I have known the guys in Grammy award winning band Jars of Clay for more than 10 years. One thing I have learned is that they love coffee and espresso. When they were still in college, in their beginning years they wrote, The Coffee Song, which included the words,
I need something with
A really big kick
You ask me about creamer
You ask me about sugar
I tell you those things make me sick
I recently interviewed band member Charlie Lowell about the band's love of coffee and it truly reveals they are indeed CoffeeGeeks!
Q: What's your favorite coffeehouse?
CL: Crema is a fairly new coffee shop in Nashville, Tennessee. It's not exactly close to my house, but I'll easily go out of my way to stop there. Definitely a favorite. I recently ordered a latte elsewhere, and there were 4 small screws in the bottom of the cup. No joke. I took that as a rebuke to stick to CREMA.
Q: How do you go about finding good coffee when you're out on the road?
CL: Well, the iPhone sure helped that problem- there's an App called Around Here that will give nearest coffee shops. We generally will brew a pot on the bus if there's nothing within a couple blocks. Beyond that, asking the locals is the best way to go.
Q: Do you brew coffee on the bus, and if so, what kind?
CL: Yes, we get groceries for the bus before we leave, so usually it's Starbucks Italian Roast. We make it pretty thick on bus mornings.
Q: How do you brew your coffee at home, and what kind of coffee do you brew? Do you have espresso machines at home?
CL: I used to have an espresso machine at home, but found I didn't use it too much with all the cleanup, etc. So espresso drinks are more of a treat. My wife and I brew a strong pot each morning- usually a medium bodied coffee, no particular kind, we switch around. I drink it black with no sugar.
Q: What's your favorite coffee?
CL: I've had a few cups of coffee made with beans from Rwanda that were amazing. There's something about the richness of Rwandan beans combined with the darkness of the country's history that I find very stout and mysterious.
Q: What's your favorite espresso drink?
CL: I love a mid-day latte with an extra shot. Again, no sugar.
Q: Do you drink shots of espresso?
CL: Yes, on occasion. I try not to make it a daily thing, but a couple shots of espresso can certainly do miracles! I find it easy to "chug" but the beauty is in sipping, making it last.
Q: What do you like about coffee or espresso?
CL: I like the strong pleasing bitter taste. I like to sip espresso in the way I would sip port or merlot. It's so complex, and I love that it comes from the earth and is a fairly pure process.
Q: You guys do a lot of work in Africa with Blood:Water. Do you ever think about how some of the coffees you drink, obviously the ones from Africa, are impacted by the work you do getting clean water wells and HIV medication to a lot of those villages that include coffee farmers?
CL: Yes, that's quite a connection. We watched the documentary Black Gold a couple years ago on our bus, and it was crazy how things trickle down- little decisions we make day in and out do affect others around the globe. It is simply amazing to see how village/community life changes with the addition of a clean-water well. Kids are in school instead of fetching dirty water, women can work on micro-finance, and general health is improved greatly.
Q: What is the thing you wish people knew about Africa, that they probably don't know?
CL: We have so much to learn from Africans- about caring for our communities, slowing down, respecting the earth, relying on God for daily needs. Despite the difficulty of survival, there is so much joy and hope there.
Q: Have you always been big coffee geeks?
CL: It started in college, but we started with the sweet flavored stuff. We wrote a song when we were still in college called "The Coffee Song". "Oooh, good coffee, strong coffee...", sung the refrain.
Q: Is coffee and/or espresso an addiction or a passion for you?
CL: Hmmm, probably both if I'm honest. It's more than just an urge to get caffeine in my veins, there's a culture and art to it. Jars recently committed to making water our only beverage for 40 days, and gave the money we would have spent on other drinks to Blood:Water Mission to support water projects in Africa. It was incredible to walk through that many days without the camaraderie of a cup of strong coffee.
Q: What coffeehouses around the country do you try and make sure you visit when on tour?
CL: Peets' is a nice treat when we're out in the northwest. I enjoy Caribou's lattes quite a bit. It's fun to find the smaller non-chains in little towns around America. International travel is fun because coffee is slightly different- a "flat white" in Australia is hard to beat.
Q: I have known you guys for many years, and in that time, I don't think I have seen one article that talked about how much you like coffee. How much DO you like coffee and/or espresso?
CL: We love it, and we're quite lost and cranky without it. I can't even imagine the vast quantities we have consumed over 15 years of traveling and recording together.
Q: What do you like about CREMA?
CL: We've known Rachel (ed.note - owner of the cafe) for years, so it's been fun to hear about her dream, and now visit here there. She's won barista competitions around the US, and loves experimenting with different beans and drinks. Last year I had a lemongrass latte there. The staple drink is her Cuban, but it's a little sweet, so more of a dessert coffee for me. On a perfect morning, I'd make a pot of coffee at home, and get a mid-morning latte at CREMA.
Q: I think you're new album is your best yet, and one of the top five of this year. How much of it was fueled by good coffee?
CL: Thanks! There was much consumption making this record. Mornings and afternoons, and frequent runs to CREMA when we could justify it - and probably when we couldn't!
Q: You guys are getting ready to go on tour. Do you appreciate free coffee in exchange for autographs?
CL: Sure! I love the old barter system, it's high time to bring it back. It is fun to try different coffee from different areas, a highlight of travelling and meeting people.
Q: What has been the most rewarding thing of your career as a band?
CL: I think the international travel- Africa specifically- and meeting incredible people around the world that are doing such amazing work.
Q: What are your future goals for Blood:Water Mission?
CL: We are learning more about how to address HIV/AIDS. The need for clean water is relatively "simple" and hard to argue against. Treating and preventing disease is certainly more complicated, and AIDS has many different stigmas here in the US and in Africa. We're musicians, not doctors, so it takes partnering with great organizations and finding the right messaging to engage our audience with people- not shutting them down with statistics.
Q: What's your favorite coffee roaster out of Charlotte, NC? (ed.note - obviously leading! :))
CL: Why, Dilworth Coffee, of course!
About the Author
Jason Dominy is the Director of Training and Knowledge for Dilworth Coffee in Charlotte, NC. He takes his role as one of the last links in the coffee chain very seriously. He spends his days training, and helping others with opening new coffeehouses. He enjoys helping create a better barista culture in the Southeast, and thinks things are changing for the better. He's been married to the same gal for 7 years, and loves heading to the mountains of NC to get away. His favorite coffee is Ethiopian Biloya, a coffee that makes his mouth water just thinking about it. He also sits on the SCAA's Training Committee, and the Executive Council of the Barista Guild of America.