Today, across many lands and an ocean or two from her home of Cape Town, South Africa, she is the opening ceremony at a space called The Glass Shop.
It projects onto the block like an oriel, you look through it – the glass that is – and you’ll find her and the absence of collision, unless one speaks of the cultural kind. Welcome to Maricia DuPlessis’ gospel.
Her coffee journey began over six years ago, in a town called Cape Town. There an unexpected circumstance arose that birthed a barista suited for New York’s Brooklyn nation. When a barista called out sick for a week, Maricia DuPlessis had the choice to rise to the role of coffee slinger.
Those seven days, more than six years ago became a wonderful crash course in coffee, specifically distinguishing the proportional difference between a flat white and a cappuccino.
smdlr: Darling, we’ve known each other for quite some time. So it’s my pleasure to let your words speak more than mine. Please, lets begin with what do you like to drink for coffee?
Maricia Duplessis: I ’ve gotten off of coffee. I love it but it makes me grind my teeth, a lot. But, I drink a lot of Black Breakfast PG tips tea – it’s my favorite. At work I”ll have a decaf Americano, it’s a nice pick me up. Every now and then at the end of the day, I’ll want that coffee flavor and the aroma – I love what it does for me mentally!
s: Can you share your morning ritual to open the coffee shop?
md: I’m always arriving 5-10 minutes later than what I plan. She laughs. Because its going to be so hectic when the store opens, I come into the shop and I keep the music off purposely – its that beginning silence that is the most important for me. My visual is really important for me. So, I come in and reorganize the space for me.
s: My curiosity is peaked. Can you explain?
md: I like my cups in a certain way. I like my ceramics starting from left to right. And, I like glasses on the left. I like to organize the actual bar including the spoons too – espresso to teaspoons, so that I where to grab it.
s: How do you approach the actual making of coffee?
md: I’m the only one that dials in there. And, it’s always on my setting. So, I just make sure that its still the way I left it. Then I proceed to get the newspapers all lined up and pretty, polish the case, line up the sandwiches which are made next door.
s: How long does this opening ritual of sorts take?
md: It takes me 20 minutes. Within that time, I prep the coffee, get it ground, prep filters, I like to start with 5 filters. And, then I make myself a coffee decaf Americano but I actually drink a lot of Black breakfast PG tips tea – its my favorite.
s: How would you characterize yourself as a barista?
Her eyes widen noticeably as she shifts her body backwards into a sturdy wooden chair. Its as if thought itself answers me back.
md: In terms of making coffee or as a holistic barista?
s: In whichever way, or both, that you see yourself?
md: I’d probably be a therapist that makes coffee and the coffee is my prescription. A solid cup of coffee is what people need to get their mind right. I’m an open person and warm so I get it all and I love it. I’m not a cool, hipster barista but I’m definitely a person that people need in their lives. It’s more than just coffee – its always more than coffee and that’s what I love.
s: Can you expound on this more?
md: It’s the act of serving coffee, of being in service of the customer. It is listening but also giving. I want to give something in that moment, that is the best coffee I could make for them. And, in that moment that is my way of taking care of them. You know, this is not to be pompous – but I really like that about myself, that this is such a natural place for me to be in, as a person and I’m not trying be a barista, I am a barista.
s: I affirm that and you. You’ve mentioned the hipster, cool, barista. Can you discuss that idea?
md: It used to bother me, but it doesn’t upset me that much anymore, I’m over it. I’m not knocking anyone if that’s what you are 100 percent. In this coffee culture, a lot of that is sold, and sometimes people are selling out to that, its just not who I am.
s: Then, how do you navigate who you are within the context and conversation of coffee and its current, yet evolving culture?
md: I realized early on, I’m not going to jump that bandwagon. I know that the product I serve – La Colombe Torrefaction – is solid. We make a solid cup of coffee. And my skillset elevates it even more. And, that really comes back to me being a solid, grounded person. I could serve any coffee and its going to be a delicious coffee because of my work with it. I stand by my coffee and I’m proud of serving it as me.
s: there a reference point from South Africa to America for you when it comes to the culture of coffee.
md: Its interesting what I’m seeing as third wave coffee culture here. We had that back home. I don’t know how coffee became such a thing in South Africa, but its such a strong coffee culture, amazing and solid, so coming here and seeing it from six years ago, I caught that transitional period of it becoming a thing here and seeing that. I like that I’ve know about specialty coffee before all of this, and its also why I’m so chill about my workmanship.
s: So, I walk into Glass Shop, what’s on the radio as you are being at your “workwomanship”?
md: I hate selecting music, it’s a lot of pressure. Which is why most of the days I play music based upon whatever mood I’m in. On Saturdays, I make it my place of workshop. I play Elvis Presley’s gospel hits, for the first hour. Everyone is used to it and I really enjoy it. Other times it can be whatever I gravitate towards on the ipod– rockabilly, country. People come in from out of town and they see this black barista rocking bluegrass and they’ll ask if this is my music selection. She smiles.
s: Since we’re on the topic of cultural background, and within the context of this series for black history month, what do you think about being a black barista in America?
md: I am so glad you asked this question. Sometimes it’s a challenging world to be in as a woman of color, its not our role normally, but I like being that person. Although, its not fun sometimes and its not what people expect.
But, when I do show my competence and my ability to make a simple beautiful hot chocolate or coffee and people see that and appreciate that, it feels good, so good – it makes me want to stay in the game. It makes me want to further prove the point, that it is possible for a woman of color – who isn’t at Starbucks, or the 26 year old kid from Olympia- to be in specialty coffee and to do it better, as an artisan. So, I’m happy to play in this field.
s: When you do serve something great like a simple hot chocolate, have you seen people come back and now want to try the coffee.
md: Yes, they will. I don’t want to toot my own horn.
s: You can toot it.
md: I want to introduce people to coffee, which might mean their introduction to an espresso based drink begins with a combination of whole milk with half and half to make it creamier and to make their transition sweeter.
s: How do you know, to apply those kinds of nuanced details?
md: It’s a feeling, it’s a social intelligence, its something that I’m lucky to just have. It’s something that I just know.
s: You also seem to know your personal style very well. How does that appear within the coffee shop?
md: It’s so interesting because throughout my career in coffee shops my style has evolved. I’m the same at the core, but its also the geography of the coffee shop that requires a different detail.
s: I love that! And, I can understand that, please share more.
md: At Glass Shop, its industrial, minimalist and full of muted colors. I now find myself dressing for that space. It just happens. Before, when I worked at Naidre’s my style was more playful, big earrings and big beautiful prints. I still wear beautiful prints but now I keep my colors to a maximum of 3 solids, a lot of gray, maroon and white. And, I think it compliments the space. My lipstick is always a red lip or a nude lip. Sometimes, I’ll even put on a denim apron. And, if I choose to dress really well and artisan like, I’m wearing my Nina Z clogs, especially in the summer, and when I wear those, I mean business man.
s: You are business. Is there anything you’d like to say about the craft of being a barista?
md: I’m asked a lot, “What’s your real job. What do you do apart from this?” I wish that just as the coffee culture is growing so rapidly, I wish we could also grow beyond the stereotype and respect this as a profession – us as professional baristas. The coffee talk happens so much faster than the barista as professional. People are ok saying they are bartenders, chefs and the like. Being a barista is no different it’s not a shameful thing. I’m taken care of very well at Glass Shop; I love that and I’m happy. While, I have interests in other things, what I am, ah…I am a barista.