More than a cup: COM grad crosses Asia for best coffee
What goes into a cup of coffee?
College of the Mainland graduate Will Frith has been involved in nearly every aspect from seed to sip: growing, processing, roasting and serving.
What began as a way to fund his college education – being a barista – brewed into a career.
“In the beginning it was because of coffeehouse culture,” said Frith. “As a barista, I would notice a lot of meetings. It’s pretty crucial for a community to have a space like that. It’s where ideas get shared.”
Captivated by coffee as well, he landed a job at Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters in education, research and development, then at Olympia Coffee Roasting Co. in Washington, roasting beans and training employees.
Raised in Texas City, Frith began traveling to Asia as a consultant, seeking new coffees and brewing methods. From talking with growers in Vietnam to finding pristine processing facilities, he finds and connects people with the best resources.
Most of all, he meets people, such as Son, a coffee grower in a suburb of Dalat, Vietnam.
“Son is pretty much the most passionate coffee farmer I've ever met,” said Frith. “Son's coffee has been the most consistently clean and delicious that I've had from Dalat, and his continual improvement gives me a lot of faith in what he's going to do in the future.”
People like George Howell, a pioneer of the specialty-coffee movement in the United States in the early 1970s, also inspire Frith.
"He's had influence over many parts of the production chain and has pushed the industry forward in so many ways,” he said.
In the quest for a perfect roast, he looks for a coffee “clean and sweet and well-processed,” a challenge when the best coffees are not mass-produced.
“For the most part, it’s hand picked, hand sorted,” said Frith. “It’s not easy.”
A stiff cup can be stiff competition. Frith has judged coffee contests, tense affairs where contestants must create multiple drinks in limited time – often 20 minutes or less – while discussing their brews with judges.
“I like to taste more of the original flavors, more of the coffee itself,” explained Frith.
At The Workshop, a café in Ho Chi Minh, coffee serves as the centerpiece of creation. When the café opened, he helped employees refine their processes.
“My goal as a trainer is to render myself obsolete,” said Frith. “The happiest moments are when I see people I’ve taught become successful.”
COM helped spark his love of education, he said.
“Going to COM opened my eyes to a lot of things and made me think more critically,” said Frith, who graduated with an associate degree in 2000. “In my work I still learn a lot. COM started my ‘addiction’ to learning.”
Coffee is more than a cup.
The “coffeehouse culture” still captivates Frith, who still consults and also works for ModBar, a company that produces high-end coffee-making equipment.
“People of all stripes congregate,” said Frith. “People go to bars to not think and go to cafes to think. It’s a rich culture.”
For more information about the COM associate degree in general studies, which transfers to universities, visit www.com.edu/academics/areas-of-study/general-studies.