Meet the coffee professor
That first cup of coffee is the only thing that gets Tom Vincent out of bed.
FORT WORTH, Texas — Some days, the thought of that first cup of coffee is the only thing that gets Tom Vincent out of bed.
In that way, of course, he's no different from plenty of other people who like a morning caffeine jolt.
What sets him apart? For the rest of the day, he never stops thinking about coffee. How to brew the perfect cup. How to teach pros and amateurs alike to do the same. How to create the kind of coffee culture in North Texas that one can find in Austin or Vancouver.
This month, Vincent's Arlington-based business, Texas Coffee School, turned 1 year old. At his training center in an office suite at South Cooper Street near Harris Road, he conducts workshops for everybody from experienced baristas looking for new ideas to prospective coffeehouse owners to home coffee enthusiasts.
When he's not doing that, he travels the country speaking at industry seminars, serves as a consultant for restaurants and "geeks out" in his training center lab, searching for things like the optimal water filtration and temperature for the high-end beans he buys from artisanal producers.
"My whole goal is to take elitism out of specialty coffee and make it more easily approachable for everyday people," he says. "Coffee is the most affordable luxury item in the world. Think about the most you've paid for a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate. I've never seen a cup of coffee no matter how rare cost more than $7 a cup."
Vincent set off down his path in 2006 almost by chance. He was working in marketing and advertising in Charlotte, N.C., in the same building as Counter Culture Coffee, well known in the industry for its exotic offerings and its educational classes.
He went from participating in Friday "coffee-cuppings" — like wine-tastings — to attending classes to volunteering at those events. It added up to what he calls a two-year apprenticeship with the company in which he learned everything he could about the business.
In 2008, after a friend extolled the virtues of the Dallas area, he relocated to Texas and began working as a coffee consultant. After a childhood spent moving around, he felt as if he had finally found home.
"I just fell in love with Texas culture," he said. "Now I have several pairs of cowboy boots. I started listening to country music. It's the first place I've felt I belong."
His consulting work kept increasing, with positive reviews and client success stories adding up. "It made me realize that I've got something here," he says. That led to the establishment of the school, the only one of its kind in Texas.
On his website, www.texascoffeeschool.com, he offers tips on brewing a cup and operates a blog. A schedule lists upcoming workshops and coffee-cuppings.
What should the home enthusiast keep in mind? Vincent says the first key is to buy freshly roasted beans. That may sound expensive, he says, but the opposite is true.
"You'll be amazed that you won't have to drink half a pot," he says. "Fresh coffee is so much more potent."
The second key is to use the coffee immediately after it is ground.
"Coffee loses 80 to 85 percent of its aroma and flavor within 15 minutes of being ground," he said.
Unused coffee should not be frozen, contrary to what many people are told. And stay away from beans that have artificial flavor added to them. The process used to do that coats the beans with a harmful chemical that is not only unhealthy but also embeds itself into the coffee machine, Vincent said.
Count Jonathan Seyoum, partner in the group that owns The Original Pancake House franchises in Texas, as among those who can attest to Vincent's expertise.
"Tom is incredibly good at what he does," Seyoum said. "He has given us tremendously valuable guidance in putting together a coffee program. He is down-to-earth about coffee, and yet Tom's appreciation for coffee starts at the local farmer, the buying and roasting process to proper grinding and brewing methods. I have yet to meet anyone who has as much contagious passion for coffee and can teach the business of coffee."
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