The Arizona Republic has a feature on Steve’s Espresso.

Shop owner makes coffee an art
Quality comes first at Steve’s Espresso

William Hermann
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 2, 2007 12:00 AM

No “idiot-proof coffee.” No “garage sale grunge.” No loud noise.

Steve Schmidt says the goal at his south Tempe coffee shop is “artfully produced” coffee, tasteful furnishings and a pleasant atmosphere.

But it all starts with the coffee, said Schmidt, 42, who about three years ago gave up a health care management career to open his own coffee shop.

“I have always loved good coffee and talked for so many years about owning my own place that my friends got tired of hearing it, and I had to do it,” said Schmidt after he “pulled” espresso shots to pour into hot water for an Americano.

So Schmidt rented a little storefront on the southeastern corner of McClintock Drive and Baseline Road and opened Steve’s Espresso in November 2005. He started making the kind of coffee he had learned about through consultation and research.

“The basics are relatively straightforward,” Schmidt said. “First, you buy good beans, and I buy them from a local roaster. They’re not roasted and shipped in. Second, we make our espresso, not with a superautomatic machine that’s idiot-proof and grinds the beans and does everything to the point that you can turn your back on it.”

Rather, Schmidt said, he grinds the beans himself and uses the ground coffee immediately.

“Ground coffee goes stale very soon,” he said. “As soon as you break the bean down, you expose all that surface to air and have oxidation and lose the flavor very soon. That’s when your latte tastes like cardboard.”

Schmidt then carefully controls the flow of water through the grounds to produce an espresso shot with a creamlike patina over the top.

“We watch every shot, control the variables, like if the grind is a little finer and the coffee comes out slower,” he said. “When you push a button on the machine and walk away, you get varying amounts of liquid in the shot. We look at every shot, and if it’s a bad shot, we make another one.”

Schmidt is just as finicky about his coffee. He uses a French press to make the coffee, then puts the finished product into a carafe where it remains hot.

Schmidt’s customers, like Gene Valentine, say they can tell the difference in the coffee, but also like the shop’s atmosphere.

“The coffee is great, that’s certain,” Valentine said. “But some coffee shops now are so loud it’s like being in an airplane hangar. You can read, talk, relax here.”

Schmidt says an important factor in creating a nice environment is not using old furniture, like used sofas.

“That’s what I call ‘garage sale grunge’ and I hate it,” Schmidt said. “I enjoy having tasteful furniture, pictures on the wall – I have a new exhibit every three months – and just a pleasant atmosphere.”

And did all that painstakingly crafted espresso and coffee and pleasant atmosphere add up to immediate financial success at Steve’s Espresso?

“No,” Schmidt said matter-of-factly. “The first year we lost money, then we broke even for a while, and finally, finally, after seven-day weeks and no vacations, we’re making money.

“You do all the right things, keep doing them, and persevere, and it can work.”

Arizona Coffee

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.