Although you now know how not to become a coffee snob, I decided to hop down to Atlanta to interview Nathan Nerswick. Nathan is a barista at one of my favorite spots in Atlanta, Empire State South. He’s worked in the coffee industry for several years – at 2Story and 5&10 in Athens, Georgia and now at Empire State South in Atlanta. Nathan has traveled internationally with Counter Culture to observe and learn about various coffee-growers firsthand. Nathan also competed and placed in his first regional barista championship earlier this year, so he is considered the best barista in the state of Georgia.
Author’s note: some clips were edited for time and clarity. Alan’s wife may have gotten in a few words in a clip or two. She does that sometimes.
What’s the state of the coffee industry today? Are folks figuring out the difference between good and bad coffee?
Who is the best coffee roaster?
Why are some coffees “blends” versus “single origin”?
Fun facts about coffee:
Coffee beans are only about 30% soluble. This means brewing methods without a good filter won’t strain out all the remaining particles.
How can I make the best cup of coffee at home? How do you make your best cup?
Get a Chemex. Invented in 1941 in Germany…about the only good thing to come out of Germany in the 40s! They were focused on being the best at everything and that mentality extended to coffee.
What’s required at a barista competition?
What’s the future of the coffee industry in 5-10 years?
- Alan loves coffee and had a great time interviewing Nathan. Thanks for the great excuse to venture down into the big city!
A ways back I wrote about the joy of listening to vinyl, and how the medium expanded my musical palette. Since the listening experience of vinyl is so different from simply playing the iPod in the car or on a run, I found myself actively listening to the music and soaking in all of the subtleties in the instruments and vocals. No genre demonstrates this better than the blues. Relying on expert guitar-picking and raspy, world-weary voices to carry heart-wrenching melodies makes for an amazing listening experience. This, along with my affinity for blues based rock bands like the Black Keys and Aerosmith, led me to begin listening to classic blues artists more and more.
To explore the blues, I recommend using Spotify or Amazon Music. Both have huge libraries of absolutely phenomenal music you’ve probably never heard before, as well as user compiled playlists that provide you with a sampling of well-known artists. In recent months I have found I spend more time listening to the blues genre than any other. I can’t stand the overproduced and often untalented product that is pop and (most) country music today, so I seek out the authentic stylings of blues artists instead. And while there are several good contemporary blues acts, I still find the classics of the early and mid 20th century to be the best.
I’ve particularly gravitated to the Mississippi Delta Blues subgenre, which is notable for its use of guitar and harmonica. As one of the oldest examples of blues, it has its roots in black folk music after the Civil War. However, none was recorded until the 1920s when southern blacks began achieving commercial success. Ultimately, many of the most successful delta blues acts moved to St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit, where they would influence rock-n-roll and R&B.
So when we listen to the Delta blues, we are actually hearing the birth of modern music. We are listening to it in its rawest and most authentic form, and by people who played for the sheer love of the music. If that doesn’t make it worth a listen then I don’t know what will. As a brief introduction to the genre, here are some examples of Delta blues from some of the most legendary artists.
Cited by no less than the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zepplin, and Bob freakin’ Dylan as a major influence on their music, Robert Johnson is one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. So great were his guitar and songwriting skills that a rumor has long persisted that his talent derived from a deal with the devil at a rural crossroad one night in Mississippi. The story captures the imagination, especially considering he wrote a song called “Crossroad Blues,” and ultimately died at age 27 from a poisoned bottle of booze that was slipped to him by a jealous husband. Though like most great legends, it is false.
Fortunately, before his untimely death Johnson was able to record 29 songs. Although he never received any commercial or critical success in life, his impact is still being felt.
“Crossroad Blues” by Robert Johnson
Waters began as a Delta blues artist in the 1930s and 40s. Seeking to leave the obscurity of performing in the backwoods of the South, he moved to Chicago where he took up the electric guitar (a defining characteristic of Chicago blues). Waters would find mainstream success in the 1950s, producing both rock and R&B hits, like “I’m Your Hootchie Coochie Man” and “Mannish Boy”.
“I Can’t Be Satisfied” by Muddy Waters
One of the earliest blues artists, Huddy William Ledbetter (Lead Belly) was born in 1888 on a plantation in Louisiana. He was given his first instrument, an accordion, at age 17, but would eventually learn the guitar, mandolin, and violin as well. In 1918 he was convicted of killing a relative over an argument about a woman. He managed to get paroled seven years later after writing a song for the governor. It wouldn’t be his last time in prison, but he would use his various incarcerations to learn African-American prison songs, such as “Midnight Special.”
Lead Belly was eventually discovered in 1933, and began performing his music around the country. He received modest success before dying of ALS in 1949. His real influence, however, was on rock-n-roll that would come of age in the 1950s.
“Midnight Special” by Lead Belly
And as a bonus, here’s Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Nirvana memorably covered it on their MTV Unplugged performance.
So there’s three classic Delta blues artists to get you started. Enjoy!
Andy isn’t much of a music expert, but he plays one on the internet.
I recently moved to Boone, NC. My new abode included a wood burning fireplace. Considering Boone receives almost 3 feet of snow each winter, I need to get an ax and start collecting wood. This excites me. I need an excuse to get off my lazy ass and burn some calories, and the act of swinging an ax is one of the most testosterone-fueled, head-clearing tasks a man can perform. If you’ve never done this before, but you want to, let me try and teach.
Step 1 – Get hard wood
Come on guys, don’t be so immature. What I mean is, make sure you collect hardwoods. Find some oak, maple, walnut, or ash. Avoid evergreens, like pine. If they aren’t already cut, grab a chainsaw and slice up your trees into 12″ to 20″ logs.
Step 2 – Grab an ax
BUT NOT JUST ANY AX. You want to split the wood, not stab it. So, instead of a lightweight ax with a thin head (aka a felling ax), go for a heavy duty ax with a thick, wedge-like head (splitting ax or splitting maul). The weight of the ax head will provide more force on impact, and the wedge shape will actually split the wood apart, rather than stabbing it. You don’t have to spend a fortune on it either. Buy your splitting ax at a hardware store for 30-50 bucks.
Not this (even though it’s very pretty)
Step 3 – Swing away
Set your log upright on a hard, but forgiving surface. An old tree stump works great. Look closely at the log. You will see faint lines in the wood, and you want to split the wood parallel to these lines. Now swing away. If you’re right-handed, place your left hand near the bottom of the ax handle and your right hand near the head. As you swing, slide your right hand towards your left. It might take some getting used to. When you’re ready to speed things up, try this tip.
Step 4 – Stack it
We’re all about the gentle-manliness here at BBT, and a gentleman always stacks his firewood neatly. It’s not a necessity, but if you can stack the wood on rails to keep the bottom layer off the ground. Bonus points for creative stacking.
A tree within a tree. Treeception.
Alright guys, go nuts. By the way, once you’ve swung an axe a kajillion times, these carnival games don’t stand a chance.