Who: Matt Cronin
What: Coffee roaster (aka Roastmaster) and musician
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: In his roasting warehouse with burlap sacks of beans against the wall and amazing smells all around
Q: Why do you think we sniff when someone tells us that something smells bad?
A: You know, it does seem kind of counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s some sort of primal response. If the bad smelling item was some type of threat you’d want to identify it for the future.
Really, though, I think it’s just curiosity. If there’s a suggestion that there’s a smell, you’re going to smell it.
I had a friend who used to enjoy taking his shoe and saying, “Oh, this is gross,” and then stick his shoe right in your face to see if he could goad you into smelling it. I’m sure I fell for that at least once. This was in college of course, when you do things like that.
Q: When do you know something is right?
A: I’m not sure I ever know when something is right. If something were right I would quit pushing.
In terms of coffee, there is a magic thing that happens when you are roasting it. There are certain profiles I try to adhere to when I am roasting a specific bean, but sometimes when you really hit one right you know it by the smell. It always smells like coffee, but there are times when you really really nail it, and all the different elements in the coffee come together.
In that sense, I then know when something is right.
I’ve been in the coffee business for about 13 years now, so I have developed a keen sense of balance when it comes to taste. Acidity, mouth feel, and those types of things have developed due to my experience with coffee, but I don’t necessarily have a super sense when it comes to smell or taste, but there are some scents that let you know you’ve done it right.
In my sampling process when I cup coffees or if I’m adjusting a roast profile, I’m never entirely happy because it could always be better. I get it as close to right as possible, and I’m happy that there’s room for improvement.
Q: What’s the best surprise you’ve ever gotten?
A: I feel like I have to dig into the recesses for that one. Can we come back to that one?
Q: What animal just doesn’t understand you?
A: I get along with most animals. I like dogs. I really like turtles. I’m trying to think of an example of a really agro animal. I’m not much of a predator.
You know, maybe a howler monkey. They just need to exist in their environment just a bit more peacefully. They’re really loud, and I don’t get why they can’t be just a bit quieter.
Q: Okay, so what’s the best surprise you ever gotten?
A: Probably you coming back with that question so soon.
Q: What would you want to create with leftover coffee beans?
A: I imagine I could make a pretty decent set of maracas with all these leftover coffee beans. Green beans versus roasted beans – you could get some different tonalities out of those.
It’s great because it’s not just beans that get discarded or leftover from the roasting. I will sift through the beans after they’ve been cooled, and sometimes there’s popcorn in the beans. A corn kernel was in the mix, got heated up, and popped in the process. So there’s always some surprises in there.
The boring answer is that I could make great compost. One of the byproducts of roasting is the layer of mucilage that is stripped off and leftover during the roasting process, and that makes great compost.
That’s not necessarily an art project, but it’s a creative project.
Q: What are important decisions in life?
A: I tend to live life a little bit more passively than others. I commit myself to the activities and projects that I do, and then I kind of just take what comes. I try to steer myself in the right direction, but I don’t really think of life decisions in terms of sitting down and figuring out what I should be doing.
I go about my day and live in the moment of what I’m doing and move toward the right directions given the opportunities I’m afforded.
That might be being lazy. [Laughing].
It’s just that I’m a person with a lot of interests, and when I was younger I was somewhat paralyzed with these thoughts of what I was supposed to be doing and how I could find meaning in all of this.
At a certain point I stopped worrying about those kinds of things. You’re going to be alive either way, so I focus more on momentary aspects, and there’s always plenty of stuff that comes at me throughout the day.
Mind you, my spur of the moment decisions don’t always come out great, but I’m happy with where I’m at. I worry less because I don’t think too far ahead. That works for me.
Matt Cronin is the artistic mind behind the “green buying” and coffee selection at Mojo Coffee Roasters. He also is the master behind creating profiles to determine the best way to brew the bean. To taste his brews, head over to Mojo Coffee House (1500 Magazine or 4700 Freret St.) or online at mojocoffeeroasters.com.