because the reality is that life hurts us, systematically, rigidly, and with a heart-killing vigor. Once I had hope in many things. I thought it was possible for me to be a barista champion, a famous pianist, a femme fatale, a world-famous writer, a CEO—I thought I could be everything, and that the world would somehow hear of me.


Not that I’ve forgotten my dreams. Still, the daily living, the dish-washing and the child-rearing, the hell of traveling with a toddler, the sheer confusion of living in a strange city far from home, the intensity of forging a real, true, honest married relationship—these things have taken the edge from my earnestness at times. No less has the natural cynicism that comes from growing up in an industry and seeing might prevail over right, time and time again.


So today, I want to honor earnestness, in the form of Flatlands Coffee. Truth is, there are lots of third-wave coffeehouses. And each claims to be different while retaining, on the whole, homogeneity. Maybe Flatlands will be different. But I don’t honestly care. It’s not the gear on a counter that makes a coffeehouse great, nor is it snazzy packaging and social media savvy (though Flatlands has all of it by now, in its second, more modest Kickstarter effort). It’s not a great intro video, cool branding, and pretty faces (though Ben and Casey have all these things).


It’s earnestness. Intention. A simple lack of shame discovering passion. Being unafraid to throw your heart out there, with full knowledge that the cruel world—and people you know—might scorn it. It’s innocence and wisdom, enthusiasm and dedication, passion and stories, all wrapped up in one glowing face. Here’s to Flatlands Coffee, and here’s to earnestness all around us.

mid-morning / Redding, CA / Flatlands Coffee

Respect: Multnomah Whiskey Library

cocktail, happy, portland cocktail, multnomah whiskey libraryAt its core, a beverage experience is about respect. It’s not about looking cool, it’s not about creating the most impressive drinks, it’s not about wowing everyone who walks through your door. It’s not about finding identity, it’s not about proving you’re worth notice. It’s not about the latest spirit, the biggest gear, the fastest hands.

As I stepped through the doors of the Multnomah Whiskey Library this week, I had a unique experience and one that has forced me to re-examine the core of my thinking about beverages. I mean, they’re damn cool–of course! I love the sense of belonging that comes from actually knowing the ingredients in my cocktail, or being able to discuss the peculiar behavior of a single origin in espresso with my barista. And I’m not immune to the lure of belonging, of being part of a clique that’s so insular we scoff at the idea of being insular. Honestly, like everyone else I know, all my life I’ve yearned to be part of an inner circle, and the beverage world (with its concentric slide of connections and knowledge) is as close as I’ve come.

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But beverages are–can be–so much more than that. Long ago, in another city and another life, I took a cappuccino from the hands of a stocky barista with a red beard. We got off to a rocky start, but the beverage between us transcended our quirks and hostility and we fell into love along with the viscous drip-drip of espresso, the spit and swirl of milk. Years later, my husband and I have elevated the rituals of beverages to almost a religious status. We keep an “open coffee house”, we say, and from Sioux City to San Diego we have connected with complete strangers over coffee.

Back to my original statement. The beverage experience can’t be narrowed to one word, but for me, if respect is not inherent in the moment, I want no part of it. Respect for myself, respect for you, respect for the ingredients and processes in our hands, respect for the magical knowing that springs to life between us.

The Multnomah Whiskey Library is relatively new on the scene. It’s already known for  3-hour waits and for its 1500+ bottling spirits library, for its opulent interior and near-perfect service, and I was both intimidated and skeptical before visiting. My intimidation vanished when I saw the genuine welcome in the faces of the wonderful people who served me, and my skepticism melted through interaction with my bartender and the reception of what was truly one of the best cocktails of my life.

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It’s rare to see a beverage establishment that pulls all the disparate parts together, but the Multnomah Whiskey Library has succeeded. Succeeded not just in giving me a memorable experience, but also in bringing me back to the core of my beverage ethos, reminding me what the damn point is.

Tender me your respect and I will give you mine. Together we will create something new in this strange world. We will celebrate our beverages, we will acknowledge each other.

bartender, portland bartender, portland cocktailPortland, OR / evening / Multnomah Whiskey Library – bartender : Jordan Felix

Convivial Fridays: Rhum Clément

The air as I entered the tasting room (through the aisles, down this stair, find the man in the suit) tasted of spice and smelled of cellar. I was here for a tasting of Rhum Clément, with little idea what awaited me, which happened to be amber-colored magic in a plastic cup. Rhum Agricole, the finest rum in the world (some would say), from the steamy island of Martinique to the crisp bustle of Kansas City, Missouri.


My beverage expertise runs strongly toward coffee, so this was an educational, as well as sensory evening. Chris Morales, the Midwest rep for Rhum Clément (and a classy gent with a strong background in spirits), packed an incredible amount of information into 45 minutes. Before me were 8 samples, ranging from clear to a deep amber.

The classic Clément Première Canne, with a strong impression of grappa and almond bitters, is made from fresh-pressed sugarcane rhum-clement-maison-9959grown on the family plantation, Habitation Clément. A white rhum, it is aged for 6 months in stainless steel barrels. Terroir plays a big part in the development of these rhums, as with any agricultural product. Two of the rhums we tasted were identical, except one was made with cane from the north side of the island, which rests under the looming shadow of Mount Pele and has a heartier, earthier taste. The southern cane produced a simpler and less impactful rhum. Like springtime.

We progressed slowly through our samples, discussing the aging process and lingering over the concept of the “angel’s share”–in the high humidity and heat of Martinique, so much alcohol evaporates during the aging process that barrels of the same distillation year must be combined several times over the process, which produces an exceptionally rare liquor. Rhum Clément offers a classic 3.5 year aged rhum, as well as 6 and 10 years. I’m relatively new to spirits, and I could feel my palate opening and tentatively receiving impressions as time passed. I surprised myself by identifying pomegranates in the 10-year rhum, and quickly started finding creme brûlée, pecans, and a wide variety of spice and mellow fruit.

As you can see in this video, Rhum Clément is a richly evocative brand. Established by Homère Clément (who, incidentally, was the first person of color to graduate from the University of Paris) in 1887 during the peak of the Martinique sugarcane crisis, Rhum Agricole was an innovation that saved the entire island’s economy. Other rums are made from molasses (hello, Bacardi & your good enemy Captain Morgan!), while rhum is made directly from sugar cane. Here is a basic post on the difference. Based on his experience with French liquors like armagnac, Homère created a recipe which his descendants still create.

The result is countless evenings like this one, where palates of all ranges and humans from every background gather to sip in silence and sigh, appreciatively.


℅ Rhum Clément

Kansas City, Missouri / evening / @Gomer’s Midtown w/Rhum Clément