2014 Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Roaster James Tooill of Argo Sons Coffee

2014 Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Roaster James Tooill of Argo Sons Coffee
February 2014

To accrue the kind of coffee accomplishments James Tooill has under his belt, it’s safe to assume you’d need lots of caffeine. Lucky for Tooill, he starting drinking coffee early on—in middle school to be exact. He still uses the French press he got for Christmas at 14. A Louisville local, Tooill attended the University of Kentucky in nearby Lexington, where he earned a degree in philosophy. And though his heart was in coffee (he applied unsuccessfully to jobs at coffee shops), he worked every other position in the industry while attending school: waiter, expediter, cook, dishwasher, and cashier.

Eventually, though, Tooill found a way to follow his true calling, and he followed it all the way to Counter Culture in Asheville, North Carolina, where Tooill paid his own tuition through the Espresso and Milk Labs to become a Counter Culture-certified barista. Tooill wasn’t just interested in creating the perfect latte, or perfecting his latte art (though he did proceed to the third round of the CoffeeFest Latte Art Competition in Chicago); he wanted to get to know coffee in every possible expression.

And he did just that, working as a barista at High Five Coffee Bar and serving as a barista trainer for Quills Coffee Co. At Dripolator Coffee House, Tooill launched the roasting program and eventually moved the café from using outside suppliers to exclusively house-roasted coffee. More than a few cups later, he became head Roaster at Argo Sons Coffee. There, Tooill continues to follow his passion, exploring the lands, flavors, and larger culture of coffee, and sharing it with his grateful hometown. In early 2014, representing Argo Sons, Tooill placed third in the Southeast Regional Brewer’s Cup; this spring, he will be the first-ever Kentucky roaster to compete the national Brewer’s Cup.

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Interview with Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Artisan James Tooill of Argo Sons Coffee – Louisville, KY

Caroline Hatchett: What is your roasting style?
James Tooill: For brewed coffee, it’s light roasts with an emphasis on sweetness and texture. For espresso, my style is blends with only two well-rounded components roasted to very similar brittlenesses and evaluated both as a cappuccino and espresso.

CH: What was your first coffee job?
JT: I was a barista and then roaster at The Dripolator Coffeehouse in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

CH: Where else have your worked?
JT: I was at High Five Coffeebar in Asheville, North Carolina, and at Anchorage Café and Quills Coffee in Louisville, [before] Argo Sons. I’ve also done some independent café training and consulting.

CH: Who are some of your mentors? 
JT: Matt Argo, Thomas Lussier, and Amy V. Carrol. I really look up to George Howell’s Coffees as well.

CH: What is your favorite roasting resource?
JT: I’ve always found what both Chris Schooley [The Coffee Shrub] and Tom Owens [Sweet Marias] write to be very helpful.

CH: Your favorite tool? 
JT: An accurate scale. Roasting, training, experimenting, brewing, espresso, packaging, tea, etc. There’s a scale for everything.

CH: And favorite coffee drink?
JT: Black coffee. Specifically, I love lightly roasted Centrals with sweet finishes.

CH: What is your favorite coffee to make?
JT: Latte is an art and cappuccinos are fun. But my favorite coffee to make is a French Press.  I have a glass Bodum Brazil at home that was given to me as a Christmas present when I was in the ninth grade.  Every time I use it, it’s exciting because it feels like it could break at any minute!

CH: Do you have a blog? Do you contribute to any blogs? 
JT: I don’t have a personal blog. I do contribute to the Argo Sons Blog, although it has been a couple months since I’ve had the time to put together a post.

CH: What is the most underrated roasting/coffee ingredient?
I think that the most underrated roasting tool is customer feedback.  Most people will not have the vocabulary to pinpoint their impressions of coffees.  But asking people about the coffees and paying attention to how they interact with the coffee can give the roaster a lot of useful information.

CH: A coffee trend you would most like to see?
JT: I actually like house blends especially for cafés that serve food or have other areas of focus.  If we’re going to say that different origin coffees provide totally different sensory experiences than why would a café serve a different one every day? That model seems to imply to the customer that the café does not really believe that the coffees are all that different. 

CH: On your mornings off you drink…?
JT: Tea.  I have way too many little teapots and my brother brought home lots of teas when he was in China.  I love fruity and vegetal oolongs, both Chinese and Japanese green teas, white teas, raw and cooked puerhs. I love tea.  I also love craft beer, cocktails, wine, homemade sodas, and wines.

CH: Where do you most want to go for culinary travel?
JT: I want to go to a coffee farm in 2014. We’re looking at individual farms in Guatemala and/or Costa Rica right now.