Talking with Matt Lennon about The Loving Cup
1. Tell us about The Loving Cup
The Loving Cup is a mobile coffee shop. When I think about food trucks I think of simple menus where everything you taste is out of this world. That’s what I want my truck to be. We’ll get out there and nothing will be half-assed. We’ll have a little education going on and a little coffee-geekery. We can get a little nerdy if we have to. But most times we’re out just having a blast. I’m trying to bring a mobile cafe environment to a 3-minute exchange between me and someone else.
2. What do you mean by a mobile cafe environment?
I don’t have 6 items on the truck. I have almost a whole, entire shop. I have a brewer, an espresso machine, and blenders. I have the ability to make smoothies, coffee blended beverages, lattes, Americanos and even drip coffees. When you come out to see us you don’t have to settle for “just a coffee” - it’s about whatever you want to drink, we’ll make it for you. I’ll put my spin on it with some great, fantastic ingredients.
3. Why did you decide on a coffee truck?
I had just gone to a few music festivals and out of all the coffee vendors I saw onsite, they all seemed to be doing it wrong. Service was slow. Attitude sucked. And I wanted to change that. I kept thinking that I could do it better. And I think that’s where it came from. I also happen to have a real passion for coffee. I used to work at Starbucks. I think they are great but I also think I can bring something different to people. There’s a whole world of coffee out there and it’s ever changing.
4. How did you come up with the idea of incorporating global styles into your coffee?
Coffee comes in many different styles, just like a steak does. You can have a T-bone, a filet, a strip loin. Then you can add some salt and pepper or A-1 sauce. You can do steak a million different ways, and the same is true with coffee. When I started thinking globally I thought we can all walk into a coffee shop and get a coffee from Guatemala or Costa Rica, but when’s the last time you saw Black Forest Coffee? When you think of Black Forest, you think of Germany. So, I started with that idea. Then I branched out to consider what Italians would do and what Mexicans would do. That’s how it came about - using regional flavors to make something special and unique.
5. What makes your coffee particular to a region?
When we talk about a coffee from a region we’re referring to the flavors of that region, not the bean per se. There are no coffee beans grown in Germany, for example. But we’ll have a Black Forest coffee that will feature a combination of brewed coffee, dark chocolate and cherry. You can then add milk if you want, just as you would for a regular coffee.
6. What other regions will you feature?
Cafe Su Da is a Vietnamese iced coffee. It’s like white mocha, without mocha. It features shots of espresso and condensed milk. It has a sweet mouth feel along with the espresso and the caffeine. You put that over ice. It’s done in Thailand and Vietnam. They don’t use espresso but that’s as close as I can get because I’m not allowed an open flame on the truck.
Cafe Affogato is an Italian style. It’s vanilla ice cream with shots of Italian espresso over top.
Cafe de Olla is our Mexican style coffee. It uses brown sugar and crushed cinnamon sticks. Coffee is then brewed over top that mixture to impart the flavor. It’s delicious.
7. Which style has been the most popular?
The Cafe de Olla has been by far the most popular. I think that’s because cinnamon just goes so well with coffee. Our style is also light years different from what you’d experience if you put cinnamon directly into your coffee or used a cinnamon syrup. The brown sugar isn’t cloying or sickly sweet and the cinnamon is nicely flavored without being too intensely spicy. It’s a rounder taste that allows you to still taste the coffee and not just a bunch of cinnamon sugar.
8. Would you find these styles in different areas of the world or are these your creation?
The flavor is indigenous to an area but the style is something we put together. I don’t think you’ll find Black Forest coffee in Germany, although Cafe Su Da is available in Asia.
9. How did you decide on the regions to feature?
Some flavors just go hand in hand with a type of coffee. Caramel, chocolate, cinnamon - all these things are natural complements to coffee flavors. I started with these natural affinities and worked on what would be required to produce a specific coffee in a mobile environment. After all that I wanted coffees that would taste amazing. What we’ve come up with are the best we tried and I think people will really agree once they try them out.
10. How did you get the specific recipes?
Most just came to my mind, working from the basic flavor components and putting things together. For some of the styles I did some research. Whenever you’re looking at flavors from Mexico you’re going to see cinnamon, often on a dessert like a Churro. That got me thinking about doing something with cinnamon and I just looked around some more to see what was being done with cinnamon and coffee. That’s how I came up with our Cafe de Olla.
11. What’s been the reaction to your global flavors?
It depends a bit on whether we’re at a place for the first time or if we’re repeating. Once we show up a few times people start to trust us and look to our recommendations and are more willing to explore. Some people just want a good coffee, like they’d get at Starbucks.
12. How did you choose your beans?
I invited people over to my house weekend after weekend after weekend. We tried a lot of coffee. Some of it sucked and some of it was awesome.
13. What makes for a great bean?
A great cup of coffee involves everything, not just a great bean. The area the bean comes from will appeal to different people depending on their palette. It’s like wine. Some people like wine from Napa Valley and some like wine from Sonoma. There are only a few areas around the world that grow coffee. Those are in Asia, Africa and Central America. Even within an area you’ll have beans that are different from one another. So, first you need to pick a bean from an area that appeals to you. Then it comes down to roasting. You can roast a bean however you want. One bean can be roasted lightly or darkly and the method of roasting will change the flavor profile.
What I did was to call up some coffee nerd friends to try a wide range of beans and roasting styles to see what they liked. One thing I really like about The Loving Cup is that I can pick beans from all over the world and am not restricted in any way. When I started reaching out to companies who supply beans and told them I was opening a mobile coffee shop they started sending me cases of samples. There were many caffeinated mornings in the process.
14. So, how’d you pick from all the samples?
The first thing I wanted was to have something that would represent each geographic area very well. I needed a signature espresso bean to use for my Americanos, lattes, and espressos. I tasted about 20 different varieties until I found one I liked. That will probably be the one bean on the truck that stays consistent.
For the other beans I’ll order from places I like and I’ll keep trying new things out. I probably have about 7 beans on the truck right now from different areas and with different roasting profiles. I want to let people have choice. A lot of people will look for a straight light roast or dark roast. Every day I’ll be brewing one type of coffee with wide appeal and I’ll look to highlight some of the different beans we carry. That means that sometimes we’ll be featuring a light roast and sometimes the roast will be a little darker. At any time though, if someone wants something different from what we’re brewing, we’ll whip up a pour over and give them exactly what they want. If I need to open a bag for a single cup, I’m all about that and I think it’s awesome. You’re going to get what you want.
15. What sort of preparation styles will you offer?
I’ll have drip, the Melita method, which is a pour over, and I have a French press. Those, and a machine for any sort of espresso based drink you want. Most people go for the drip because they look to try the bean we’re featuring and they want to grab a coffee and go.
16. What’s your favorite coffee style?
I’m an iced coffee man. I have a Kenyan blend for my iced coffee on the truck now. I add a little sugar-free caramel and half-and-half.
17. You have iced coffee in the winter?
Yeah! Iced coffee is brewed a little differently than regular coffee. You use a couple more beans so it can stand up to the ice. It just has a nice little kick. I don’t know, I’ve tried espresso and I’ll drink it but iced coffee is my favorite.
18. How’s winter for The Loving Cup?
You’d think 35 or 40 degrees outside is good for business, but it’s not. Even though we’re selling coffee people don’t want to come out. When they make the effort to come out we need to be quick, happy, and engaged to get them what they want and get them on their way.
19. Who’s your audience?
When I created the menu I wanted to have something different for everyone. That’s the way the coffee culture is. Some people want to grab a coffee, add milk and sugar, and be on their way. Other people want to take their time, have a good conversation while listening to some tunes, and really enjoy the experience of the coffee. We’ll have something for both these people. For families we’ll have smoothies that appeal to kids as well as the coffee drinks.
For weekday mornings a natural fit is a business park where people want a good coffee to start their day. But we’ve also been approached by the Art Walk and we want to attend music festivals too.
The thing about a coffee truck that’s a little different from many food trucks is that many people have a routine in the morning around their coffee. They may be headed into the office and they’ll want to grab a coffee on the way in. If they see us out there they’ll stop and grab a coffee, but they won’t follow us around if we’re not convenient to them and they have to drive past 30 Starbucks to get to us. So, I think a certain amount of our audience will come from having a location where people know we’ll be and where we’re convenient to their morning routine.
20. Do you also have teas?
Yes, I have black, green and hibiscus-pomegranate teas. They're important to have on the truck because there are people who prefer tea over coffee.
21. Can you tell us about your frozen beverages?
They’re all made with coffee and 2% milk. From there you have your choice of flavor. You can have caramel mocha, cinnamon, even toffee-nut. The beverages are frozen and blended. As you can imagine, they’ll be more popular in the summer.
22. What about your Smoothies?
We have a Tropical Smoothie which is made with pineapple, mango and strawberry. There’s a straight Strawberry-Banana Smoothie. On a different note we also have a Peanut Butter and Chocolate Smoothie. If you want to build you own we’ll also have various fruits on the truck, along with some syrups. We’ll be tinkering around with lots of flavors over the summer and letting people know what we’re up to on social media.
With the Smoothies I want to look to the farm to fork approach and feature ingredients that are right at a certain time of the year.
23. What exactly is an Italian soda?
It’s a refreshing drink that’s made from sparkling water and added flavoring. Italian sodas are healthier than a regular soda, which is why we decided to feature them on the truck.
24. Do you also have food?
We do! I caved wholeheartedly to my mother. She said if I was going to open a cafe then I needed to have food, so I put her in charge. She went to the commissary and started baking. She has a few different items that we’ll feature. It’s not our main focus but it’s a good side if you want a quick snack.
25. How did you come up with the name of your truck?
The Loving Cup has a little bit of a musical history. It’s a Rolling Stones song that’s covered by one of my favorite bands, Phish. Last year I was about to go to a road trip with some buddies to see Phish. They knew I was going to open a food truck so we started kicking around some names and The Loving Cup came up. We decided that if Phish played The Loving Cup then we’d have to name the truck that. During the third and last concert their final encore was The Loving Cup and so, boom, it was done! It’s a pretty cool name. It represents the heart that goes into a cup of coffee - it’s that warm feeling you get when you’re drinking a coffee on a cool day. It has a lot of meaning to me but even if you don’t know the connection, it’s still a pretty good name.