I spoke with Tim Pearson who, along with his wife Anna, runs Top Hat Espresso Catering. Tim, who I’ve known for about a year through my local coffee shop–he’s a part-time barista at Green Street Coffee–started Top Hat after he had the idea of showcasing the totality of coffee skills he had acquired. This is the first in a series–possibly called Two Point Conversion–where I talk to people in the food & drink scene who make taking that first step toward appreciating something on a higher level possible by making the product (craft beer, artisanal cheese, etc.) seem approachable and making them feel comfortable talking about ahead of educating them on it.
What’s your background in coffee?
I worked as a barista and coffee roaster in South Jersey in Voorhees for a total of about 7 years. So I gathered my specialty coffee experience from that and after I started roasting coffee independently there, I kind of built up a passion to learn more about specialty coffees. Doing roasting really broadened my horizons and allowed me to see how deep it goes. I was a barista with them for three years and then I started roasting coffee. I did that for another four years.
When did you leave that place?
Probably six months after I started the business [in January 2013]. And you started working at Green Street when? It’s been a little over a year that I’ve been here.
How are you translating that curiosity that you have for coffee–that you expanded upon with roasting–to what you’re doing with Top Hat?
So after peaking with barista skills…being able to…the steaming of milk, pulling shots of espresso and just making drinks that you can get anywhere, but at a top notch quality though. That really differentiates from say if you go to a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, you’re not going to get the same drink even though it may be called the same thing because it’s not made with the experience or ingredients that I work with. So seeing that and realizing there might be some potential to do something with that is kind of where the idea to take the gig on the road so to speak came from. To be able to share the high quality with people who aren’t really expecting it…it kind of surprises people.
And you’re doing anything from weddings to private parties to corporate events right? What’s the balance there?
We probably do more corporate events throughout the month just because there’s more days for corporate events. No one really gets married on weekdays. So monthly, more corporate, more school functions. The balance is broken up between what you can do on weekdays versus weekends.
What kind of a breakdown do you see at these events in terms of experienced coffee drinkers versus people who just drink Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?
Usually, it’s location based. If we’re up in the vicinity of New York City or if we’re someplace that’s very close to Philadelphia–because of the fact that there’s such a coffee scene in the city and it’s growing in these cities…when you’re close to the cities people are more knowledgeable about these types of things as opposed to being in a suburban area where people aren’t as familiar with specialty coffee.
What are some of the comments that you get from people who didn’t previously think of coffee as a high quality product?
People just speak their mind and say that [whatever they ordered] is the best they’ve ever tasted. Even with hot chocolate since we’re using high quality dark chocolate sauce with steamed whole milk. People have said it’s the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had or the best latte. People are always excited about the idea just when they see it [the setup that Top Hat uses]. They think it’s a really cool concept.
What are people drinking?
It’s usually cappuccinos or lattes. We don’t do a lot of black coffee since all of our drinks are espresso based. If somebody wants black coffee we do Americanos or we offer French press coffee in the packages we have. But the majority of the people order cappuccino, double espresso, or a latte, or a mocha. We have seasonal drinks for people who like slightly sweeter drinks. Right now, there’s a cinnamon bun latte. We were doing peppermint mochas at Christmas time or ginger bread lattes. We were discussing before how, even if you’re getting a latte or something else with milk in it, you’re still tasting the quality.
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