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Avi Roth: Coffee as Art

26 Feb

Dinner and theatre, whiskey and female rock bands, art and extreme sports. When two of my favorite things are combined, I sit-up and take notice. That’s why I just had to see what artist Avi Roth was doing with coffee.

For Roth, coffee doesn’t just fuel his creativity – it’s his medium. About the process from Pardon my French, who presented Roth’s work to benefit the Armory Center for the Arts in my native LA:

“Artist Avi Roth uses coffee as his medium to create truly iconic images. Coffeegraph® – the process of applying coffee grinds and coffee by-products as organic pigment without a binder to solid and porous surfaces by way of staining, layering and water burning. Subsequently the artwork is converted into digital data, from which limited edition impressions are reproduced by various printing methods. Coffegraphs are storytellers, communicating images of imagination that engender contemplation between the seen and unseen, between thought and feeling.”

Avi Roth’s own site waxes poetic about our special relationship with coffee:

“For centuries, the most intimate kind of conversations has taken place over a cup of coffee. In many urban centers around the world, from the coffee houses of London and the terraces of Rome to the bohemian haunt of the Latin Quarter in Paris, intellectuals, lovers and dreamers came to share their feelings and secrets. We will never know their discourse, but the spirit of reticence lingers deep in the coffee cups that brought them together. When those precious moments were over, the spell was broken and memories were wandering in the obscure and distant valleys.

“Through an encounter of events and with the passion, creativity and aesthetic sense of an artist, Avi Roth has connected with those wandering memories and created with them his own dimension of personal space and creative expression. It has become his canvas. A canvas of tales conveyed by forces of nature.

“Hidden at the bottom of every coffee cup is an image of what was. The swirls and patterns of coffee reveal the secrets veiled by time through a silent language of their own. It took the creative genius of Avi Roth to discern these hidden messages and become the pioneering liaison of a new universal vocabulary. Roth, a graduate of the London Film School and an international photographer of unique and extravagant objects, was drawn to these quaint formations, and after years of rumination he began to understand how to channel them into a space of light and shadow. Hence, preserved is the language of Coffeegraph®.”

Can’t wait to gaze at Avi Roth’s work in person and contemplate where my life would be without coffee and art. In the meantime, I’ll be at Voltage Coffee & Art in Kendall Square.

Throwing Down at Blue State Coffee

20 Sep


The Final 3: Glad I’m Not Judging

It’s the third Thursday of the month, which can only mean one thing: time to THROWDOWN! If you’ve never been to a coffee throwdown, it’s pretty simple: baristas from around the city compete in a latte art competition for some cash and bragging rights. While baristas compete in head-to-head matches until the final round, the rest of us drink beer and munch on party food like pizza and pastries.

Ryan in the Championship Round

Pressure’s On: Ryan Soeder (Counter Culture) during the Final Round

Anticipation: Who will win?

Can Cut the Anticipation With a Knife: Who Will Be Crowned this Month’s Champion?

This month’s throwdown will be held at Thinking Cup Coffee Shop. Who will be deciding which barista deserves the glory and kitty of cash? The judge will be last month’s champ, Ryan Soeder of Counter Culture.

The Finals

The Finals: Another Look

On my very first day in Cambridge, I wandered into Barismo’s flagship coffee shop Dwelltime. Six hours later, I found myself at a latte art throwdown at Blue State coffee in Allston.

Ryan's Prize

Ryan Soeder’s Prize: Two Kinds of Paper

The competition was fierce, resulting in three competitors making it to the final round. After much anticipation, Soeder took home not only the cash, but also some coffee filters.

Jake's Runner-up Prize

Jake Robinson Enjoys His Runner-Up Prize

Taking the consolation prize was his Counter Culture coworker Jake Robinson.


Excellent Macchiato at Blue State Coffee

I had such a great experience at Blue State for the throwdown, I recently came by to see how it was on a more typical day.  The first thing you’ll notice is that it is a BU hangout and study spot. You’ll mostly see people slowly drinking giant lattes and iced teas in between furious highlighting.


8 oz Cortado at Blue State Coffee

If you are dense like me, it will take you awhile to realize that the store’s called “Blue State” because it has a liberal social justice bent. Political quotes are scrawled on blackboards around the shop, and every customer gets to vote for which local charity should receive a donation by the shop. Perfect for a college town.

Thomas Jefferson

It’s Not Called Blue State for Nothing

I found the young and casual energy of the place perfect for my morning reading. There was something fitting about reading gender bias theory while listening to full albums by Lauryn Hill and Fiona Apple while sipping on espresso by three female baristas and deciding if I should cast my charity vote for gender reproductive rights or science clubs for girls. Fortunately, the money is distributed to all four charities proportional to the number of votes they receive, so every vote counts and every charity wins.

Charity Votes

Dont’ Forget to Cast Your Votes for Charity

In addition to enjoying the atmosphere, I was impressed by my beverages. I found the cortado just average, and a bit unexpected at a hulking 8 oz instead of the typical 4. What won me over was a truly excellent macchiato – same house espresso blend in both drinks, but this barista just nailed it. Between manager Ryan Ludwig’s leadership and the inviting atmosphere of the staff, I’m looking forward to making Blue State a regular stop on my “studying at coffee shop” rotation.

Tonight’s Throwdown:
Thinking Cup
165 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 482-5555

Last Month’s Throwdown:
Blue State Coffee
957 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 254-0929

Counter Culture Coffee Training Center: A Look Inside the New Somerville Digs

16 Sep


It’s not a party unless something gets spilled

After nearly a year and a half of planning, Counter Culture’s Coffee Training Center in Somerville opened their doors this past Saturday for an open house. Nothing like spending a bunch of time and money making a place look lovely just to let a bunch of us trash the place on the first day.

The large space is not only beautiful (in a minimalist Third Wave sort of way), but highly functional. The front room (above) is reminiscent of a typical high-end coffee bar, with a “DIY Espresso” station tucked in the back.


Beautiful cupping space

Most of the real estate is devoted to a separate room containing two long tables (above), perfect for cuppings and fooling around with the many coffee toys hidden around the training center.

Katie Carguilo

DIY Espresso Bar: USBC Champion Katie Carguilo giving some tamping advice

It’s a great space, but don’t try to order a macchiato next time you’re in the Somerville neighborhood. The training center is primarily for training Counter Culture baristas and public coffee education classes. Classes are $150 for a full day, and $75 for a half day,  which is actually a pretty good deal for the quality of classes. Topics include milk chemistry, brewing science, coffee origins, comparative cupping, and many more.

Sam Lewontin & Ryan Soeder

Sam Lewontin of Everyman Espresso (Soho, NY), & Ryan Soeder of Counter Culture

In addition to local Counter Culture superstars like Ryan Soeder and Jake Robinson, quite a few baristas made the trip for the Boston Training Center opening. Sam Lewontin of Everyman Espresso in Soho was pulling endless shots of a special Ethiopian espresso, which was prepared more like a Kenyan roast with a dry fermentation to open it up and amp up the savoriness.

Counter Culture Pour-Over

Comparing two Guatemalan pour-over coffees by Counter Culture

Also on hand was 2012 US Barista Champion Katie Carguillo (Brooklyn, NY), who is sticking around Beantown through the weekend to kick off the first stop of the “Fruit Bombs & Fermentation Tour.” Taking place Monday night at 7 pm at the Boston Training Center, green coffee buyer Tim Hill will join Carguillo in discussing experiments in the fermentation process with Ethiopian coffees – the very topic that won her the championship. Details available here.

Tommy Gallagher

Tommy Gallagher of Counter Culture (Brooklyn, NYC) taking a much needed coffee break after serving a packed house

My favorite coffee of the day was courtesy of Ryan Soeder, who has spent the past 8 months preparing for the training center’s opening. The chocolaty Rustico Organic espresso is just as perfect for a morning cortado as an after-dinner macchiato.


The goods on display

As a Cambridge resident, I’m excited to have the “cool kids next door” actually next door to me in Somerville. It might not help me get an excellent espresso on a daily basis, but I’m excited to see how they use the beautiful and versatile space to up the ante in this coffee-rich town.

Counter Culture Training Center
374 Somerville Avenue
Somerville, MA 02143