Words: Meagan Thomas
Photos: Abby Mortenson
Starting the day with coffee is typical for most people. For Tyler Hill, barista at The Principal’s Office, it’s more typical to spend the entire day surrounded by coffee. Hill is a specialty coffee enthusiast and is quickly becoming one of Colorado Springs’ most talented latte artists and teachers.
“It was really quickly that he took the role of teaching a lot and training, just because of his personal interest,” the Principal’s Office General Manager Eric Nicol said.
Hill became a part of the specialty coffee community after becoming a regular customer (and questioner) at Colorado Coffee Merchants while he attended UCCS. He’d go, get coffee and ask Nichol, who was a roaster at Merchants at the time, questions about the products. Hill would taste tons and tons of types of coffees at different coffee shops, and would try different brewing methods and coffees at home. In early 2013, Nichols invited Hill to be a part of The Principal’s Office, which opened in June of that year.
“When I came (to the Principal’s Office) it changed from a hobby to a profession and coffee turned into a career at that point,” Hill said.
As Hill has learned and became a coffee expert, he’s also helped to teach and grow the coffee community in Colorado Springs. Hill competes in latte art competitions and also spends time teaching other baristas about latte art. He makes an effort to connect with and help other coffee shops around town - even when they are competition.
“I’m thrilled he’s been involved in that,” Nicol said. “In bigger cities I’ve been in, you don’t just see one great shop. There’s always a culture of different places doing different things … without that you’re not getting quality or getting coffee culture out to enough people.”
Part of Hill’s passion for specialty coffee stems from the idea that coffee can connect so many people. He doesn’t just want to be in a community with those who already like specialty coffee - he wants to bring others in. Hill said there can sometimes be a snooty or pretentious stigma that comes with specialty coffee and that shouldn’t be the case. Coffee should be approachable.
“I really like to make cappuccinos ... I don’t like to put stuff in coffee but by putting a little bit of milk it makes it approachable to so many more people,” he said. “It’s a great vein to start veering them toward specialty coffee.”
And that’s Hill’s ultimate goal - to introduce and accept as many people as possible into the world of specialty coffee. As part of that mission, he’s began teaching coffee classes a couple times a month. He’ll walk students through coffee tasting where the students will try four or five cups of coffee side by side. Another class teaches students about making coffee. Even for people who don’t have specialized coffee or steam machines, there are better ways to do a batch brew. Everything Hill teaches in class, he’ll teach students how to do really well at home.
Classes typically cost about $10 and last an hour, but often times Hill will stick around afterward to chat with his barista students. In fact, that’s his favorite part about teaching the class.
“I like to get to know people in the community,” Hill said. “That’s why coffee is so special. People gather around coffee. Coffee cultivates community.”
Hill’s next class will be on April 18 at the Principal’s Office and will concentrate on teaching students to brew better at home.