By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kean Coffee
This week we were very happy to talk with one of our long-time baristas, Ike Coulter. Ike is a seasoned and skilled barista, having honed his skills over time whilst training under fellow Kean Coffee barista and barista trainer Mike Richardson and owner Martin Diedrich’s guidance, ensuring excellent, artisan crafted drinks with every order. His focus on quality is an extension of his caring nature and the high standards he upholds for himself and the coffeehouse. We are super lucky to have Ike on the Newport Beach coffeehouse team!
What is your position and how long have you worked for Kean Coffee?
I am a senior shift lead and I have been working at Kean Coffee for 12 years! I needed a job closer to me and my friend Mike’s house, who I was staying with at the time, and he suggested I apply here. And obviously I stayed.
Have you been drinking coffee your entire life? When did you start drinking specialty coffee?
I have been drinking coffee since the day I was born! Drinking coffee actually helped me calm down. I drank Diedrich coffee back in the day. That was the most specialty grade coffee I drank until I started working at Kean Coffee. There was a Diedrich across street from here on 17th street. I spent most of my high school time, when not at Newport Harbor, drinking Diedrich coffee (side note: we have had many Newport Harbor alum work on our staff!).
How have you grown as a barista from your first day at Kéan Coffee to where you are now?
When I first started working as a barista, it did not come naturally to me at all. Mike Richardson was my trainer and he spent a good amount of time helping me dial in my skills. When you are on the bar and realize you’re the one in the senior position, there is that pressure and motivation of “Okay, I’m here and I have to do a good job”. There were times when the owner Martin Diedrich who is a long time coffee professional would come to the coffeehouse and watch us intently, checking the quality standards of the drinks and also our performance as baristas, and he would point out if something looked off — “you should do it this way” — and it was nerve wracking having your performance reviewed by one of the country’s best known coffee pioneers. I definitely got a “I’m trusting you to do this” feeling when working on the bar and that can be seen in the quality of our drinks. I still see a bunch of the same coffeehouse guests throughout the years. I also got to attend Barista Camp and took away a lot of great information about customer service, how to explain coffee to guests, and got my Barista certification.
Would you consider yourself a morning person? What is your favorite part of being an opening barista?
Hmmm. If I’m not having to work, I guess I could consider myself a morning person but wouldn’t label myself as such. Calling yourself a morning or night person puts a limit on what you can and cannot do. When it comes to opening the coffeehouse, 4AM is considered sleeping in. The key is “nap life”.
Which coffeehouse drink is an essential for you and what would you consider a treat?
My essential drink is coffee—just black coffee. With all of the coffees I have tried here and with the wine tastings I’ve attended at Hi-Times, after picking out all the different flavors, I find myself gravitating towards the more unique taste notes. For example, the Papua New Guinea and Sumatra coffee have gnarly, pepper and earthy taste notes and I’m a super fan of it and when I’m tasting wines, I love those sour, tart notes. I’m not as much as a fan of the more delicate coffees. The coffee itself is a treat to me. There are other roasters out there who may advertise a great Natural Ethiopian, which sounds good, but then you see that the beans are not uniform, or the roast isn’t as developed, and it’s good to have that comparison to our quality, which is always specialty grade, well-developed, and priced very well considering how much other roasters may charge for not even a similar bean.
Have you always lived in Newport Beach?
No, I’ve lived all over. I’ve lived in Northern, Central, and Southern California, Florida, and New Mexico. Southern California feels the most like home—this is where my good friends are. One of my favorite bands is from Northern California: Operation Ivy, they’re from Berkeley. I have an Operation Ivy tattoo on my arm. Bad Religion, another punk band, and Dystopia (the band) were closer to Orange County. I used to go to punk shows. The room would be packed to brim with too many people, sweat dripping off the walls, slipping across the floor, people pushing each other around… for the most part people weren’t really that violent but it could seem like a very outward form of aggression. I got more into punk in the late 90s and early 2000s. With the introduction of hardcore kids, that’s when I saw the more violent types at shows, especially when spin kicks became a thing.
I heard that you built a computer. I would not consider myself tech savvy in the slightest—explain that process to me.
I built a computer when I wanted and needed one. It’s like adult Legos. There are instructions and pictures, it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. What’s intimidating is being supervised as a new barista while working the coffee bar! Building a computer is nothing compared to that. A computer will not assess or judge your mistakes. Just take your time and do it! If you mess up, you mess up. I mainly needed it for gaming, YouTube, and reading.
If you were given a week or two off to travel anywhere you wanted, where would you go?
I would go to Singapore, Malaysia, that area. I would want to eat all the food! Singapore is an international business hub—it’s a melting pot of all these different cultures and cuisines. In Singapore, they would call them a hawker station, with stalls that sell a variety of local foods and foods from other cultures: Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, you name it. Everything is all grouped together since there are so many international travelers there. They keep it open to all the different palates. Also it’s cheap! I’ve actually been to Antigua, Guatemala. It was stressful in that I couldn’t speak Spanish. However, it was for an origin trip that Kean Coffee sent me on, so I got to visit a coffee farm there. The farm itself was beautiful, but I was surprised how many bees there were! The trip itself gave me a huge appreciation for coffee as a product. We watched these coffee workers carrying bags of coffee that were so much bigger than them, with two or three on their shoulder, walking up hills to throw them on a truck. They loaded coffee faster than I’ve seen anyone else work before. Also, not every coffee bean they pick can be used. Some have defects such as bug bites, being broken or immature. It really made the “seed to cup” coffee lesson hit home. Everyone really needs to have an appreciation for how hard people work, especially on the coffee farms, so that we can have a great cup of coffee here in California. Martin has coffee trees in his yard. I remember a few years back he made us a Cascara tea from the dried coffee cherry skins. It was sweet and very different. I heard that you could make a great cascara jam out of the coffee cherries too.
Thank you so much to Ike for sharing his coffee story with us and giving us some more insight on the “seed to cup” journey. He would be very stoked if you grabbed a bag our Sumatra next time you visit the Newport Beach coffeehouse and let him know you’re giving his recommendation a try! I admire Ike’s mentality of overcoming what may seem like a stressful moment or task with a “I can do this” attitude. Things can get a little crazy behind the espresso machine, but Ike knows that patience, perseverance and dedication to a quality product makes all the difference!
Interview conducted and written by Brittany Leslie, February 9th, 2021.