We’re excited to introduce you to our friend Andrew, owner of Milstead & Co., a Seattle coffee shop that is a favorite of ours. Milstead & Co. is a breath of fresh air, providing a welcoming environment to enjoy exceptional coffees from around the globe. We wanted to hear a little bit more about how Andrew got started in the coffee industry and his philosophy behind Milstead & Co. We’re excited to share his story with you today.
Q: How did you get into coffee?
Andrew: I'm fortunate enough to have an older sibling—my sister Rachel—who has in a lot of ways looked out for me and paved the way. We grew up outside of D.C. in Maryland, and, being four years older, she was always entering the next stage of life. I was entering, she was exiting. She had moved to Minneapolis for college while I was starting high school, and I visited her a lot. When I graduated, I ended up going there as well. I needed to work to pay for college because it's expensive. Her now-husband managed a café and I am enormously grateful that he hired me to work at the café without having ever met me. And I fell in love with all things coffee. That was 20 years ago and things basically never changed. It's just been coffee, coffee, coffee. I got into coffee because my sister's then-boyfriend 20 years ago took a gamble on his girlfriend's kid brother.
Q: How did you start Milstead, and what was your vision for Milstead?
Andrew: One of the things that we say a lot about the café—perhaps its mission statement—is education through experience. I'm a big believer in interacting with the world as a way to learn and educate, not just reading or being told but having an actual experience. With specialty coffee, I found having a variety of experiences available under one roof is really important and exponentially more impactful on people.
I saw it happen while working in Minneapolis at one of the first specialty cafés there. It's called Kopplin’s Coffee. Andrew Kopplin, the owner, was doing crazy things. He opened this café and basically stumbled into what we now call the multi-roaster café. At the time, we were serving coffee from Paradise Roasters out of Ramsey County in Minneapolis. But he got bored and just would buy stuff randomly from all over, from all these different established roasters. Being in Minneapolis, serving a really traditional menu, no non-fat, no decaf, nothing over 12 ounces, no flavors—people did not like the café, we'll just put it that way. It was a hard sell for a lot of folks. One of the biggest things that started to soften people a little bit to the possibility of specialty coffee, things that are a little more costly and are maybe better off enjoyed without sugar and cream, Is that they would show up and would see all of these bags of coffee from different places and maybe connect with one. Like "Oh, I'm visiting from Chicago, Intelligentsia that's crazy."
We started just seeing people interact with the space and what we were doing a lot differently when there were more options. It added value. It clicked for him in that café, and for me, and he ended up buying coffee from 49th Parallel and Vivace—of all places—and a few other fun places. It really opened up this whole new world of experience for our guests. People started seeking the café out. It became a destination. I knew when I left there that if I were ever to do something myself, that I would absolutely want to have a similar model where we have multiple coffees from different people, provide education through experience, and also hopefully make it a little more sustainable. Because multi-roaster cafes aren't necessarily the most sustainable.
We wanted to figure out a way to do it that had all of the experience but also was sustainable, and had some consistency built in so things weren't completely different every day or week to week. That was the goal, and I think we did an okay job. There are definitely things that I hope to improve upon, but I think for the most part we landed in a spot where people can have some fun, engage in a bunch of different coffees, and learn some things.
Q: How do you teach people about coffee?
Andrew: With guests, we really, really, really try to respect the person and where they're at, and gauge what their interest level is. For plenty of folks, it doesn't go beyond just selecting what you would like to drink, and that's that. In those instances, the thing that we try to do or want to do is to just be pleasant, just provide a safe, comfortable, kind space. Just a, "How are you? I hope you have a good day." That's it. For other folks, they express a little more interest in what's going on. We try to keep it as simple as possible and focus on one takeaway. I don't want to give them 10 things because they won't be able to focus on or retain any of them if they're trying to fixate on too many things. The goal is that they walk away with one thing if they can. Sometimes, like I said, it's just kindness. That's the one thing that we can do.
Other times we get the opportunity to teach a little more. For example, we have a trio set from Sweet Bloom Roasters out of Denver. One coffee, so to speak, is one variety separated into thirds. One is a washed process, one is a honey process, one is a natural process. So the same but very different. The one thing could just be the processing method on this is a little different. I'll maybe tell you a fact about that and what to expect flavor-wise in a cup. We really try to keep it simple. When someone opens the door for us, we're more than happy to go forward and share our own excitement and enthusiasm and knowledge about a coffee. But it's really just about meeting people where they are.
The cool thing about that, especially the folks that may not be very interested in the beginning, is you create a safe and comfortable spot for them to just be. It could be a month, it could be a year, but a lot of times people will come around and start being really interested in those things. It's about meeting people where they are—be patient, be kind, and when someone shows interest, meet it with information.
Q: What do you think is one thing that if people knew about coffee would change how they drink it?
Andrew: It's a very interesting question. It's maybe not quite specific enough as one thing, but something that I think about a lot with coffee, and not just with coffee. I think when we train new staff, we actually talk a lot about food systems and economies in general that coffee is a miracle. Actually, all of our food is a miracle.
There is so much effort and work that goes into creating coffee. We're very spoiled, especially in the States and a city like Seattle with access to so much good coffee. It's really easy to drink excellent coffee all day every day and not really have that, “Oh my God, this is a miracle, what I'm consuming right now!”
That's part of why I feel strongly about educating people. I want people to be in touch with the food system, the coffee—all of it. It's so much work, so much effort. I think when people become more aware of the people involved in creating coffee, then the people become real, and it's hard to ignore people and their needs once they become real to you. I think simply put, it's a miracle. I think it helps when we can educate our customers about what it took for this coffee to be in their cup. It always feels great to even just get a little bit of information and see someone realize, "Oh my gosh. Wow, a lot of work went into creating this!”
Q: How can communities support their local coffee shops right now?
Andrew: Specifically, the hardest thing for me is how frequently people come in and ask the question, "How's business?" I think I've had one person ask, "How are you? How's your staff?" It's always, "How's business?" Which I get. We are in business, we have to be in business, we have bills to pay, I have a staff to take care of. But I think that that says a lot about the emotional experience of it and service work, in general, is just being generally overlooked. When we have guests that are patient and kind, that's better than being able to pay rent. To be seen and to know that it's not just me and my team. I'm trying to take care of them and make sure they're safe and comfortable and paid, but also to know that the community acknowledges how difficult this has been for us and all the people in the service industry.
Tip your barista. Really simple stuff. Basic kindness will always be the most priceless thing to me.
We've been very fortunate that we've been able to survive it. The simple answer to how you can help is just to be kind. Try to let your service workers know how much you appreciate them. Think about what they do. All that goes a really long way.