Head into Irvine's Layer Cake Bakery on a Saturday and your senses will be assaulted as soon as you enter. The man responsible for this attack on your nasal passages is Jeff Duggan, proprietor of Portola Coffee. While “On The Line” usually features restaurant chefs, it's not exclusively their domain. Read on for an interview with an artisan who wants to change how la naranja drinks coffee.
OC Weekly: What are six words to describe you?
Jeff Duggan: Easy-going, fanatical, nonchalant, excitable, meticulous, lax.
OCW: What are ten words to describe your coffee?
JD: Unique, complex, mind-bending, game-changing, surprising, responsible, intriguing, exquisite, nuanced, yummy.
OCW: What was the first cup of coffee you ever remember buying for yourself?
JD: Wow…bringing back painful memories. I was in high school–sleep deprived and in a vulnerable state. AM/PM Mini Mart was there and I could not resist. Likely more elated by its invigorating effect than its flavor, I became a regular. But then again, it was not much different than the cups of home brew I would skim from the pots my parents would brew at home using whatever budget-priced canned coffee they purchased from the grocery store.
OCW: Where's the line for you on doctoring coffee? Sugar? Dairy? Cinquanta double ristretto half-caf soy iced mocha latte with a pump of hazelnut, a half pump of cherry, a twist of lime and four Splendas?
JD: Love coffee in its unadulterated state–black and delicious. I am currently on a mission to launch a “Drink Coffee Black” campaign here in Orange County. That being said, there are lots of people who enjoy adding stuff to their coffee. We don't discriminate against those people, although we do ask that they at least try it black first. Most are suprised how tasty and non-bitter our coffee is when drunk black. We have a lot of converts. I have a rule of thumb: if your coffee drink takes more than 20 seconds to order, you may have suffered abuse at the hands of an over-roaster, bad bean sourcer, or stale coffee provider (to remain unnamed). There is hope and we always welcome new comers into Portola's 3-Step Program (Buy Organic – Buy Local – Buy Fresh).
OCW: We just had the U.S. Barista Championships here in OC, and Michael Phillips, the U.S. winner, went on to win the World Championships a few weeks ago in London. What makes a good barista to you?
JD: Being both a craftsman and an orator. An artful mastery of espresso brewing and drink preparation is key, but equally important is being able to effectively communicate all that is great about coffee to those willing to listen. I want Portola customers to know about the quality-focused farms we source our beans from, why our roast process is different, why the brewing method makes such a difference, and anything else related to amazing coffee. And hopefully the barista can do all of this without eliciting a response like, “what an arrogant jerk!”
OCW: If you're not drinking your own, whose coffee do you like best?
JD: I am a big fan of Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco. Tal, one of the roasters, is a great guy who has become one with their vintage Probat UG-15 roaster.
OCW: What city has the best coffee culture?
JD: I am really liking San Francisco right now. I know Seattle and Portland are the 800-pound gorillas, but I think I like San Fran's vibe a little more. Of course, that will be until our coffee culture in Orange County gets established, something I am intent on catalyzing.
OCW: Who's a food (or drink) celebrity who ought to have a bigger microphone?
JD: Jamie Oliver. He just does good things.
OCW: Who's a food (or drink) celebrity who ought to just shut up already?
JD: Rachael Ray. Just can't decide whether to stick a fork in her dish or my ear drums.
OCW: What food goes best with a cup of, say, espresso?
JD: Well, espresso is really at its best right after it's brewed. Savor its rich, sweet, decadent flavor immediately. Don't be afraid to insult anyone if you must walk away mid-sentence to sip on your espresso without interruption. I prefer silence with my espresso, but a small cut of dark chocolate with 60-plus percent cocoa is a close runner-up.
OCW: Twenty-five years ago, we were all still drinking Sanka out of packets, or Eight O'Clock Coffee from the A&P. Where do you see the state of coffee twenty-five years from now?
JD: Wow… what a great question. I get to fantasize about coffee without feeling guilty about it. The coffee industry has certainly made great strides in the past 25 years, mostly in educating the consumer as to what great coffee can and should be. The quality at the farm level is getting better year after year with a growing (no pun intended) commitment to quality and sustainable agriculture. Third-wave roasters like me are doing our part to best represent the origin flavors of the bean in our roast styles and by delivering coffee fresh while all of those flavor subtleties are still in the bean and not destroyed by oxidation, which occurs much quicker than most people realize. I think brewing science is still something that lacks in today's industry. In 25 years I see better brewing technologies that are designed to maximize flavor extraction through a customizable process. No two coffees are the same and the “one size fits all” approach to brewing is certainly not the answer to creating the most amazing coffee. Brewing is such a critical part of the equation and one that will certainly benefit from time and technology.
OCW: If you were all-powerful for a moment and could correct just one mistake people make with coffee, what would it be?
JD: Using a Mr. Coffee.