Baristas of Birmingham


Jared Lovett at Domestique Satellite

Iced or straight up black, latte or Americano, the best cup of joe is served with a friendly smile.

Written and photographed by Jeffrey Rease

have a confession to make. Coffee isn’t really my thing. I haven’t acquired a taste for it. At least not yet. But, I’m getting there. I grew up with parents who drank coffee. Dad liked it black. On cold, early morning fishing trips or on vacations in the family wood-paneled Country Squire station wagon, the eight-year-old me would ask for a sip of that hot black liquid from Dad’s thermos. It tasted awful! My face would stay in a state of twisted disgust for about five minutes. I wouldn’t think of drinking coffee for over four decades more. Fruit juice in the mornings for me!

Then I met Lesa. A coffee lover. We’ve been married four years now. I go with her to coffeehouses, not to drink coffee myself—but to enjoy time with her as she savors a good latte. She always urges me to taste it. I usually do and it seems that I am getting used to it. Frappaccinos actually might not be the closest I get to real coffee someday.

Over our frequent visits to coffeehouses, we’ve gotten to know the baristas (those who prepare and serve coffee) and learned more about coffee. A good barista will know about the flavors, origins, varieties, methods of roasting the beans and preparing coffee better than anyone. They are a wealth of information. And they can be some of the nicest people to meet. I am a portrait photographer, and as we got to know a few of these fine baristas, I found myself wanting to capture them with my camera in their element, doing what they love—making a lot of people happy. There are many in our area working at various popular, independent coffeehouses. This is the result of my project so far. I hope to photograph even more this year.

Craig Stilley at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe

I began with our first coffeehouse hangout, Woodlawn Cycle Café, where Lesa and I spend a lot of time and have learned a lot from a few awesome guys. Craig Stilley was my subject on shoot number one. Craig has been in the coffee industry for five years, and is also a singer/songwriter in a band called A Slim Shadow (their first album is due out in late summer).

Lesa had been to Innova Coffee with a friend and told me about its unique location in the clubhouse of the new 4700 Colonnade apartments. I walked in and instantly recognized Tyler Nash behind the counter as one of my sons’ Little League coaches from maybe 15 years ago. Tyler  and his wife Anna own Innova Coffee, having started it after holding Saturday morning coffee gatherings at their home with friends and Tyler working as a barista in a coffeehouse. I always thought he and his wife were cool people and connected well with people around them. They have a true desire to serve people, and that’s what they do at Innova.

Our barista community seems to be a close-knit group—many know each other pretty well. Through one barista I also met Sean Price, and he told me about Seeds Coffee Co. where he is a barista when not touring with his band Erra. He is a super nice guy and always willing to talk coffee and share his knowledge about it.

From another barista I heard about Jimmy Truong at Caveat in Homewood. Jimmy lived in Portland, Oregon for a while, working in some amazing coffee shops and training under a top contender in the United States Barista Championship competitions. He hopes to own his own shop called Epilogue Roasters in the future.

Sweet Jon’s Cafe’s Darian Morris

Also in Homewood is one of the Revelator Coffee locations, called Sweet Jon’s Café. My daughter told me about a really cool “jungle room” there that I must see. I met Darian Morris, a petite barista with a contagious smile for a fun shoot in this popular plant-filled sitting room.

Erika Wilson might be one to prepare your order at Revelator Coffee in Mountain Brook. An animal lover, she is happy to tell you about her pet hedgehog and pet pig (they are best buddies), as well as her pug dogs.

O’Henry’s Coffees has been a landmark name in the area since 1993—they were the first specialty coffeehouse around Birmingham. The Brookwood location is a cozy spot where you can find MacKenzey Scott preparing delicious creations in a cup with the most pleasant smile around. 

I have always enjoyed checking out Red Cat Coffee House, a spacious and comfortable place, whenever visiting the The Market at Pepper Place. I met barista Chase Coats there for a photo shoot. You will find specialty-grade coffees and a range of coffee experiences. The Red Cat offers the Birmingham community a gathering place for connecting over great coffee and wholesome food.

Last for now but not least in my ongoing barista portrait project is Jared Lovett at Domestique Satellite in the same building as the live music venue Saturn, in Avondale. We actually first met him at Woodlawn Cycle Café when he worked there. He’s getting Domestique Coffee products to coffee lovers everywhere. 

Along the journey in my barista portrait project I met some really knowledgeable, friendly, giving people. They truly love what they do. And they love to talk about it. The next time you are in the area stop by these establishments and get to know them. And leave them a big tip! Even if you, like me, are still working towards a full appreciation of coffee in all its iterations, you will nevertheless find much to enjoy in the unique social atmosphere each offers—and a lot of good food to boot. It might just change your life.

I know it’s changed mine, because Lesa and I have even bought an espresso machine. There’s hope she might make me a coffee drinker yet!

 

Revelator Coffee’s Erika Wilson

 

Mackenzey Scott of O’Henry’s Coffee

 

Chase Coats at Red Cat Coffee House

 

Tyler Nash and his wife Anna own Innova Coffee

 

Seeds Coffee Co.’s Sean Price

 

Jimmy Truong at Caveat

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