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3-Course Interview: Shawn Parsons of Brigade Coffee

Scott Gold talks with the food-truck coffee guy who dispenses java out of a Citroen H van

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When Shawn Parsons and his partners started their coffee company (www.brigadecoffee.com) in June 2012, they turned heads with their distinctive vehicle. Brigade's focus on its brew also made New Orleanians take notice, and the roving java wagon has developed a cult.

Which came first, the coffee or the truck?

Parsons: My partners (Andy and Hunter Anderson) and I saw a void in really great craft coffee in New Orleans and tried to do it in a way that would capture the imagination of New Orleanians. So we saw this truck, which is a French vehicle, a Citroen H van, that were used as mobile cafes in Europe after World War II. And we thought, "What a great way to make a splash in NOLA" — outfitting this crazy vehicle for service the way they do it abroad. People seem to be immediately taken aback by the visual appeal of the truck. But of course, it's also about the coffee.

In a coffee-loving town like New Orleans, what makes your product stand out?

P: It's really about the quality of the beans we select. We first started focusing on South and Central American coffees and began selecting a seasonally rotating variety of green beans from places like Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. A lot of the coffees that people here are accustomed to are darker, but with these beans, we try for a lighter roasting profile — otherwise the sugars that are inherent in the coffee cherries would be burned and you wouldn't be able to taste them in the finished cup.

What makes the perfect cup of coffee?

P: It's largely the preparation and the skill of the person preparing the coffee, as well as the equipment used to make it. If it's a milk-based drink, it's important to use high-quality, fresh milk from a local dairy. We use a Mazzer Robur grinder specifically for our espresso, which is a burr grinder versus, say, an electric blade grinder. It's specifically designed to make coffee that will go directly into an espresso machine, so that the hot water filters perfectly through it, and the flavor of the beans really stands out. There's actually a quality of sweetness there, in addition to all of the citrus and other notes. — SCOTT GOLD

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