In this blog series, we offer you behind-the-scenes glimpses of our team members and the many unique viewpoints and experiences they bring to our company, our coffee, and the Kaldi’s Coffee community.
This month, we sat down with Jacob Simorka, one of our dedicated coffee roasters that also has a long background in hospitality and cafe service.
You can also watch our video interview with Jake here!
Jake started at Kaldi’s Coffee in Kirkwood in 2013, while studying nearby at St. Louis Community College. He’d been working at Steak and Shake, but was looking for a change. He heard about Kaldi’s Coffee from a friend who was a barista there and applied. Jake got the call on his 20th birthday, while on vacation, and started in the back of the house, working as a cook, before hearing the siren song of coffee. By 2015, he was working shifts in the front of house, having passed through our barista apprenticeship program.
After months of working as a barista, Jake completed the next step in our training program, becoming a certified barista. This armed him with a degree of coffee knowledge which included the abilities to identify coffee origins by taste, to recognize defects in coffee preparations, to open the cafe while dialing in the espresso machine to taste and parameters set by quality control measures, and more.
Six months after certification, life took him to New York City. Arriving without a plan, he immediately applied for coffee jobs, landing at Lula Bean Cafe near his home in Brooklyn. Happy to be back in a cafe, but let down by the lack of specialty coffee and missing the attention to detail it requires, Jake soon discovered that he had neighbors who were more his speed. He befriended a few Blue Bottle baristas who lived down the street and started to keep his ear out for openings at their cafe in Brooklyn.
Soon, a position came open and Jake was hired at the Williamsburg Blue Bottle, a cafe/roastery hybrid where advanced coffee knowledge was only steps away from the espresso machine. He worked closely with the lead barista there and became good friends with the roasters, the quality control team, and all of the bakers, joining them for cuppings whenever possible. “I’m not the best at doing my own research; I’m more hands on. So I’d always go to people who knew more than me and have them help me out.”
With such great resources as part of his daily cafe routine, his knowledge blossomed.
In 2017, Jake returned to Saint Louis, knowing exactly what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be; he spent his first few months getting back in the Kaldi’s groove at Citygarden, then helped out at our busiest cafe in the MCC, but missed his days surrounded by the work of a roastery.
When a position opened up at our Roastery on our production line, Jake quickly applied and started, joining the 5lb and 12oz packing lines. He then spent 3 months learning how the rest of our warehouse works with our Allied team, which runs shipping and logistics for all the products we sell, store, and ship.
Working on the production and Allied teams put him side-by-side with the roasters again, just like he’d been at Blue Bottle. “I always made it known what I wanted to be doing, what my goals were. I would remind myself just by talking with other people around me, helping me constantly move forward on those things. It doesn’t have to go fast, but you should always have that in your mind, where you want to go.”
In 2018, Jake began training to roast coffee, with the roasting team of Bud, Andrew, and David providing hands-on coaching and feedback. Jake learned how to open the Roastery, as the early shift fires up all the machines, warming them to temperatures that are stable for the day’s work, continued his disciplined cupping, and began roasting the coffee that makes its way to your cup. Quality control became a main focus as well, and today Jake performs the quality control on our espressos every week, sending his notes out to our cafes’ lead baristas so you can enjoy the same great espresso drinks across our several locations.
With Jake’s steady hand on the roaster’s controls, combined with his unerring desire to expand his already formidable coffee knowledge, you know your coffee is being roasted with care and attention daily. Whether running quality control tests in our training center, cupping coffee with the roasting team in our cupping room, or rocking out while roasting, his career continues to embody our values of passion, continual improvement, and fun.
Learn how Jake became a popular gif by watching his interview on Youtube!
Q & A with Jake Simorka
What’s your favorite coffee?
My favorite coffee that we have right now is honestly the new Brazil, because it’s not super-naturally. It has a little funk to it with some stone-fruits, but It’s still nutty like a Brazil. Single origin Brazil’s are fun, and pretty new to me; I’ve only seen them appear over the past few years.
What’s your go-to drink?
My favorite drink in the cafe has changed over the years. When I worked in the kitchen, I’d drink iced mochas. Still delicious: it’s chocolate milk with espresso! Then I became snobby and only drank black coffee, then I got over myself and drank 8oz lattes. Now I usually drink a cup of coffee and a shot of espresso. If I want to treat myself, I’ll have a gibraltar.
If you could only drink coffee from one origin, what would it be?
I love Sumatras, but I could not drink Sumatras forever. If I had to pick my favorite region, I’d go with Colombia. They have such a wide gamut of coffees - they’ve got everything from sessionable, simple coffees to wacky naturals.
What’s your favorite coffee processing method?
My favorite processing technique is probably washed coffee. Natural and honey-processed coffees are very very interesting, but I think it often uniforms the coffees too much and they can wear out the palate.
My favorite season is a little basic, but I love fall. It’s great for hiking.
What are your hobbies?
I love hiking and riding bikes, but I want to start fly-fishing. I’ve been fishing most of my life, but I want to try something more active and different, so I’m going to start fly-fishing.
My favorite meal is fried chicken. It’s so dang good. I’ll only be able to eat it for a few more years, so I’m going to eat as much as I can while I still can.
What’s your dream job?
My dream life would be to own my own general store/cafe and live above it.