Jessica Caisse began her life in coffee in a small and quiet way, working behind the bar of a tiny café up in Napa. The way she tells it, the gig was boring. Boring, but seminal for one reason. It was unusual for a small café to be roasting its own, and more unusual to have a woman doing it. But then again, Jessica Caisse is an unusual kind of person.
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Despite nearly a decade of ardent learning, she rounds out the edges of her expertise with affable modesty. After the roasting stint sparked her love affair with coffee, she jumped up the coast to Portland where coffee nerdom was reaching fever pitch. She collected skills, gleaned knowledge, and dove into critical conversations around everything from sourcing to extraction. After a while, Caisse trickled back down to Oakland, hopped around some notable cafés, and landed where she is now -- managing the coffee program at Duende. Somewhere in the middle though, the itch for more autonomy began to grow. She dreamt of working for herself, and in the back of her mind, plans began to shape themselves.
The three-year-old dream is nearly complete now, as a roving coffee truck dubbed Eureka! Coffee. The truck is a charming, rugged but restored artifact of PG&E, dug up after a long, patient "safari through Craigslist," cleaned out and refit with the help of a few handy friends.
"For a moment, we thought it would be fun to have a coffee ambulance, and even tried one out. Or an Econovan. In the end, this just worked," says Caisse. Now, all it needs is to get Kickstarted onto the road.
The coffee industry is evolving fast, and new brewing technology gets picked up like wildfire. But, that's one of the delightful things about Caisse, she's seemingly immune to the allure of high-gloss gadgetry while equally keen on brewing a product of extraordinary culinary merit. She won't rattle on about extraction rates or the upsides of siphons and light roasts while she's brewing your cup. No, she'll just tell you a love story about her favorite food.
She speaks about roasting the way a chef talks about Kobe beef, and even compares it to meat. "The reason why you should care about the way your coffee is roasted is the same reason you care about the way your meat is cooked. Coffee is a food, and most people don't think of it that way."
Caisse has a refreshing preference for simplicity, too. Ask her for the model numbers of her equipment, and she'll say "simple stuff that feels good to me." It's a sensibility derived from her background as a photographer.
"In photography, I learned how much is dependent on your comfort level with the equipment. I'm not here to introduce people to the coolest new gadget or the hippest thing. This place is a reflection of my experience and the really sincere pleasure I find in making coffee, of taking something people have a connection with and making it even more special," says Caisse. There's tenderness in her voice when she talks about it.
She'll likely be using Verve coffee, tapping her existing relationship with the Santa Cruz company. Initially, the truck will begin as a commissioned catering venture, based mostly in less inundated Northern spots like Napa.
"There is a lot of work to be done in Napa, and so much opportunity for innovation in coffee," says Caisse.
The Kickstarter is almost 70% complete. The funds will go towards start-up costs including permits, product, and equipment.
(If you're in the giving mood, don't forget about Andytown's campaign, which is about halfway to its goal of opening in the Outer Sunset.)
For the most convincing reason to contribute to Eureka!, get on over to Duende for a cup brewed by Caisse herself.