Chemistry, to the majority of us, is illustrated by lab coats and frothing test tubes. To Chris Speaks, resident barista at the coffee house and pub Crown Station (1425 Elizabeth Ave.), artisan coffee culture has a chemistry and an art all its own. Speaks, who relates being a coffee slinger to a Christian bartender, started pouring coffee in college after realizing how much he was spending on it. What started as a way for Speaks to both save and earn a few dollars soon became a passionate career he has cultivated on and off for the past eight years. Either way, it's left him fully immersed in liquid culture.
Creative Loafing: Besides making coffee, what other artistic skill sets do you possess?
Chris Speaks: I dance, spin fire, write prose, paint and draw — I love fibers. I fish; I think that's also an art. Art is in every aspect of life. Art is whatever allows people to get out what they wouldn't be able to otherwise. Coffee is definitely an expression of my art, blending different elements together to create a flavor for someone to enjoy as equally as I do. That right there is art, being able to communicate similarly with your senses to others without verbal interaction or knowing anything about each other.
You are surrounded by caffeine and booze all week. Do you prefer one brew over the other?
No, I like them both. Caffeine mixed with alcohol is great. I can't drink alcohol on the job, so the majority of the time I'm just getting jacked up on coffee from tasting different blends. I don't like sweetness. I like spice and nuance. I love spiced chai with spiced rum. You should try it.
How do you provide a happy medium for patrons seeking a quiet coffee nook and those who want to knock back a few beers and let loose?
Well, there's definitely an identity crisis going on here that we're trying to balance to keep all of our patrons happy. Both coffee and alcohol are served all day long. It's a culture shock, especially to more conventional Charlotte patrons who go to a place expecting to have one experience and walk into another. When I leave in the day and come back at night, I feel like I've walked into a totally different place. I like the transformation and vibe of both the more calm days and the exhilarated nights. In other states in the U.S. and even in countries like France and Italy, it's standard for a coffee house to look and function like this. For the most part, we let the atmosphere flow. We're doing our job well and doing our best to make coming to Crown Station a great experience for all of our customers; that's all we can do.