john Calabria

9 Questions With Patrick of Gracenote Coffee

Patrick serving up the Espresso at the Harvard Farmers Market

I just love to be around people who are living their passion. There’s just something about that balance of strength, conviction and smarts, with a healthy dose of love and surrender that feels good to be around, and inspires me to keep going.

Today I start a new series of posts, Nine Questions With People of Passion. And to kick it off… I have the pleasure of introducing you to Patrick, he’s got the right stuff. The smarts, the love, and the conviction to make a go of it.

When I talked with him last I called him the Walter White of Coffee. He didn’t get the reference… and for that, I love him that much more. And, if you don’t get it, good for you too!

So Patrick, why Coffee?

Patrick: I don’t mean to sound trite or dismissive, but the most direct and honest answer I can give is “why not coffee?”. 

To go a little deeper into that answer would be to say that I really, truly feel that anything can be worth doing at an exceptional level of focus and achievement; and that I’m doing coffee because that’s what I happen to be doing. 

 BUT! But, the further into coffee I get, the more I see that coffee is a special place to be doing stuff. Coffee touches A LOT of people in their times of need.

For the consumer, it’s at 5:45AM when they’re turning the lights on – literally and figuratively. For the farmers, coffee means food on the table and education for their kids and communities.

Coffee is also amazingly complex in its flavor and it needs to walk a razor’s edge from farm through roasting and brewing in order to be the best it can be.

John: Most see the small picture, some can see the big picture, Few can see both. You certainly have that zoom-lens perspective. What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve transcended?

Patrick: Fear. It’s a huge obstacle for getting anything done–or even started. When I finally noticed that the biggest anchor I was towing was my fear of whatever – be it failure, success, embarrassment, complication, the unknown, etc. – and I was able to haul up anchor and start moving. It became more evident that the fear anchor wasn’t really useful. To extend the sailing metaphor, the winds and currents have been either benevolent or valuable teachers.

 John: Fear is a powerful force, but so is intelligently stepping into it. Easier said than done right? On my path, I’ve found that often times when people would tell me I was making a crazy decision, that I was on the right track. What would you say is your favorite part of the Coffee process?

 Patrick: That’s a hard one. There’s so much I like about the process. The most demanding – and therefore most interesting – part seems to be cupping. Cupping is a formal method of sensory evaluation for coffee. By brewing and tasting the coffee in a very specific way, aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, and balance are all individually scored and then considered as a whole. 

 This is the process I use to make sure things are always improving. It’s a process that relies on being present and paying attention to my senses, and when I’m not focused, it can be very frustrating. When I’m 100% there, magic happens and I feel like a superhero. 

 John:  Ah, how about Captain Arabica? sounds better than Walter White of Coffee. So, Roasting seems to me, a blend of process and art. So, how did this journey begin for you and Claire?

 Patrick: In 2012, Jen Sundeen–the perennial builder of communities and bringer-togetherer of people–asked Claire (my partner) and I to be a coffee vendor at the Harvard Farmer’s Market. We’d been roasting in our kitchen for years and were both enthusiasts, but had one month of coffee industry experience between us. I was reluctant, but Claire was insistent. 

 We ended up deciding to try it and built a really funky roaster out of a gas BBQ grill and a noisy rotating coffee drum inside. It got us through the summer, and the response to our coffee and our enthusiasm was remarkable. 

 That winter, we decided to invest in a commercial roaster and change our name from Prince Albert Coffee (which turned out to be a remarkably poor choice for a business name) to Gracenote Coffee Roasters. 

John: Jen sure has created a great Farmers Market, and you’ve sure come a long way since the BBQ grill! Gracenote is a great name! and a good move for sure. Where did that come from?

Patrick: The name Gracenote probably showed up because of my background in music. A gracenote is roughly defined as an ornamental musical note that’s quieter than – and supportive to – a regular note.

The analogy in coffee is great because it’s really close to what can be so great about excellent coffee. Yeah, it all taste like coffee, but there are so many little notes – blueberry, floral, cocoa, lime, bergamot tea, etc etc etc, that can show up and illuminate what would otherwise be a pretty plain cup of coffee.

These notes come from how and where the coffee was grown, processed, and is then either highlighted or erased by the roast.

 John: There are lots of grace notes in Yoga as well. Can you tell us about your musical background–drums right?

 Patrick: Yeah. I studied Jazz drumset performance at a music conservatory in Ohio as an undergraduate, and then studied Digital Musics at Dartmouth where Claire and I met. Music, for a long time, was my creative expression. Now, it’s coffee. 

 John: Your partner Claire is totally into Yoga and biking, and so much more I’m sure, but what about you, do you ever unroll a mat and join her?

 P: Yoga. Awesome. It’s coming, but I haven’t caught the wave yet. The few classes I’ve taken are ones I remember as really positive and energizing. However, coffee feels like a form of Yoga for me.

The practice of roasting and cupping coffee is repetitive and the adjustments are subtle; and like the little physical Yoga I’ve done, it’s a compelling opportunity to go deeper – or bail out and start again if needed. If I’m trying to go deeper all the time, that’s Yoga, right? 

 John: Yes, absolutely, if you mean growing deeper inward. Your roasting and cupping are surely meditations. Looking ahead, will Gracenote to stay a home-based business, or are there expansion dreams in your future? I can so imagine a Gracenote Cafe…

Patrick: That’s a really interesting question. Gracenote started from the smallest viable seed, and because of that – and it’s organic growth–it has been able to live up to this point in a residential setting. I’m still not sure what it’s going to become, but I suppose Gracenote could become a Bonsai and stay small while still continuing to mature – but that would require a lot of continuous trimming and shaping.

  I’m hoping that as soon as the right space and time show up, Gracenote will move out and start to fill a more appropriate and grounded space. A cafe or combination cafe/roastery are ideas that I’d enjoy working with. 

 There’s a lot of “let’s see what happens” built into the plan for Gracenote. That type of flexibility and freedom from unnecessary demands seems to allow enough space for opportunity to offer her hand in unexpected ways.  

 John: Interesting, I love the reference to seeds, the bonsai, patience, things unfolding in their own time. Yep, we’ll claim you as a Yogi. This has been awesome Patrick, thanks so much for taking the time with me. 

 I’m sure you’re anxious to get back to your beans, but one last question, What advice would you offer to an aspiring entrepreneur wanting to bring their interest into a livelihood? 

Patrick: There’s a beautiful balance somewhere between letting things happen and making things happen. 

 John: So there you have it, Patrick of Gracenote Coffee, spilling the beans of stepping into his passion of Coffee Roasting. We’ll soon be raffling off two bags of his best roast, each class you take is an entry. but, if you can’t wait to win the raffle: 

You can purchase Gracenote Coffee at the Harvard General Store, and online at www.gracenotecoffee.com He’ll be brewing at the Harvard Farmers Market tomorrow, stop by and say hello. Oh, and please share or like using the buttons below, or email to a friend who loves coffee, Let’s help Patrick go from Micro to Mini.

P.S. This Sunday We’ve got Rachel playing Live Cello music for our Sunday 9am peaceful Yoga class in West Concord. The last live music event before we move the studio to 135 Comm Ave in West Concord on Nov 15th. Thanks -j

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    If you know someone who’s living their passion, or a life of service, please put me in touch. I hear from many people who want to change their livelihood. Stories like Patricks can inspire us to step into it. thanks! -john

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