When Dixieland got a new coffee shop, Concord Coffee, I had to pay them a visit. I scheduled an interview with Naida Lindberg, Concord’s senior house manager, and on a Wednesday evening before the new Dixie Twilight Market, I proceeded to give her the roast. See what I did there?
Lakeland Coffee Shop in Dixieland
Naida was engaging customers in friendly banter when I arrived, so I strolled around the shop snapping pictures. First impression: the shop is beautiful and serene. There is a lot of white, beautiful wood, plants and a lovely glow from large glass windows and hip Edison bulbs. I saw customers of all ages, and got several smiles from the friendly staff.
Naida and I soon made eye contact and were able to introduce ourselves. I hadn’t ordered a drink yet, so we talked briefly about options before she suggested I try an Americano. I ordered my drink and a sour cream donut, and then we headed to the back room for our interview.
VCF: What sets Concord Coffee apart from other coffee shops in central Florida?
N: We are a multi-roasting site, which means we carry multiple roasters from all over the United States. Some amazing roasters are putting out amazing coffee, and we wanted to showcase their work. Some people from Lakeland don’t have the opportunity to travel to California or Savannah, Georgia, but we can showcase what’s going on in those cities by bringing their coffee to Lakeland. We can also introduce new coffee brews to those visiting Lakeland during their Central Florida vacation.
VCF: What are a some of the roasters you’ve brought to Lakeland?
N: We have Verve, out of Santa Cruz, California; Perc , out of Savannah, Georgia; Cultivar, from Dallas and Denton, Texas; and Counter Culture, from North Carolina.
VCF: The shop is absolutely beautiful, by the way. I love the white, wood and Edison bulbs. Can you tell me a little about the inspiration behind the space’s design?
N: Well, there are a couple different things. We wanted to keep it classic and clean – somewhere between modern and industrial. It needed to be timeless. Subway tiles are a staple in our shop, and the reason why we put them there is because they never really age. They look good and they stand the test of time. We picked clean lines and classical pieces, so that the space ages well and grows with us.
(In the background, I hear a barista yell, “Barbara.”)
VCF: My coffee and donut is ready!
(Naida ran and grabbed it for me, because she is super awesome and nice…and closest to the counter. She returns with my goods, and we decide to continue the interview while I let my drink cool a bit.)
Coffee House Manager's Favorite Brew
VCF: So, what does the senior house manager order off of the menu at Concord Coffee?
N: Well, I’m such a classic coffee drinker. I order espresso or an Americano (espresso with hot water). If I feel like something with milk in it, I’m going to lean toward a cappuccino or a flat white.
VCF: Talk “flat white” to me, because I feel like there are many people out there like me, who have no clue what it is.
N: So a flat white is something you are going to see a lot in Australia – it’s a big drink for them. But it’s also gaining popularity in the States. I think every shop has their own recipe standard, but for most shops you are going to have espresso paired with 4 oz. of steamed milk. It is a similar consistency to a latte, with a creamy body and a light layer of foam on top, except with a flat white, the espresso shot is pulled ristretto. It’s a quicker extraction, so the shot is going to be a bit more punchy, but will finish sweet because it is paired with milk. It is the same proportions as a cappuccino, but the milk in a cappuccino is foamy throughout the body, and a flat white should be nice milky, creamy. The cream is what brings out all the flavors of the ristretto shot. I don’t want to say it’s bolder, but it’s going to be a sharper shot with a sweet finish.
VCF: Tell me a little about your background. I heard you worked at a local college’s coffee shop.
N: Yes. I helped open Portico Coffeehouse on Southeastern University’s (her Alma Mater) campus almost two years ago. My background started with an internship in Washington, D.C. my junior year of college. It was basically an internship to learn how to manage a coffee shop, but also within that we did trainings, visited every shop in DC, wrote reviews, and did multiple trainings.
Before that, I always loved coffee. When you get into college, you begin to enjoy it not just for the caffeine, but for the way it tastes. You are also really able to sit down and explore different methods. I would do weird methods in my dorm room, and that wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but I made it work. I guess you could say I developed a professional appreciation for coffee while I was in college.
VCF: Who was your internship with?
N: Okay. So I worked at a shop called Ebenezer’s Coffeehouse, and I took an espresso training course with Counter Culture, which is actually one of the roasters we have here now.
VCF: Very cool. Did you play a role in bringing Counter Culture to Concord?
N: Well, I got to pick all of the coffees we serve. I picked the coffee, I wrote the menu and I hired the employees.
Concord Coffee Baristas
VCF: Tell me about the education or qualification of your baristas.
N: That’s the thing about our shop. We are all learning together. And because we do have so many coffees coming in, we all have to try them together. We do cuppings, which are tastings with the coffee, so we can really figure out what we are picking up, and how to explain them well, and brew them well. We gain more and more understanding as we brew them, try them in different recipes, talk about them, and as we engage with our customers.
Now I Taste My Coffee
VCF: It’s good!
N: It’s good. Yay.
VCF: Oh my goodness, it’s good.
N: Do you know what espresso you got?
VCF: I got Hologram – the description sounded similar to my favorite dark chocolate, so I thought there was a good chance I would like it. I love to find a coffee I can enjoy black. It’s the true test.
N: Best way to do it.
The Coffee and Brewing Methods
VCF: So, you are learning together and tasting together, because you have so many roasts…
N: And they come and go, too. Coffee is something that goes in and out. When there is no more in the lot, then you have to find a new one and roast it again. So our job becomes very time-consuming, but in a very good way. When you get a new coffee you have to figure out what the grower was trying to say, what the roaster was trying to say, and what the barista is to make of that. There are so many hands that go into your coffee before you get it. It is a very well thought out and intentional process from A,B, and C, we being the C aspect as the brew staff.
We are reading the bag and seeing that it says the coffee tastes like lime, and ginger, and has a chocolaty finish. Now we have to figure out how we can bring that to life? We practice with brew methods and we cup these coffees and taste them until we are like, yeah, I’m getting that taste, I’m getting that aroma. We are also able to add additional insight into other aspects of each brew based on personal experience and what our audience is saying.
VCF: Wow, it’s much more involved than I thought, but kind of perfect because you have loads of insight to share with your customers.
N: Yeah. I think all of our employees here are excited about the opportunity to teach and educate. You may come in and read some of these descriptors and think, what the heck is that? But we are ready and able to walk you through any confusion or decision. You may find out you love a drink you have never tried before, or even just the educational tool of, wow, I went to get coffee and ended up learning something, which is really kind of a fun thing.
VCF: It’s definitely an experience.
N: Exactly. That’s what we want. For it to be an experience of community and quality, offered in an inviting atmosphere. We want you to come back not once, not twice, but to return as a lifelong customer. This is a place for people to feel welcome.
VCF: Tell me about the choice to specialize in coffees, and not lunch or breakfast.
N: We don’t have a kitchen and want to focus on the craft of coffee. We definitely want to carry amazing pastries and good food options. When you begin to move toward the restaurant side, you aren’t as able to focus on the coffee and what you are tasting as much as we would like. Sure you can write a recipe, but right now it’s about constantly growing with the coffee, it’s about constantly growing with the method, and learning more about it and how to present it. Because we stick predominantly to coffee, we are able to do that.
VCF: I guess something has to give when you start expanding options.
N: Yes. We want the quality to be consistent. We want you to come in and want to order from any of our baristas. They are willing and more than able to handle delivering a quality drink. There is nothing worse than going to a shop and seeing someone on the bar, and knowing you can’t get coffee that day because they are not really taking this seriously, or they aren’t homing in on their craft. That’s why I am always practicing, and why our staff is small. We focus a lot on quality, because we want to maintain it.
VCF: Wow. I have actually noticed that at some shops, I like my drinks made by certain baristas. Not because we are friends, but because I genuinely feel like the drink tastes better.
N: There is so much that goes into brewing coffee – it’s actually quite difficult. We always encourage our baristas to adopt the mindset that they have never reached ultimate learning capacity. There is always room for improvement and learning. I am always practicing, and so are they. We have people who are well-versed in tea, and are now working with coffee to bridge the gap, and vice-versa. We have a diverse staff, but what’s awesome is they are all really passionate about what they do, and learning more about it.
We Want the Local Coffee Community to Grow
VCF: Is it fair to say that people who lack coffee knowledge should not be intimidated by your educated staff?
N: Absolutely. We don’t want to be pretentious. We have decided to really learn and grow in this field, and we would love the opportunity to share that knowledge with you.
Come all. Come willing and ready. We are never going to make you feel stupid when you ask a question. We will never make you feel insecure about liking a sweeter drink or mixer. We are just here to help you find that perfect drink, and encourage the Lakeland coffee community to grow.
VCF: What beverage do you suggest to first-time visitors?
N: Well, I walk them through the menu a little to see what they are used to drinking, and what terminology they are used to first. Then we talk about whether they are in the mood for something hot or cold, with milk or without milk, and go from there.
VCF: What is the most popular drink on the menu right now?
N: Oh gosh. I don’t know that we have one just yet. I thought for a while we would home in, but right now it is just so diverse.
Concord Coffee is definitely worth visiting, and I am not ashamed to say that I returned several times before I sat down and wrote this article. The shop is beautiful, the coffee is great and the prices are reasonable.