David Simon was working as a recreational therapist in the health care industry when he began to explore the many methods that can be used to make a great cup of coffee. About five or six years ago, he traded in his basic coffee maker for a much better espresso machine and got to work experimenting. Coffee, and cycling, were just hobbies until he got a job working in a combination bike shop/coffee bar. After getting laid off in November, he knew he “could go all in on coffee.” And go all in he has, with his new Somerville-based mobile coffee and espresso bar called Black Magic Coffee.
“When my wife got me a nicer espresso machine, I started to geek out,” Simon said of his early days exploring the coffee industry. “It became an obsession.”
That obsession was evident as Simon made me several caffienated beverages on a recent chilly fall morning. He precisely measured and weighed the coffee and water he used in his aeropress (like a small French press, but smoother and without sediment). When I took the first sip of the coffee, I knew the attention to detail was worth it. It was one of the best cups of coffee I’d ever tasted.
“I like to think that I’m entirely self-taught,” Simon said. He used books, the Internet and trial-and-error in his quest to craft the perfect cup of coffee. Visiting local coffee shops, like Crema Cafe in Harvard Square and Area Four in Kendall Square, gave him the opportunity to sample multiple coffee bean roasts and refine his palate.
And though he clearly loves coffee, he doesn’t indulge as often as you’d think. “I drink on average two cups a day … sometimes three,” Simon said.
Simon lives in Somerville and his Black Magic Coffee mobile cart is based here as well. It shares space at Kitchen Inc. (201 Somerville Ave.) with some of the most influential businesses in the local food scene, like Cuisine en Locale, Culinary Cruisers and City Chicks.
While he considered opening his own coffee cafe (and may still do that), meeting the people who work at Kitchen Inc. helped Simon decide to go mobile to start.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Simon said. “It’s so nice to be connected to the other folks in here. Everybody’s doing something different, everybody shares, we complement each other.”
Simon rolled out his custom-built coffee cart earlier this year at the Pan-Mass Challenge, a fundraising bike-a-thon, and has since done other area events, mostly involving nonprofits.
He’s got several events on the horizon in October, from Oktoberfest in Harvard Square this weekend and an event at a men’s clothing store to a gig at the Boston Design Center and a possible jaunt to a local fair. When he first conceived of Black Magic Coffee, Simon thought he’d mostly be doing private events like weddings, but so far he’s had more requests for public events.
“It’s a good way to reach a lot of people,” Simon said. He plans to get involved in some of the local markets in the next year or so as well.
Simon brews coffee using a variety of methods at home–Chemex, SoftBrew, pour over–though he recommends the aeropress for travel because it’s compact, light and makes a great cup of coffee.
Of the various brewing methods, Simon said, “They’re all different and I love them for that.”
Simon doesn’t do any batch brewing, so all of the coffee Black Magic serves is made fresh, on the spot for the customer. In addition to the hand-crafted coffee, he serves straight-up espresso and espresso-based drinks. The espresso Simon made me was potent, but almost sweet, especially in the finish. When he made a milk-based drink with it, the bite fell away and it became oh-so-creamy.
“I’m a fanatic when it comes to espresso, I really am,” Simon said. With each cup that he brews, Simon is serving up more than just coffee. “It goes beyond the coffee. We’re creating this sort of memorable experience.”
This focus on the personal extends to the companies Simon sources from as well. As a tiny start-up business, Simon seeks to work with others in the same vein. To that end, he uses Populace Coffee out of Michigan and Case Coffee Roasters out of Oregon to supply his beans.
“They’re really small operations, but for me it was about the whole experience being really personable,” Simon said. “I’m aware that it’s a business that we’re all in, but it’s very personable. They only do a few coffees, but they do them really well. That’s where they channel their effort.”
And getting the right beans is very important, as Simon said, “You’re only as good as the coffee.”
For those looking to make a better cup of coffee at home, Simon offers this advice: get a good burr coffee grinder.
“The thing I always tell everybody is ‘don’t skimp on a good coffee grinder,'” Simon said. “Also, be open minded. Experiment with it. There’s no best way to make coffee.”
Maybe not, but Simon has come pretty darn close.
Updated 7/1/13: Beginning on July 6, Black Magic Coffee will be at the Uniun (pictured below) on Sanborn Court in Union Square on Saturdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. And you can find Black Magic at Boston’s SoWa Open Market (Arts Market on Thayer Street between Harrison and Albany) every Sunday through October from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.