BLOG // // 16.2.2018

A Cup of Coffee with Matt Perger

Matt Perger is probably the biggest barista star in the world right now. He has won so many competitions that I won't even bother listing them here. Now he's pushing the quality aspect of coffee with his company Barista Hustle with e.g. designing the best possible cupping cups, tampers and milk pitchers. I had the pleasure to work with Matt Perger in a secret project few weeks ago, so of course I took the opportunity to sat down with him for a cup of coffee. Here's our discussion about coffee and life.

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What is your guilty pleasure in coffee?
My guilty pleasure is … cappuccinos. I just love them so much.

Who do you admire or have admired in coffee business? Were you fan of someone?
The person I look up most is Peter Giuliano. He has been the SCAA President and the Director of Counter Culture Coffee. He is a really lovely guy and he has such a breath of knowledge across the entire supply chain and is involved in every level. He pushes so many good agendas and changes minds and moves companies in regards of sustainability. He is just, he’s like the Mr. Rogers of coffee.

What do you think is the next big thing in coffee?
I think automation in coffee is really big thing and it’s probably coming quicker than a lot of people would like to think or are thinking. I would say that if I would be giving advice in regards of the next big thing, it would be to figure out how to use it to your benefit rather than complaining about it or try to fight it.

We discussed already about this yesterday during the dinner, but could you share the best taste pair you have tasted?
For me the best taste pair has been bone marrow sort of St. John style. In St. John's  they have this famous dish which is bone marrow on toast. So it was bone marrow, capers and parsley...so it was quite delicate. It paired really well in a really hearty Brazilian coffee.

How about the best coffee that you have tasted or the best situation where you had coffee?
The best cup I’ve ever had was a Honduran cup of excellence coffee and it wasn’t even that highly graded coffee. I just think the sample roast was so miraculously perfect and then we made coffee shot with it, this was back in 2013 or 2014. It was just one of those coffees where every single thing happened perfectly, just at the right time. It was almost too sweet. 

Was there any specific flavour that you loved?
Yeah, it was like biting into the ripest apricot. You know when it’s just falling apart in your mouth and it was so good. I miss that.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years or in the future in general?
I don’t know if I’ll still be in coffee. I might be but whatever it is, I’ll be having fun, exploring and doing interesting stuff that satisfies me. That’s the only thing that matters.

Is there something that you could be interested in?
Chocolate is something I could be. I think it’s quite similar than coffee in lot of respects and has a lot of the same challenges. So maybe that could be something I could apply my existing knowledge but I’m not arrogant enough to think that I would be very good at it to begin with. I’m sure that the learning curve would steep. 

How or why did you become what you are in terms of coffee?
I guess it was pretty good timing and luck. I hit the wave or joined the wave just at the right time.

And I’d imagine that you have trained a lot?
Yeah, I’m always trying to improve. And I think the main point of difference is that I’m ruthlessly rational so I’m always trying to find what is the most rational answer or what is the most rational question to ask in the first place. That seems to be the competitive advantage.

Do you have someone that you believe blindly? Someone that you would not doubt when talking about coffee?
No, that would be very irrational. There are some people that I…

I’m asking this because I see this a lot.
Nobody is always right, certainly not me. This way of thinking is about being forever updating the probabilities of what you know and what is true. So nothing is ever 100% right. And new information will always change your priors and how you calculate what probabilities and it will always change. Someone correcting you or someone showing that you are wrong, you are not now wrong, you are now right because someone added information to you. It’s wonderful way to be because as I sad, you are never wrong, you just were wrong and now you’re closer to right. 

What is the biggest misunderstanding in coffee?
At the moment I think it’s the way people think direct trade works because it kind of doesn’t. The shire number of coffee producers that are still living near poverty or even below it is enormous and it hasn’t really made any change. We need new models to use.

Do you have any solution?  
It’s not my speciality. I think there are some companies like Raw Material that are doing some interesting things by interfacing directly with producers and giving them routes to the market. They sort of take the cherries and they don’t buy cherries for farmers but they help farmers to do the best possible job with them and then allow the farmers to sell them later as well. So they are sort of a helping hand between all of the tricky stuff. I think it empowers them to be more involved. I just think it’s slightly better model that just paying someone a lot of money to do a good job. It allows the farmers to get a reasonable payback quickly without investment. I think that something that is the key. 

Why coffee?
It’s a nice feedback loop of thinking rationally, tasting stuff and making changes and then seeing those changes realised quite quickly and enjoyably. 

The last question, if you are looking for trends in coffee, where do you get them? 
Just through rational thought and just looking through all the options and seeing what is happening and asking hard questions and drilling deeper than surface level. Not just reading articles from the coffee industry but reading also articles about economics and philosophy. Improving your thinking usually yields trends.

Check what Matt is up to:
- Instagram
- Barista Hustle