Interview: Curtis Cushman from Scratch [Baking]

barista may 2012_curtis cushman_ Scratch BakeryGot an itch for some Intelligentsia coffee paired with a scrumptious treat? Let local bakery and café, Scratch, it for you. This month’s featured Barista is from local Bakery & Coffee Bar in Durham, NC, Scratch Baking.

I met Curtis Cushman during a local Thursday Night Throwdown (TNT) a couple month’s ago. He had come in second place that night and has since made it to first place in last month’s TNT. This month, he’ll be judging instead of competing.

I’ve heard great things about Scratch, especially the fact they serve Intelligentsia Coffee now. So, of course I had to find out more.

DD – When did you start drinking coffee?
– I started drinking coffee in high school, 10th grade to be specific, at a cafe called Ooh La Latte! (I know) and I was young so excuse the desire for sweet drinks- I loved anything with Irish cream.

DD – How and when did you decide to become a Barista?
– I love working with my hands. Being a visual artist (illustration, sculpture) and a self-described massage therapist making coffee almost came naturally. I love the ability to use my hands to make a drink that people enjoy on a daily basis, especially when I am able to put a piece of temporary artwork on top. In early 2008, having just moved to Chicago without much of a plan for income, I applied to a neighborhood coffee shop called Istria Cafe.

I enjoyed the social aspects of counter service: the progression of getting to know the regulars, the off-chance of serving a celebrity (of which I have served Michelle Obama, her two kids, and Hanson). It was also a gelato shop so I quickly learned the skill and began playing with coffee and gelato pairings. All these things made me confident in believing I could happily be a barista for the foreseeable future.

DD – How are you involved in the industry?
– These days I work full-time at Scratch Bakery as one of their proud baristas. I support as many of the triangle coffee shops as I can find and frequent the Thursday Night Throwdowns.

DD – How is Scratch different from other Bakery/Cafe’s?
– I think that the implementation of the coffee bar at Scratch is definitely part of what makes Scratch unique. Not only do we have all sorts of award-winning pies and crusts being created from the bakery, but the high quality of fresh ingredients being used in all of the cuisine is also found in our choice of espresso and coffee beans. Before Scratch took it on, Intelligentsia coffee could only be found in California and Chicago, where it finds the utmost respect from its clientele. We can only say that our own patrons have been just as pleased with it, because people who love coffee can really taste the difference.

The other important aspect of our coffee bar is that there aren’t many people in the area who are doing what we’re doing with specialty drinks. From lavender to rosemary and infusions of honeysuckle, we are doing some really fun things with our drink specials! They change regularly (and seasonally) so make sure you stop in from time to time to see what’s new!

DD – For those not familiar with Intelligentsia, please tell us about them.
– Intelligentsia is another popular direct trade coffee roaster in the country, like Counter Culture Coffee. This means they have a direct relationship with the farmers around the world who provide their coffee beans. Not only that but they are happy to pay more money where they see fit for quality coffee: if it has an excellent sustainable program or support for its workers on the farm, or if it has been an award-winning product in the past. Both CCC and Intelly see eye to eye when paying their respects to the farms who are willing to put in the extra effort.

DD – How do you highlight the coffee bar so customers know it’s not just a Bakery?
– The coffee bar is easily visible as soon as you walk in the door. The coffee menu is just as large as our lunch/brunch menus and we at Scratch will ask every time if the customer would like something from the drink menu. We are primarily a bakery, but our coffee has a large role with our clientele and the potential for even more.

DD – What do you see for the future of the coffee bar?
– We have had a few on-site classes for customers regarding coffee including how to brew coffee with the pour over method and the basics of how to pour latte art – as well as a few classes on how to make excellent pies. They have been well received but I see these classes becoming larger and more diverse with the lessons taught in the future. Our store is somewhat tucked away downtown which means we still have Durhamites coming in for the first time and realizing what great coffee they’ve been missing out on. So I am noticing our coffee business continuing to grow, which is exciting.

We have offered single-origin coffees from around the world for a few months now and we brew them to order so if you haven’ had one yet, I strongly urge everyone to try it. Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised to find a cup of coffee that changes how you experience a morning’s jolt.
I hope to finally visit Scratch and try my first Intelli coffee with something sweet, soon. Learn more about Scratch and their coffee bar on their blog. Follow them on Twitter @ScratchCoffee

Tue – Fri: 7:30 am – 4:00 pm
Sat – Sun: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
111 Orange St. Durham, NC 27701

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Jennifer has been in the coffee industry since 2003. She started Daily Demitasse to educate and share her experience with other passionate coffee enthusiasts, from a Barista, Cafe Manager, shop Owner and freelancer perspective. When she's not working or blogging, you can find her at Transpire Life.

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