What I Do: Matthew Piva of Upshot Coffee
Matthew Piva has always been equal parts artist and gearhead. It’s what originally drew him to a Kaldi’s job fair before he was swept into coffee’s third wave at Sump. He worked with owner and roaster Scott Carey for more than six years and helped open Sump’s Nashville location.
Then he took the helm of the coffee program at VB Chocolate Bar, which recently shuttered, giving Piva center stage at Upshot, a soon-to-open coffee shop he co-owns with former VB owner Conor VanBuskirk. Here’s how Piva went from a Kaldi’s barista to one of St. Louis’ sharpest coffee minds.
“I remember someone saying a traditional cappuccino was the hardest drink to make in terms of the right espresso, proper temperature and texture of the milk and execution. Something about that caught me, and I just ran with it. I would literally make cappuccinos for everyone on staff who wanted one.”
“I like people who take really hard stands in a style, whether I like it or not. I just really like people who plant a flag.”
“[Sump] was like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. We would run the gamut on every apparatus that was available and brewing device. … It was literally like, ‘We have this coffee. Cool – OK, let’s try it on espresso. Let’s try it on cold brew. Let’s do a pour-over.’ But there are like six different types of pour-overs. We were just running through all of it.”
“[Parenthood] is the most humbling experience. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but, because of that, it’s also the most rewarding. You never know how much somebody needs you, both your partner and your child. … Professionally, it’s motivated me. It makes me go re-evaluate what I’m doing, what I’ve been doing, and I think I’m hungrier than ever.”
“The industry itself is changing so fast.Maybe that’s why it’s been so interesting. What applied a couple years ago isn’t even normal anymore. They’re practicing different ways; coffee’s getting better; equipment is getting better. The information out there is so much better. When I started, there was no information. It was all archaic papers and ‘he said, she said,’ and now there is actually data and science on coffee.”
“It’s a $5 experience.It's not like going to a restaurant or buying a bottle of whiskey or wine that can cost a lot of money. It’s $5, so if you get burned, it’s like, ‘OK, it’s not that big of a deal. That’s just not for me.’”
“I love coffee – I drink it all the time – but it’s about the community.I’ve met so many people [in] so many different fields, social classes, just amazing people that I would call friends. I don't think you get that in a lot of businesses. I think that’s what kept me around for so long.”
Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.
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