The Chef & The Barista


Some friends just opened a coffee shop not far from my house, so I’ve been trying to support/loiter as much as possible in recent days. The place looks spectacular, the coffee tastes wonderful and I can still get a considerable level of work done in such a friendly (both for my social life and laptop) environment. But there’s something at work today that’s inspiring on an entirely different level.

One thing to know about the coffee shop is that they pride themselves to the highest degree on the quality. I don’t mean using good coffee, because that’s a given. I mean, it’s making sure to pour latte art with every drink. They constantly test the quality of their own product through cupping and use chemic sets and other coffee nerdery to make this an exact science. From content to execution, it’s watching true masters at work and the awards speak for themselves, as a few of the baristas have finished in the Top 10 nationally a few times.

So back to my inspiring day. A culinary school is next door to the coffee shop, and today a mustachioed man is standing in front of me talking to the head barista here. They’re trading “shop talk” if you will about their craft. The man’s barbecue was apparently the substance of lunch, and everyone’s buzzing about the recipe. He’s been telling his secrets for the last four or five minutes, describing the smoker, the sauce, the timing. Then the chef wants to know about the coffee, so the barista fires back – the exact temperature, the acidity, the timing.

I realize I’m watching two artists describe their work. It’s like overhearing a conversation in an art gallery or at a music festival. Here, these men are taking such pride in the work of their hands and it’s to the point where others can notice, others can tell a difference between what others around them offer and what happens when they are at the helm. And sitting here trying to write, it’s a reminder to me that my deepest desire is not to churn out yet another article, but to somehow inhabit it at a level that others take notice.

Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.


  1. Kim

    Reminds me of one of my favorite Annie Dillard quotes, from The Writing Life:

    “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

    That this holds true regardless of whether the astonishment is expressed in coffee or cooking or music or the written word or a painting is a fantastic example of the breadth of our God’s creativity. How amazing that we can praise him by turning his gifts into a perfect cup of coffee!

  2. codyvilla

    As an artist, I appreciate the lens through which you see the ordinary. As a Barista, I’m curious about the name of the coffeeshop.

  3. Jesse D

    “Nerdery” is a Tommy Boy term, isn’t it?

    I’m reading a compliation of Wendell Berry essays, The Art of the Commonplace, and in the essay I’m currently reading he talks about the lost concept of “vocation,” or the idea that your work is a calling, and not just the way you pay your bills. What you describe here, Matt, between these two people, is that sense of vocation: they take pride in what they do and elevate their work to an art form. They’re not just making food, but they’re bettering their own lives through doing excellent work and sharing it with others.

  4. Matt J.

    With cooking a coffee, I’ve heard a lot of conversations that sound more like two scientists than two artists. Much less so with music.

  5. Kyle Keating

    Ok Matt, so you might appreciate this.

    I’m sitting in Vecinos coffee shop in Muncie, Indiana, reading the Rabbit Room blog. I see this interesting post about a new coffee shop and latte art, thinking, yeah I love those kind of places. Then I’m thinking about how Vecinos is a lot like the place you are talking about. But I still don’t make the connection–even with the culinary school bit.

    Finally I ask my buddy across from me if he knows a guy name Matt Conner. Indeed he does. And finally it all clicks and I realize I’ve been sitting in the coffee shop that the blog is about unawares. Amazing.

  6. Matt Conner

    Kyle – That’s pretty incredible! Who was your friend who knew me? And yes, that’s a small world 🙂

  7. Kyle Keating

    Eric Mowery…formerly a MAC guy. He said he knew you from your MAC days…
    I’m on staff with campus crusade at Ball State. Had no idea I had a rabbit room blogger in my backyard :-).

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