JESSE SUBLETT + ESPRESSO
Jesse Sublett is an author and musician in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of 13 published books and a legend in the Austin music scene. In 1978, Jesse founded The Skunks with Eddie Munoz and Bill Blackmon, while simultaneously, he was a founding member of the Violators, with Kathy Valentine, Carla Olson and Marilyn Dean—these two bands being the first punk bands in Austin. Their first gigs at Raul’s marked the birth of the Austin punk/new wave scene.
Last year saw the publication of important new two books, "Armadillo World Headquarters: A Memoir" (written with Eddie Wilson) and "Esther's Follies: Funny Business," by Jesse alone. It was in Los Angeles that Jesse became a published author, yet his first subjects were his native town of Austin. Jesse’s music-infused, Austin-centered crime novels, "Rock Critic Murders" "Tough Baby,” and “Boiled in Concrete” featured a blues bass player named Martin Fender, who moonlighted as a skip tracer and detective. In 2004 he published a bittersweet memoir, "Never the Same Again: A Rock 'n' Roll Gothic," which took readers through his early music career, his struggle with stage 4 throat cancer, and the murder of his girlfriend by a serial killer in 1976. He is really proud of the 2015 book “1960s Austin Gangsters: Organized Crime that Rocked the Capital,” because it is, as he says, “a gift that keeps on giving.” He continues to get emails and letters from people who read the book and were related or friends with the thugs he wrote about. He is currently working on several new book projects, as well as a film about the CIA’s secret air forces, Civil Air Transport and Air America.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GO TO COFFEE DRINK?
I drink espresso--straight, no chaser, but it’s got to be good. I’m pretty serious about my espresso. This love affair began over 25 years ago, when we were still living in Los Angeles, but it reached a new level after we moved back to Austin and found some good espresso that suited my tastes and also kept me buzzing all night long. My life changed dramatically after my first visit to Texas Coffee Traders, not long after they had moved to their current location on East 4th Street, just past Scoot Inn. R.C. Beal, owner and coffee guru, took me aside and began my real education in coffee—where the best beans are grown, their Fair Trade dealings with the growers, Texas Coffee Traders’ awesome roasting operation, and finally, the machines they sell and service. Austin has a number of good espresso bars. Bennu on Riverside is near home and it’s what I call my satellite office. I’ve written large portions of my last three published books there. They’re great people and as it happens, their coffee beans and espresso machine are from Texas Coffee Traders! Life is too short for mediocre coffee. Does coffee increase your IQ? I can’t say for sure, but it’s a theory I actively support. Remember the Dark Ages of coffee in the USA? I remember when I was a musician on the road and we’d pull into a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, zonked out of our minds from music and road fatigue. The smell of burned Mr. Coffee brew in those places was enough to turn your stomach, and taking it with you to wash down some microwave nachos or hot dogs was like an Old Testament punishment. The coffee renaissance has made life so much better. My recipe for coffee is simple: Dark, organic Sidamo beans, freshly roasted, ground no more than 20 minutes ago. Use a good machine, like a Gaggia Classic, Rancilio Silvia, or better. I like to use heavy glass shot glasses so I can see the crema as it forms, and I stop pulling when each shot glass is about 3/4 full. Drink. Think. Write. Think. Write. Then take a break, maybe a nap. Stay off social media and email until lunch break. Take your MacBook to your favorite espresso bar and have another shot or two as you work. When you’ve about 5 pages done, about 1,000 — 1,200 words, that’s good. Keep repeating the above until you’ve got a book, screenplay, whatever. Celebrate with good single malt scotch or rye whisky. Play some music. Avoid stupid clothing. This is summer, so I’m wearing a lot of linen and seer sucker.
DESCRIBE YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE ASSOCIATED WITH COFFEE?
We recently spent a week in Italy. Coffee culture there is awesome, and they have some pretty nice art and fashion there, too. But seriously, the espresso there was on a high level. The crema generally had a sweetness you don’t regularly find here. In Positano, a “vertical town” on the Amalfi Coast, we would go down for breakfast, a really stunning offering of food, and I’d have two or three espressos out there on the balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, and life was really good.
DO YOU MAKE COFFEE AT HOME? IF SO, HOW DO YOU PREPARE IT?
I always buy dark Ethiopian beans—usually Sidamo, but recently, TCT gave me a bag of Harrar beans for evaluation. The floral nose on these is out of this world, and the espresso is reddish brown, the crema an intense golden color. As I understand it, TCT is still on the fence about these beans—I’m not sure they have enough body to make a great espresso shot. For regular coffee, maybe OK. For now I’m sticking with my Ethiopians—Sidamo and Yirgacheffe--and sometimes, Viennese. Like I said, I like it dark. Noir, baby, noir. For many years, our home machine was an Italian-made Pavoni lever, which looks cool and makes good espresso, but I was constantly blowing gaskets and stuff, so it was in the shop a lot. A year or so ago, I donated the Pavoni to the research department at TCT and we bought a Gaggia Classic, which is not expensive (about $400) and it makes great espresso. Next to Gaggia sits the Capresso burr grinder, another reliable, much-used machine at the center of my world.
WHAT WAS THE CRITERIA FOR CHOOSING YOUR PLAYLIST?
For jazz, I’m drawn to the heavy bass guys – Mingus, Ray Brown, Christian McBride, etc., just because, I just love a heavy upright bass. I have my streaming stations programmed thusly. Sure, I love Miles Davis, and I NEVER get tired of Modern Jazz Quartet. I play them almost everyday, often nonstop. Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music have been rocking my world since I was 19 and first heard that first LP and said, Whoa, WTF? Ever since then, that has been my music. Bryan Ferry is a huge influence on me. Lois and I have seen Bryan Ferry play a dozen times or more. The best shows were in LA. I’m still a diehard Stones fan. Speaking of diehard, what will happen when, you know…. the band… doesn’t exist anymore? I don’t know—kind of like wondering if Trump will be around a year from now, I don’t want to think about it. Too painful. The Sex Pistols are still great, still relevant. How many songs off Never Mind the Bollocks first album did I end up playing in bands? Probably six or seven—almost as many Iggy/Stooges songs that we played. Iggy Pop = awesomeness. If you don’t get Iggy, you’ve got problems. If you saw him perform and STILL don’t get it, I pity you. Opera!!! I started getting into it about a year ago and I’m really hooked now. Last year, Lois and I went to NYC to see The Exterminating Angel at the Metropolitan Opera, and it was really awesome. Spanish composer Thomas Ades adapted it from the Luis Bunuel surrealist film noir. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Strauss’ Elektra is my current obsession, along with Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde.
"Life is too short for mediocre coffee. Does coffee increase your IQ? I can’t say for sure, but it’s a theory I actively support." – Jesse Sublett\