Stringbean Pete started out as a banker. He has a degree in psychology and an MBA. Looking at him now, it’s hard to imagine him in anything other than loose “dad” jeans and a plain t-shirt. He has a peppery beard, wears rounded rectangular glasses, and dons a baseball cap. Peter Cohen is founder of Stringbean Coffee, a company that roasts and wholesales/directly sells largely sustainable coffee beans.
As a banker, Pete said he felt confined to the “corporate structure” and realized that it wasn’t his calling. He recalls a time when the bank asked him to remove the peace sticker from his car, because it had “liberal connotations” and banking was on the more conservative side. With that, he quit and began selling his roasted coffee beans at local farmers’ markets.
As someone who takes carefully measured steps before leaping into something, I find it really hard that Peter left his well-paying job to venture into a career path that was competitive and not something he studied in college. But it’s not hard to tell that Peter has found a career he genuinely cares about. Peter said one of his most favorite moments is in the morning, “I like holding warm coffee in between my hands in the morning, long before I even take a sip.” He breathes in the aroma of freshly grinded and then French Pressed coffee and savors the smells before drinking.
One of the most refreshing things about Peter is the way he thinks about other coffee drinkers. He doesn’t bullshit, and he isn’t cocky or pretentious. Personally, he drinks his coffee straight black. He prefers a medium roast, not too dark or light. But, unlike most of the other hipster coffee connoisseurs nowadays, he doesn’t judge people who like adding cream or sugar to their coffees. “Drink coffee the best way you should. I shouldn’t dictate how you should take your coffee. If we have an event, I’ll provide some really good cream, and I have some raw sugar in the back for those who like it that way.”
When asked about mainstream coffee shops like Starbucks, he said that they are often too bitter for him, making him dilute the solution with water. However, he is thankful for big coffee chains, because he believes they are what helped people discover the coffee world. They are what helped coffee shops a cool place to hang out and what introduced good, artisan coffee.
At the end of our session with Peter, he roasted some Ethiopian beans and French Pressed them for us. Soon, the room was filled with the rich smells of grind coffee beans and the strange smell of burnt toast coming from the massive roasting machine (called the San Franciscan Roaster). He advised us to try drinking coffee that we roasted and grinded ourselves, saying that there is a very different taste and flavor. With French Pressed coffee, you get coarser grinds, leading to more of the natural oils in the coffee. This coffee, he said, should be smooth and slightly acidic, with a hint of blueberry.
“Make sure you slurp it and get it more on the sides of your tongue. You can taste more flavors that way instead of tasting it through the tip.”
Gingerly holding the cup as it was really hot to touch, I take a very audible slurp, making damn sure it only touched the sides of my tongue. I’ve never really been a coffee drinker as it never sat well in my stomach. It had a richer taste, I think, and a really bold, piercing flavor. I think it was really bitter only because I don’t drink coffee often. It was nice, drinking highly caffeinated, dark coffee at 9 PM on a Tuesday night with my colleagues and professor.
Peter said if he weren’t successful with coffee, he’d probably go into the music industry. With a collaged wall of vintage record covers, a room full of electric bass guitars, and a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, I could see that. Peter, a former banker turned coffee roaster and hippy music enthusiast, is one of the happiest and most mellow people I have ever met. It’s really interesting where life can take you.