Everett Business JournalEverett Business Journal; 11/1/2001

Espresso lessons anyone?

Espresso By The Book owner Michael Perry
teaches at Everett Community College

Coffee stand owner goes to college to teach Everett students how to pour the perfect cup

Getting the most flavor out of a coffee bean is Michael Perry's business.

So absorbed with the notion is the owner of Espresso By The Book, an espresso stand along north Broadway, that he has started a one-day course per quarter on the subject at nearby Everett Community College.

"They like me down there so they let me come up with classes," Perry said of the community college and his new course Espresso Techniques. "If you can come up with a good course with community interest, they'll let you try it."

For about four years, Perry has been teaching computer-related courses at the college's Applied Technology Training Center, and also at the Boeing Co. for Boeing employees. College administrators liked what he was doing, so he pitched the espresso class.

The class is six hours long and costs $49. Half the class is spent in a college classroom where Perry presents a slide show and brings in a grinder and talks about how to make a proper espresso drink. He goes through three pounds of coffee and three gallons of milk per class. The last half of the class takes place at his espresso stand. Students get the hands-on experience there.

"You cannot achieve perfect espresso by accident," he said. "It is one of the most difficult things I've every done, to be consistent every time."

Caffeine can ruin the taste of the drink, he said, so students must know when to stop the machine before caffeine residue gets into the shot of coffee. Milk also needs to be steamed accordingly. There's a technique Perry teaches for that.

This is the second year Perry has taught the course, which is limited to 10 students. Students tend to be those thinking about opening their own stand, current baristas looking for technique and the curious.

Though Perry limits the class to techniques in producing the drinks, he also has some insight into just what kind of person it takes to start an espresso stand.

"They need to know technique to put out a quality product," Perry said as to what potential owners should learn first. "People fail because there's no technique."

Perry has known people who have thrown out $3 coffee drinks because the barista had no training.

"There is such a difference, it's unbelievable," Perry said with a laugh. "Then you want to get the milk just right, you want it to be like velvet."

An espresso stand owner will likely start out working 12 to 16 hour days. Proper training of employees can take two to three weeks. And a budding owner will likely spend at least $10,000 on initial costs.

"You can get a cart for about that much," Perry said. More upscale espresso stands can cost as much as $60,000. Perry was able to save thousands six years ago by building his stand with his brother, who is a carpenter, and another friend, who is an electrician. He also bought a used grinder and espresso machine, priced new at $1,700 and $15,000 respectively.

To succeed, Perry said an owner must gross at least $300 a day. He said he knows some espresso stand owners in Everett, with stands in key locations, who make about $1,500 a day.

"Location is absolutely key in this business," Perry said. "You need visibility and accessibility."

Before starting a stand, Perry recommends doing plenty of research. Before starting his stand, he read books and went to trade shows in Seattle. He met David Schomer, owner of the Espresso Vivace stands in Seattle. He learned from Schomer about roasting beans and how to keep bitter caffeine from getting into the espresso shots. Schomer has books and videos out on the subject.

Perry got into the coffee business because he was disappointed in access to good coffee. He spent about 10 years living in New York City's famed Greenwich Village neighborhood. It was there that he had access to Italian cafes steeped in tradition, where baristas, as in Italy, were revered.

So when he moved to Everett, after managing restaurants for 10 years, he figured he would marry his desire with getting a good cup of coffee with his desire to start a business, and build Espresso By The Book.

"It helped buffer my income while I got the teaching going," he said.


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