Meet The Maker
Caffe Vita has been a Seattle coffee landmark since 1995 and favorite at Metropolitan Market for just about as long. We sat down with Sam, Wade and Deming to learn a little bit more about what makes Caffe Vita so great!
Meet Deming Maclise, CEO of Caffe Vita.
When did you open your first Café in Seattle?
I opened my first cafe in Seattle in 2002, up in Sunset Hill, Caffe Fiore. I was super excited and scared as heck about it. It just kind of took off right from the beginning. I feel super lucky that a bunch of my customers from being a barista for so many years in Seattle showed up day one.
When did you take over Caffe Vita?
I took over Caffe Vita in January of 2020 and had a lot of excitement and ideas and then, you know, 2020 didn’t play out how everyone thought it would. Fortunately for us, we had an amazing crew that ended up showing up every single day and I was super inspired by the heart and soul that they put into this place. We ended up finding a lot of silver linings through 2020 and really set the table nicely for our momentum right now. It all went much better than I could have predicted based on the situation.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
I think the most satisfying part of my job is trying to create a place that people love to work. I was an employee for a long time and there were certain aspects of being an employee that could be great, and some parts that could be really bad. I felt like as an employee, if I wasn’t working for someone that trusted and heard me, I ended up really not liking my job. So I do my best to try and bring an air of positivity, glass half full attitude, and want to hear everyone’s ideas. I bring ideas to the table and some of them can be good, but they’re usually elevated by having other people listen and offer their thoughts and the push and pull can really make the final idea even better. I really love that part of my job, the collaboration, and the idea of creating a place where people love their job.
What inspires your personal passion for coffee?
My passion really comes from where I started, which was behind the counter as a barista. Being part of that hub of a community and creating that communal feel around serving people really became something that I’m passionate about. I stepped away from coffee for just a little while to do some film stuff, and I was a musician that whole time. When I was away from coffee, I found that was the part I missed the most. So when I came back I really ended up focusing on that community and creating a hub for people to gather and discuss ideas, connect with each other. Feeling like you’re part of that congregation and energy is a super satisfying, fruitful feeling for me.
What is your favorite Vita blend?
I’m super boring with the favorite Vita blend because it’s really the Del Sol. When I came to Vita, I loved the coffee, but at the same time, I wanted to set up a situation where we’re always trying to elevate. Del Sol is our core blend, and bringing Sam Spillman on board and working with the roasters that are already here, like Wade, Nick, they have put a ton of time and energy into making Del Sol better and the tiny tweaks that they’ve made based on sourcing and the roast profiles and the way we’re putting it all together. It’s my favorite blend anywhere. I know it’s easy and I’m pretty biased, but I just love the Del Sol.
How does Vita’s effort to offer more single origin coffee fit into the grander Caffe Vita experience?
We want our blends to always fit the profile that satisfies the customers we’ve had for over 27 years. At the same time, with Sam on board, we just feel like we need to be exploring broader horizons in the coffee world. So spreading a wide net where we have some unique single origin offerings that explore different crops and countries we can bring interesting flavor profiles to our customers and broadens our horizons in general keeping us more relevant in the coffee community as a whole.
What’s in store for Caffe Vita in the next couple of years?
We’re streamlining and making all of our processes and operations extra efficient as we continue to build our momentum. Cafe wise, we have a couple on the horizon that we’re super excited about. We’re setting up a roasting operation in Phoenix right now. We’re going to be done with that in a couple of months. Overall, we’re going to continue expanding our roasting and single origin profiles. We’re putting a lot of energy into our training and service programs right now and we’re going to continue to expand those for our wholesale and our own cafes. So there’s a lot of momentum and great teamwork happening right now and it’s super fun.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs or business owners in coffee or just in general?
I would say my biggest piece of advice is to do your best, to take care of your people. Make sure you’re listening and providing a workplace that people are having fun at and that you’re bringing positivity and encouragement to the table. I’ve seen a lot of owners in small business take their employees for granted. I know that if the people I’m working with weren’t here, putting their heart and soul into it, then I can’t do anything. It is super important when you’re trying to start a thing and make it last to bring a positive attitude and alleviate as much drama as you can.
Thoughts on Metropolitan Market?
Metropolitan Market was a huge focus for me jumping in. I knew that we did a lot of business with Met Market and their CEO is so coffee focused and has so much great coffee experience. It’s been an amazing collaboration with Met Market. Their priority for coffee and excellence in that category matches so well with what we want to bring and what we’re hoping our wholesale accounts will bring to the table to represent us in the highest possible way. We couldn’t be happier about our relationship with Met Market. It’s a very unique, satisfying, and fruitful relationship.
Meet Sam Spillman, Director of Coffee at Caffe Vita and 2019 United States Barista Champion
How long have you been in coffee and how long have you been with Caffe Vita?
I’ve been in coffee for 12 years now, and I’ve been with Cafe Vita for about three.
How have Vita’s coffee offerings changed in your time here?
We did a cupping my first day at Cafe Vita. It was during the pandemic and the office was very quiet. We set up a cupping and we all were just like, oh my gosh, these coffees basically taste the same. So we’ve been working really hard to really identify a profile for each of our core blend offerings and then bring in some special surprises along the way with single origins.
Why should people try Caffe Vita’s single origin program? What’s the difference?
Our single origins are meant to trigger conversation. They’re meant to be different than the classic, the usual cup of Vita Coffee that most of our following has experienced at some point. I can understand why it could be challenging to try something new, but I assure you that this is an opportunity to taste a coffee that really showcases where it’s from, how it was grown, and the intentionality that was put into this small lot of coffee.
What inspires your passion for coffee?
As much as I like to nerd out about coffee and all the standards and the science behind it, the biggest thing that I’ve really fallen in love with and what has really kept me in this industry is the community of people.
What’s your preferred brew method?
I love espresso. I’m very lucky to have a espresso machine at home. On the weekends my husband and I make espresso together first thing in the morning. Really, he makes it and then I critique it and then it’s a whole conversation.
What should people look for when they’re drinking a cup of Del Sol versus a single origin?
Caffe Del Sol is going to be safe, balanced, and consistent. It’s showcasing a flavor profile that is milk chocolate and stone fruit. Whereas single origins are supposed to be something different. When you taste one of our single origins on Drip, it should be brighter and have a little more acidity, but still have that sweetness. Single origin has a very unique profile that I like to enjoy once a day in the afternoon versus cup after cup after cup.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
There’s so many people that work at Vita that I have grown to love and adore. Vita’s given me the opportunity to work and build relationships with different producers and importers and that’s why I love my job so much.
How do you keep your work-life balance?
Oh geez. Do I keep my work-life balance? That’s a real question. It’s a really hard thing when your work is your passion. Coffee is something that I’d be pursuing whether it was a career or just a hobby. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to pursue it in a career. I try to shut off all work electronics when I get home. I’m with my two dogs, my husband, probably playing video games, so when I do come back to work, I’m refreshed and ready to go.
How does Caffe Vita’s history fit into the wider history of Seattle Coffee?
In the states, the cafe concept started in Seattle and grew to the point that Seattle became known as THE Coffee City. Vita has been here for over 27 years, which is wild to think about, and has been a pioneer in the wider coffee culture of Seattle. Coffee is always changing, and the standard is always being pushed higher and higher and higher. Vita has done a very good job of constantly improving quality and service, staying at the forefront of the coffee industry.
What do you hope to see for the future of Vita?
I hope to see people take more interest in the single origins, not just for the taste, but also to dive into the story of where these coffees are coming from and who is putting all this detailed work into them. I hope a year from now that we’re selling and promoting even more single origins than we are now. When I started we released one single origin a quarter. Now we’re releasing one every single month. It’s been fun to see it grow, but I want it to go even more. I just wanna share these incredible coffees with the rest of the world.
What’s special about the Rose Gold single origin?
This is the second year that we sourced Rose Gold from this co-op, La Bendición. This coffee is special because it has a little fruitier profile than what you would get from a classic Nicaragua profile. A lot of that has to do with the processing the fruit before it is removed off the seed. That introduced a lot more acidity into the coffee showcasing itself as these fruity flavors.
Meet Wade McIntyre, Head Roaster at Caffe Vita
How long have you been with Caffe Vita?
Almost 22 years.
What’s the most satisfying thing about your job at Vita?
The most satisfying thing is after a shift of roasting coffee, the place smells amazing, and there is all the work you did all day being bagging up and you see all your hard work coming to fruition. It’s a beautiful thing.
Why is maintaining consistency in coffee roasting important?
We don’t have a climate controlled roasting facility and we have ever-changing weather conditions in Seattle. So we have to be spot on all the time. Consistency is the measurement of our professionalism and we take it seriously at Caffe Vita.
How have Caffe Vita’s offerings changed in your time here?
When I started in organic coffee wasn’t even huge yet. I’ve seen trends go from organics to standard single origins such as Sumatra and Guatemala, and now we have a lot of smaller batch offerings that are pretty exclusive. With Sam on board, we’re getting coffees with different kinds of fermentation and some great notes that we haven’t seen around Caffe Vita for a long time, really pushing the palette of coffee, as far as I’m concerned.
What’s a common misconception about coffee roasting that you’d like to dispel?
People thing coffee roasting is either all scientific or it’s all craft. Really, it’s a combination of scientific data and working with a coffee enough that you know how it’s gonna develop in the roaster. There’s also a lot of maintenance on the machines and the facility, that’s not the glamorous part of coffee roasting. I like to describe roasting as alchemy, you know, it’s a interesting deal a little bit technology and a little bit old school dark art. it’s always changing and that’s what keeps it interesting.
What’s your favorite blend?
My favorite blend is the one I roast the most of, Caffe Del Sol.
What do you hope to see for the future of Vita over the next couple years?
I would hope to see that we keep growing and I don’t mean by volume, but growing the coffee that we bring in and that we’re producing and reaching out to other markets and just keep improving.
Any final thoughts?
I always like to keep it turning and burning. If it’s failing you, put some smoke on it.