PARLOR GAMES WITH WARWICK MAYN
Once a month, we'll be highlighting a member of Parlor's team with a bit of coffee talk. The format is a play on the 18th-century parlor game that would later become popularized as the Proust Questionnaire, centered around a series of questions to reveal one's personality. (Admittedly, our version has a coffee-influenced twist.)
Warwick Mayn, Head Roaster
Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand
Current roastery jams: The Dynamics, Version Excursions
What else are you listening to?
Last night I listened to Teenage Fanclub - an album called Band Wagonesque. They're a Scottish indie band from the early 90s. The 90s in general, for me, was a golden era in music. But I don't wear headphones while roasting... this roaster [1965 Probat UG-22] makes a lot of quirky noises, and I want to be aware of what's going on. The whole process of roasting coffee, you've gotta be able to hear first crack, and then listen for a nice rolling sound... you gotta be able to hear the coffee talk to you.
What's in your cup today?
Ethiopia Nano Challa. It’s the coffee that continues to surprise me every time we cup it.
What is your idea of perfect coffee?
The coffee that you can make 7 days a week, and it tastes good no matter what way you make it (Kalita, Aeropress, etc.). You can putter around and keep coming back to it. Not super dynamic or super floral... but all of the subtle elements of coffee origins put into one brew.
What is your most marked characteristic?
It takes a lot to phase me.
What kind of coffee cup do you like to drink out of?
A 6 ounce paper cup. I just like the feeling of it - I think I have a better idea of coffee when drinking from it. Or maybe it's just a comforting reminder of getting into my car and out of town.
What is your favorite thing about roasting?
Having been to origin, knowing the path that coffee takes from the farm where each little bean is hand picked - taking that product and turning it into something that is firstly, enjoyable and secondly, doing justice to everyone in that chain, including the person that is drinking it.
What is the most challenging thing about roasting?
That things are always changing. When you think you have something dialed in, and you know how a coffee should behave, and then it changes the script on you. Always keeps you guessing, which I suppose makes you better in the end.
Which living person do you most admire?
It’s not one person… it’s a bunch of people. I admire people for very different reasons. In a way, a large percentage of people are admirable in one way or another.
What is your greatest fear?
Dislocating my shoulder, all the time. You can’t help accidents happening. But for me, honestly, injuries and dislocating my shoulder have had a psychological effect on me in terms of doing things in my life. Physical, outdoorsy things are a large part of what makes me, and a lot of people from New Zealand… that’s our makeup. I’m very neutral about being in the city, I neither love it nor hate it, but if I can see something new I prefer to go do it. You know, every time you read a report about a bus crashing in the middle of nowhere, there’s two New Zealanders on it. We’re always somewhere. And most of my friends growing up back home no longer live in New Zealand. They live all over the place. No one really stands still.
Where do you consider home?
Where my family is. Not where I grew up, necessarily. They're in Australia now... but they're still traveling all the time.
Would you consider yourself nostalgic?
I think I am with music. Only because it reminds me of such a great time in my life. As music does with everybody. Nostalgic… no. But I’m very historical.
Is there one period of history that you’re most drawn to?
It changes… but having lived in the States, definitely the Civil War. It was the great defining moment: the revolutionary war made us, but the civil war defined what we were to become. Dragged us out of that Southern idea of how you go about your life to drag the country into the future.
Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with?
The more I read about [Abraham] Lincoln... I love and understand him more and more. And just how difficult it actually was to get anything done. Of all people—historical figures of prominence that I’ve read about—he wasn’t perfect. But he understood what it was going to take to bring this country... to bring it out of a certain time and draw out of people what he wanted. And still believe in people. He still believed in [Ulysses S.] Grant after so many failures, and Grant went on to win the war. Just to listen back to his Gettysburg address - short, sharp, bang to the point. One of the deepest things you could say. And maybe Ken Burns. I do love me some Ken Burns.
What do you know about the local history around here [Parlor]?
With the Navy Yard right across the street - I think about what came out of there. I mean, they built most of the battleships for the war. What supported those 50,000 people working in the Navy Yard? They were coming out of those gates every day. Where were all those Rosie the Riveters going? It goes back even farther - they also used to have the prison boats out there. British prison ships anchored right there in Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War. Lots of men that died on those ships. There's actually a monument to them over in Fort Greene, just a few blocks away from here.
When and where were you happiest?
Whistler [British Colombia, Canada].1999-2000. Nothin’ to do but go snowboarding. I worked three jobs in New Zealand to be able to do it - and just moved to Whistler. This was pre-when you could look it up online. I was flipping through snowboarding magazines and talking to people that had lived there, trying to get places to go and stay. I flew to Vancouver, got off the plane in a blizzard, and went to Whistler on the scariest bus ride of my life... those guys would drive the Pacific Highway everyday and the buses would drift round the corners. It was crazy. Got off the bus in Whistler Village, didn’t know where I was going to stay. So I jumped in this cab, the guy racheted my board to the roof of his car, took me to this hostel and hooked me up with a friend of his… and sorted it out from there. It was the biggest season in over 20 years. Moved into a place with some guys up on a hill nearby - we used to be able to walk out of our door, strap in, and ride all the way down the road to the bottom of the chair. We would have to dig tunnels out of the snow to get out of our front door.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A polar bear. But not now - a polar bear in an earlier, idyllic sort of arctic time.
Where would you most like to live?
I'd like to live on the south island of New Zealand - it’s beautiful but some months of the year are just harsh. Thinking more realistically, either in the Catskills or in the Adirondacks. A place with some elevation, maybe an old 1860s-style old house with a big veranda wrapped around it. On the inside, very beach shack, faded timbers, nothin' too precious.
What was your first experience of Brooklyn?
Our first apartment was in Manhattan, on Avenue B between 3 and 4. After a couple of days, we were reeling a bit - we'd just packed up our life and moved it to New York. We decided to just get on the L train and go to Brooklyn. This was 8 or 9 years ago. We came up out of the train onto Bedford Avenue for the first time. I think it was popping up into Brooklyn having heard the word "Brooklyn" so many times in your life, thinking "holy sh*t… Bedford was popping off, jump cars driving past, playing crazy reggae. It was thumpin’.
What's your motto?
Brew and enjoy.