MCP #001: Jamie Smith

Jamie Smith is a badass. There’s sort of no other way to describe her. You could say things like she’s talented (which she is) or that she’s a blast to hang out with (she is) or that she’s reliable to a fault (she’ll be there if she’s says she’s gonna be there, damn), but all those descriptors don’t feel like enough. To speak about her is to share a crazy story or a meaningful experience. Initially thinking she was quiet and reserved, one of my first
memories is cupping alongside her and a table of coffees she roasted, and after tasting one of the samples, she threw her spoon on the table and yelled, “NAILED IT!”

Obviously, it was incredible.

Jamie is the Head Roaster at Sightglass Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, and it was no question that she had to be the kick off roaster for Matchbook Coffee Project. Everything she roasts tastes like unicorn dust, she has more records than almost anyone we know, and perhaps in no one else is the intersection of coffee and music as powerful. Over a few Buds and heavy metal tunes, Jamie and I talked about how she got started in coffee, how music has been a part of her life, and she speculates on why she would even be picked as the first roaster for this project. Because of course not only is she fucking incredible, but she’s humble to boot.

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Ashley: Jamie, let’s start with the age-old question: how did you get into coffee?

Jamie: I was living just outside of Sacramento and dating a boy who lived hours away from me. I had no car, we had no money, and it was absolute torture. I turned eighteen, packed up a van, and moved to the Bay Area as quickly as I could. I quit my job without anything else
lined up, had about $500 to my name, and to the dismay of my father moved into a living room in Walnut Creek, California. Needless to say, it did cross my mind a couple of times that perhaps I had made mistake. However, that “mistake” led me to a career in coffee and for that I am forever grateful. I
started working at Peet’s Coffee and Tea after the fella I was dating at the time referred me and the rest is sort of history. The coffee nerd in me had yet to blossom! After working there for a few years, I went on to work at Ritual. Oh man, I wanted to work there so fucking badly. Ritual was my first specialty coffee experience and I remember going into the Valencia Cafe for the first time and thinking, “I’m going to work here, I’ve got to work here.” A few months, one friend, and a (punishingly)long interview later, much to my surprise, they offered me a job. Also, in case you’re wondering, no, it didn’t work out with said dude. However, he’s a great guy and if you’re reading this Matt, Hey! Congrats on that baby boy! He’s real cute.

A: What do you think it is about you that makes you good at roasting?

J: I’ve always been into the behind the scenes aspect of how things are created: music, films, coffee, whatever. When I was growing up in my local music scene I was more interested in taking pictures, booking shows, creating flyers, running merch booths, etc…The deeper I dove into coffee the more I realized that, in a certain respect, the same sort of things interested me. The hands and blocks that work together to build a final product. When it comes to coffee and being a roaster, the aspect I love the most is learning and creating a relationship with a given coffee—the same way I feel about listening to a new band or record. Some coffee has a relatively wide spectrum where is tastes great and you can count on it being a solid brew every single time. On the other hand, there are those finicky coffees that take a certain amount of patience. You’ve got to get to know it, understand its faults, and find a way to reveal its greatest attributes. Find the gold! I guess what I’m trying to say is in this incredibly fucking long winded way, like how your dad tells a story, is this: I build a personal relationship with all the coffee I roast and I really pride myself
on that.

A: Is that why you chose the coffee you’re using for this project, Colombia Buesaco Nariño Elvia Irene Burbano?

J: Well for one, I've always loved Colombian coffee, I'd even go as far as to say they are my favorite. When Dani approached me with this project I knew that's where I wanted to start; thankfully for me, it was the perfect time of year to swoop some up! Whenever I'm cupping, I'm always quietly checking off boxes in my head: 1.) Is it clean? 2.) Is it sweet? 3.) Is it interesting ? 4.) Is it approachable and then I typically move on from there. In my years in coffee I've always found that Colombian coffees seem to check all my boxes. Also, from a roasting stand point- they're fun as fuck to roast. They have such a wide margin for what tastes good and it's one of my favorite things in the world pin point the perfect.
I found exactly what I was looking for in Elvia Irene--I wanted a coffee that I could serve to industry folk but also to your dad, your cousin who thinks they know everything about coffee, and everyone else in-between. I think it is so important to have a menu curated with coffees that can reach a wide range of palates so when choosing just one, having it be approachable was the most important thing to me.  Elvia Irene exceptionally clean, with a subtle sweetness, and brilliant complexity. Its so lovely, I'd def take it on a second date. Also, as a women being able to highlight a phenomenal female producer is fucking rad. Makes my g damn heart swell.

A: Dani and Izzy are also pretty stoked on you. Why do you think they picked you first?

J: I have no fucking clue! I know Dani outside of coffee and prior to this project I had only met Izzy briefly once or twice. However, regardless of why they chose me, when Dani approached me about this project I was totally on board. I mean you get to create a one-off coffee brand of whatever you see fit….AND the project is modeled on a record label? Relevant to my interests. Sign me up.

A: Are records important to you? This is a dumb question because I know the answer is yes.

J: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve been known to buy a record or two. But I’ve always been an unintentional collector. I collect beer koozies and I sort of don’t mean to. I have a fairly large collection of books. And plants. All coupled with a guilt of not giving any of them away….Wait. Am I hoarder?! Shiiiiiiiiit.

But yes, music has always been a huge part of my life. I inherited much of my record collection from my parents, and it’s definitely something I find to be a definitive part of my character. It keeps me connected with my past and my parents who both have passed on. I can put on my father’s Led Zeppelin III (specifically the song ‘Tangerine’) on and vividly remember waking up to that record blaring out the windows of his 70’s Datsun pick up while camping deep in the Sierras. Now that I’m all grown up, records, nostalgia, those connections to blips in time are absolutely priceless to me.
This is also where my obsession with Stevie Nicks started (Thanks, Mom!). I’m pretty sure I knew the words to Rumors before I knew my ABC’s. I actually named my Matchbook project after a chorus line in a Stevie Nicks song. Yeah, I know, nobody’s surprised. The song is called ‘Sorcerer’ if you feel so inclined…

A: Do you play any musical instruments?

J: I’ve tried, so many times, to be musically inclined. But I’m not. I’m constantly air drumming, especially at shows, and I can’t even keep a beat with my hands in the air. If you know what’s good for ya, you’ll never let me near a drum kit. Also, maybe don’t stand next to me at shows, I’ve been told it’s embarrassing.

A: What records would you save if you had to?

J: You’re asking a record collector to pick which of their babies they would save?! (long silence). Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever is such a beautiful album and I looked for it for so long…..

A: So you’d save that and?

J: No, I didn’t say that’d be on my list! (another long silence) Maybe it would. My copy of Rumors by Fleetwood Mac because that belonged to my Ma. Time of Grace by Neurosis. And the Attack in Black Footprints EP because it took me YEARS to find that bad boy. All of my Electric Wizard records? Hot Snakes? My 68’ pressing of Otis Redding ‘ Dock Of The Bay’? I hate this question.

A: What sort of music do you normally listen to?

J: It depends on my feels that day I guess. My record collection and taste in music is all over the place. The Promise Ring, Joe Walsh, OM, and Waylon Jennings could all be spinning in the same hour. Lately I’ve been really into Jim Croce and a composer by the name of Johan Johansen.

A: As part of this project, not only do you get to roast coffee, but you get to design your label and name your coffee. Tell us about that.

J: One of my good buddies, Bo, is an awesome artist and I love all of his work. He’s got a good vibe and a big heart—I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to do it. We met up for a beer and I basically just asked him, ‘Yo, can you make me a label? Not too serious. Maybe put a druid in there? A Crystal? Natureish vibe. Jamie stuff.’ and well, he did. I’m smitten with what he came up with. Thanks, Bo! You may or may not find a beer koozie in one of those boxes too, with a similar design.

A: What do you want people to feel when they drink your coffee?

J: A cool breeze washing over their bodies, carrying with it all their fears and woes. The only feeling to be left behind? Bliss. Juuuuuust kidding. To be honest, happiness. If even one person drinks a cup of my coffee and it brings a smile to their face, I’ll take it. Coffee is truly a labor of love. So many hands work tirelessly to get you a cup of that tasty brew and if anything, take a moment to acknowledge that. The cup of coffee you’re consuming was created purely for your enjoyment. So enjoy it, dude!

Tip your barista.