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Best of Olympia 2013 Food and Drink: Best Barista - Michael Elvin

Weekly Volcano readers name Bar Francis barista the best in Olympia

MICHAEL ELVIN: He's been keeping Olympia amped for years. Photo credit: Winter Teems

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Michael Elvin of Olympia's Bar Francis is as much a scholar as he is a barista.

Elvin, named Olympia's Best Barista, speaks knowledgeably about the flavors of coffee (butterscotch and vanilla were mentioned one recent morning) and methods of its brewing - and he sounds equally expert when he talks chai.

"I'm doing that with a loose-leaf steeped infusion to which I add the milk and sweeten it to the customer's taste," he says. "It's something I can bend towards each individual chai drinker wants."

The sweetener can be either honey or his handcrafted vanilla syrup. "I won't ever be using a pre-bottled syrup."

With black-rimmed glasses and a stylish vest, Elvin even looks the part.

But although he prides himself on being a professional beverage maker (he's had about 20 years in the coffee business and worked as a bartender), knowledge alone doesn't make a great barista; there's also personality - and he's got that covered, too.

He tells a group of customers that he got a new cell phone in December and hasn't yet figured out why he can't get voicemail on it. One laughs and says, "Really?"

"Hey, there are more important things - like making you a coffee," he says.

"One of the reasons that I wanted my own café is I really enjoy the interaction," he says. "People ask me: ‘How is it working every day? Aren't you just exhausted?' I say, ‘I kind of get a three-day weekend because I only work the one job Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And going to work is kind of like hanging out."

Every day? Elvin must be Olympia's hardest-working barista, too. The shop, tucked into a garage space at the back of Northern, is a one-man operation. And Elvin also works part-time at Espresso Parts.

The space - chilly in the winter, since customers enter through the open garage door - is sparse, with an elegant coffee counter and a simple folding table holding sugar, cream and a few pastries. There are photographs on the wall but no chairs; customers stand around and chat while they drink their espresso, European-style.

He asks a new customer how she heard about the shop, and indeed, in the middle of a parking lot between Legion Way and Fifth Avenue, it doesn't seem a location likely to attract new customers on its own.

Elvin himself does that, and the proof is in his Best Barista award, which has come quickly given that Bar Francis just opened in December.

Perhaps it makes sense, though, when you know that he's been working in the coffee business for two decades, and a good chunk of that has been here in Olympia.

"In the first week operating Bar Francis, after not working in a café for 10, 11 months, I'd have people walk and I'd say, ‘Hey, how's it going? The usual for you?' and it's their first day. Knowing them from working in Olympia in the past, it felt really good to see old faces and remember they drink Americano or cappuccino or how they take their coffee."

Elvin himself prefers espresso. But he drinks regular coffee, too, in honor of his grandmother and his start at making coffee.

"My earliest coffee memories are spending three or four weeks every summer with my grandmother and making her coffee for her in the morning with the percolator and just being fascinated with the percolator," he says.


LINK: Best of Olympia 2013

LINK: Best of Olympia 2012

LINK: Best of Olympia 2011

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