I’ve always loved writing and got my start as a kid. Some of my first writing was inspired by a book series called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. These books were like the Hardy Boys—I’m not sure what the tie to Alfred Hitchcock was. I also enjoyed science fiction and often tried my hand at that. It remained always on the back burner.
In the 90s I spent a year in Turkey as a teacher and sent funny emails to my friends while I was there. I began to think there might be a book hiding in those emails and there was: “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey.” It took almost ten years before I found a publisher. Although the title merely referred to the man who literally came to my door selling yogurt, that book did earn me a spot at a yogurt conference in Istanbul alongside some actual yogurt experts.
I’ve had a number of amazing travel opportunities and my writing always came along. I sold my car and used the proceeds to fund a year of living in—and writing about—Guatemala. I also lived in Panama and Italy as an English teacher, where I continued to write about my adventures.
I decided to become a writer full time in 2004. I told myself that I’d take it one month at a time: the first time I hit a month where writing didn’t pay the bills, I had to find something else. Lucky for me, that month never arrived.
I fell into books about hiking, camping and paddling after I answered a Craig’s list ad looking for someone to inspect and write about a few campsites. I also do a travel guide for beer lovers—although I wasn’t much of a beer drinker before that. There are currently three versions, one each for Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.
My earlier beer guides tended to be more punny and silly because the masses hadn’t embraced the craft beer culture. That’s changed over the years as people have become more sophisticated about their beer.
My most memorable caffeine is difficult to pick—I’ve had so many amazing ones. One highlight was pour-over coffee at Chatei Hatou in Tokyo. Like so many things in Japan, this was all about the experience: the coffee service, the particular cup, the specific steps. The coffee itself was fine, but the entire process was magical.
Another memorable experience was the daily cappuccino I had while living in Italy. I remember walking out of “my” bar and all the colors of my surroundings jumping out at me—things were incredibly vivid.
In Vienna, I met Johanna Wechselberger at the Vienna School of Coffee. She is a coffee judge and a roaster, helps set coffee prices on the international market and also instructs baristas. She taught me to appreciate the much-maligned Robusta beans. (Higher caffeine content as well!)
My last pick is the coffee I had during The Coffee Journey, a homestay weekend in the Chiang Rai province of Thailand. There’s a gentleman there, Lee Ayu Chuepa, who’s since become a friend. He’s a member of the Akha hill tribe; they have a long history of growing coffee. Previously, these poor farmers were taken advantage of by coffee buyers but Lee changed that by educating himself about coffee production and creating a business model that’s allowing the Thai farmers to benefit from their crop (you can learn more here).
My current caffeine of choice is usually a cappuccino or coffee made with a French press.
My favorite place for caffeine is my house! I’ve figured out how to tease out a darn good cup of cappuccino with a $37 NESCAFÉ espresso maker. And I always grind my beans using a 1910 hand grinder that was a wedding gift to my Finnish immigrant great-grandparents. I discovered it, mounted to the wall in my grandmother’s basement, and she graciously allowed me to take it. My great-grandparents grew up in Finland where people drink coffee all day long. My Finnish cousins even take their coffee pot with them on a hike and brew up coffee in the middle of the forest.
The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is my maternal grandmother. She was a kindred spirit—a true adventurer. She died in 1993, just as I was realizing the importance of stories.
My grandmother signed up with the Marines during World War II—though she got sent home for health reasons. She also parachuted out of a plane as a young woman: You paid a dollar and got to jump out of the plane. The paper wanted to take her picture but my grandmother wouldn’t let them because she didn’t want her mother to know she’d done it!
I’d also like to have coffee with Kurt Vonnegut, a fascinating, awesome human being. I love his books and I also love his essays, which are like a grandfather recounting his life. It’s fun to connect his books with things he also shared in his essays.
I read his biography—one that, apparently, wasn’t sanctioned by his family. There were things that presented him in a less than favorable light, but I thought they humanized him and I liked him even better.
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: the ability to finally finish my novel! That’s not specifically a world problem, but I think generally we need that kick in the pants to go after our dreams and improve ourselves and our little corners of the world. If everyone is doing it, that can only be a good thing, right?