INTERVIEW - BLACK TAP COFFEE
Kirk: Ross, tell me a little about yourself and Jayme, where you grew up and how you ended up in Charleston.
Ross: Jayme and I both grew up just outside of Richmond, Virginia. We both went to the same middle school and high school, though we didn't know one another that well back then. We attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia and by way of mutual friends, ended up being roommates our last 3 years of college. After school, I moved out to California and worked for a small company that did renewable and energy efficiency projects all over Northern California. Jayme moved up to Washington D.C. and worked on Capitol Hill for a stint, before getting involved with a boutique healthcare lobbying firm. At the time that we decided to start Black Tap, we were both looking for a city that offered a reprieve from the rat race, for lack of a better term. Charleston is in the midst of an entrepreneurial awakening, there are many talented people moving here who believe that this is the place they can best express themselves, and the city has access to many of the things that contribute to a high quality of life: great beaches, world class food and beverage, and a rich culture.
Kirk: How did you guys meet?
Ross: As I mentioned above, we lived in the same house for our last 3 years of college. None of the guys in our house were in a fraternity, but the fact that we had 6 in the house the first two years and 10 the last year, we might as well have formed our own fraternity. Everyone in our house became very close friends. Little did we know that a professional partnership would be born not too further down the road.
Kirk: Have you always wanted to run your own coffee shop or is this something you decided to do in recent years?
Ross: I grew up cooking in the kitchen with my mom, so very early on I had an appreciation for food. Being in the kitchen relaxes me, and serving someone something I've made and seeing them really appreciate it is something that is very rewarding for me. When I was looking for something that would be professionally fulfilling, I turned to coffee. I got interested in coffee when I moved to California. The Bay area probably has the best coffee culture in the US. Being immersed in that culture really sparked my interest in coffee, and eventually the hobby became a profession.
Kirk: Where did you learn the craft of making coffee and espresso?
Ross: I owe a lot of what I know about coffee to the awesome people at Counter Culture, who provided a good foundation of knowledge to get started in coffee professionally. More than any other coffee company in existence today, I prize Counter Culture for the resources they put into educating their wholesale partners and customers. From there, I've had the fortune of hiring the best baristas in Charleston. I'm not ashamed to admit that many of the guys that have worked for me knew more than me. I've learned a lot from them. Outside of these personal interactions, I keep very close tabs on the vanguard of the coffee industry: Peter Giuliano, James Hoffman, Nick Cho, Ric Rinehart, et al. These guys are a wealth of information.
Kirk: How did you come up with the name black tap?
Ross: I love iced coffee. Whenever I ordered iced coffee though, I hated seeing the barista pull out a stained pitcher of old coffee out of the refrigerator. I knew there had to be a better way, and I quickly realized that a tap system was the way forward. When we were brainstorming our branding, I wanted something that was evocative of coffee without falling into the trap of using coffee puns. Since we were in the South and summers get hot here, I knew iced coffee would be a focus for us, so branding around the idea of a coffee tap seemed to work. Black was evocative of how I enjoyed coffee, and the tap signified my service method.
Kirk: I love the simplistic and effortless feel of the white wash/natural wood colors inside the shop, what inspired this look?
Ross: I can't really claim originality with the design. But then again, can any designer? I was inspired by the west coast coffee shop. Our shop on Beaufain St is almost a perfect square. Blue Bottle's Mint Plaza location is also. The look and feel of that shop was a big inspiration for ours. On my move from California to Charleston, Jayme flew out to meet me and we hit every coffee shop worth hitting from California to South Carolina. We took all the best elements of what we saw and tried to incorporate them into our shop.
Kirk: I love your espresso and pour-overs, but what is your favorite way to brew coffee?
Ross: When I have a day off, I really enjoy a pour-over. By enjoy, I mean I sit down with that cup and really think about what I'm tasting and why I enjoy that cup. This takes time and focus, so that's why I reserve it for days off. When I'm behind the bar, I tend to gravitate towards espresso. Espresso is quick, but it also requires a barista to stay on top of a handful of variables. If any one of those variables is the least bit off, the espresso experience will go south in an instant. I don't want a bad experience for any of my customers, so I end up tasting a lot as quality insurance.
Kirk: What do you guys do for fun outside of making great coffee?
Ross: Running a business requires a lot of time and energy so finding time outside of the business to pursue other things is always a challenge. I enjoy cooking, reading, traveling, and having new experiences. Fortunately, Charleston is a playground for someone like me. Given the level of quality food and the calibre of people cooking in this town, when I'm off work, I'm always seeking out the best things that Charleston has to offer. I also enjoy making it out to the beach.
Kirk: What do you always carry on you?
Ross: Keys, wallet, cellphone, though I'm always misplacing them.
Kirk: For someone visiting Charleston, what’s the one “must-see” place (after they get a delicious cup of coffee from Black Tap, of course)?
Ross: I get this question a lot from people stopping through town. I don't know if I offer a satisfying answer, because I always tell people to leave their car somewhere, walk or find a bike, and get lost in one of Charleston's neighborhoods. The architecture here is so interesting and the setting is so ideal, you can have a completely unique experience if you did this 100 times over.
Big thanks to Ross and Jayme for letting me raid the shop and snap some shots. Please check them out next time your in Charleston...if you love coffee, you won't be disappointed!