What sparked your passion for coffee?
About 3 and a half, four years ago a buddy of mine, Brad. I was talking to him about coffee all the time and he always used to bring me some. He always used to roast it in a popcorn popper in his oven. Then he started getting crazy with it…selling cold brew on the beach. I remember I asked him, “How do you make cold brew?” So he invited me over; one time turned into three times a week making cold brew and learning to roast coffee with he and his wife, Amy. I also got lessons from Lamplighter and learned about their roastery as well. It [making coffee] used to excite me, intrigue me, and frustrate me all at the same time. For me it wasn’t just about the coffee; it was about the experience, the history, and the ways I could alter it [coffee].
Mikey Hanson serving customers at Alchemy Coffee
Would you say making great coffee is an art?
I think anything that someone creates with his or her hand or his or her mind should be considered art. However, there are some things that are considered art that I think are just stupid. Art is learning how these small interactions between certain compounds and components work and once you understand them that’s when the real creativity starts.
So as a practical in comparison to the music industry, there are good artists and gimmick artists. Can you say the same about the coffee industry?
So I would be the non-gimmick artist. You will come in to where I work and you’ll see all these pro tools, my nice production studio, but then you watch the way I approach the process and notice that I take it very, very seriously. But, if you were to go to a Starbucks, it’s more mechanical and “turn-key” operation and there is no personable relationship there. Much like gimmick artists’ music, there is no personable relationship there. This is different from what those like Common and KRS-One would be preaching. I will never want to wear that apron of some guy that I will never meet. I want to know that my boss is grinding as hard as I am.
How has the coffee business changed in Richmond in the past few years?
As far as Virginia goes, it is kinda of overlooked. So most go to DC, Philly or New York, or Conneticut, where you have the beautiful and amazing roasteries and cafes. From DC to Philly, it skips over Virginia and then to North Carolina. Most people just don’t know that there are roasteries here. But, I still the coffee culture has grown for the better. The consumer has more knowledge of their drinks because they are now asking for drinks that they normally wouldn’t ask for. There are those that hate on Starbucks, but it was them who are the reason for this increased knowledge.
I heard you give lessons about the history of coffee and how to brew it as well, tell us more about it.
So, I kind of approach it like a school setting. I don’t wanna bombard you the first day with formulas and everything. Now, I have a whole new lesson plan that I will be using for the next 6 to 8 months. I’ll be doing this every first Friday of the month to kind of flow with First Fridays, which is a good time for everyone to come out. First off, we would cover history and how coffee has become what it is today. The funny thing is the history of coffee is one of the craziest things I’ve ever read. It’s crazy how prevalent coffee was in every revolution or war. Coffee is just f*****g crazy, that’s it.
Alchemy Coffee's coffee grinder
Do you think coffee has been stigmatized to the younger generation?
You look at the 35 and older age group and they just want their coffee on way. ‘Just give it to me dark roasted, with milk and sugar. But, it’s also cool to not give them that. I like changing their whole minds. Here, a bunch of college kids just want shots of expresso. I think the older you get, the more milk and sugar you get. The younger you are the more likely you are to get frappuccinos or the like. However, there are some younger people like my friends that prefer black coffee because they understand that these beans [coffee beans] are beautiful.
Describe your ideal cup of coffee.
If it’s hot out, I like iced coffee. My favorite iced coffee would have to be Pete’s Coffee Roaster in Kansas City, MO. They brewed a coffee that tasted like leather and it smelled like tobacco…it was amazing. My ideal hot cup of coffee would one have to be when Brad and Amy roasted me a Mexican chiapas and it was just phenomenal. Also, Onyx Coffee Labs in Arkansas. They made an espresso for me and it tasted like a mouthful of pennies covered in chocolate, it was so tight.
- Sterling Giles
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Mikey Hanson: Instagram