MCP#014 STEVE CUEVAS
NAME: Steve Cuevas
YEARS ROASTING: 2 Years
COMPANY: Black Oak Coffee Roasters, Ukiah, CA
Accomplishment. Growth. Achievement. All these words, in some way, imply the passage of time. You worked hard and got to the finish line. You were better today than you were yesterday. You are becoming the person you’ve always wanted to become.
It’s not that Steve Cuevas hasn’t accomplished a lot—our featured April roaster has a list of accolades we can barely keep up with—but it’s that time isn’t something Steve really registers. “Time is not something I track. Just recently I was asked how old am I, I answered ‘32.’ My friend said, ‘No way I remember you telling me that two years ago!’ I thought about it for a second and then said ‘Oh…uhhh…I don't know!’ I'm 34 (with the help of google!). When I tell my story I'm never sure of when things happen.”
Steve is the person who time seems not to touch. “Seeing everyone running around like they have the must urgent task to accomplish, while I tried finding dogs to play with at parks,” is somehow the most apt description of him, and he describes himself as a person for whom life cannot be measured or quantified in any way. “My life has been filled to the brim with great memories I don't remember, and experiences I can’t think of, but I appreciate them all because they make me who I am. It's complicated but life is meant to be lived and not measured or compared.”
As free spirited as Steve is, he is also tenacious, determined, and obsessed with coffee. After moving to Treasure Island, a small man-made island in between Oakland and San Francisco, Steve worked in a café in the Financial District before ending up in a café in San Leandro where he fawned over espresso machines and tried to learn as much as he could about coffee. “A friend at the time started to take over the roasting for the shop so I would sit off to the side taking notes, for no real reason. I was just a baby barista, but I wanted to know how it all worked. I started my ‘career path’ with one simple question: "1 ounce? By volume or by weight?"
Steve has been working in coffee for over 16 years, and back when he started, there wasn’t a ton of information to answer his questions. “In the early 2000's I didn't know if there was a BGA or SCA. I would pull shot after shot after shot, day after day, trying to figure out if espresso can taste good. 16+ years later I know the answer is…it's complicated!”
In between coffee jobs, bouncing back and forth from the Bay Area, Steve worked in bike stores, learned carpentry, picked up landscaping, and spent a year living on a beach in Northern California. As Steve describes his life, these memories sort of blend together—he guesses on how long they were for and when they happened—but coffee is a constant presence. At some point, during one of these odd jobs, Steve traveled “north” to a café called Black Oak Coffee Roasters and was determined to get a job there. “I knew I had to work at Black Oak, they roasted their own coffee, and I know there was no real competition, so I knew I would be able to start roasting for them, and maybe help them reach into the SF coffee scene.”
At this point (which point? Who knows) Steve was mostly interested in espresso. After learning about the SCA Expo, he bought a ticket, and was a porter at the US Barista Championships, and self-funded most of his barista education. “So how did I get started roasting?” he asks “I just kept asking Jon [owner of Black Oak Coffee Roasters] questions about coffee, even if I already knew the answer, I knew that it would show I was interested. Then I asked, ‘How do you sample roast?’ I was asked if I wanted to learn, but I'd have to do it on my own time.”
Steve threw himself into roasting, and is now the head roaster for Black Oak in Ukiah, Calif. Steve is relentless in the pursuit of excellence, and has entered himself in almost every barista, brewers, and roasting competition there is, winning the U.S. Cup Tasters Competition in 2017. He’s won medals from established competitions such as Golden Bean North America and the Good Food Awards, but also casual competitions like the Bay Area Roaster Friends competition, where roasters came together to share their interpretation of a single coffee, to a Roasters Guild Retreat competition with his team. Steve is no accidental roaster—time and again he’s shown that he can roast and taste coffee in a number of situations. His talent is clear. This coffee he’s roasting, a washed Ethiopian coffee sourced by Royal, is going to be amazing.
You’ll see Steve at the 2018 Cup Tasters Competition, defending his title but also wishing others good luck. “I don't know what's gonna happen, but I do know I'll be surrounded by the community of people I love, look up to.” If you see him, go up to him, say hi, ask a question, share your passion. Steve is the first to admit how much the coffee community has shaped his journey, and is eager to do the same for others. For right now, you can try this coffee and be part of this experience with him—he might need a refresher that he participated in the Matchbook Coffee Project, but Steve doesn’t do things that don’t bring him joy. We guarantee this coffee will bring you joy.