Often sporting a quarter-zip pullover and black-frame glasses, David Schomer looks like any other 21st century dad. And the father of modern latte art and founder of Espresso Vivace also acts like a dad, respectfully pardoning himself from our phone interview to chat with his son Taylor.
Father, skier, classical flutist, and coffee professional, Schomer popularized latte art in the United States. Additionally, he pioneered espresso techniques, refined espresso technology, maintained three Espresso Vivace cafes, trained thousands of baristas worldwide, and committed resources to reducing his company’s carbon footprint.
Today, Schomer is regarded as one of the most influential players in the American coffee industry.
The History of David Schomer and Espresso Vivace
Schomer grew up in Lake City, Seattle, “running the streets,” he jokes. Approaching sixth grade, he moved to rural Lake Desire to live with his father and step-mother.
In those days, Schomer spent his time “taking care of chickens, learning how to build and install irrigation systems for the lake, racing dirt bikes, and fishing on the lake,” he says. “I had a blast out there with my brother Jay. Sometimes we were enemies, but that’s just how siblings are.”
Right out of high school, Schomer enlisted in the Air Force. Trained as an electronic countermeasures technician, he worked avionics on the flight line at Davis-Monthan AF base in Tucson, Arizona. In his third year, he cross trained into the precision equipment lab. From there, he went on to work as a meteorologist for Boeing.
However, he wasn’t happy.
“The long drives back and forth to work every day just felt intuitively wrong,” he says. “And the lab had fluorescent lights. I just thought I should continue to explore things. I had opportunities because of the GI bill to expand my horizons.”
At the age of twenty, Schomer went back to school. He received a BFA in Classical Flute Performance from Cornish College of the Arts, and a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Washington.
How David Schomer Built Espresso Vivace
In his younger years, coffee disagreed with Schomer.
“I loved the fragrance,” he says. “But when I tasted it in the Air Force or at two A.M. in the lab, the flavor didn’t quite match the fragrance. It was disastrously bitter and horrible. And I didn’t try it again until I was studying Japanese at the University of Washington. I got fresh coffee from the Wet Whisker on Pier 70 [– now known as Seattle’s Best Coffee –] and discovered the Italian mocha, which is common to households in Italy. I began drinking it as a study aid.”
Specifically, Schomer saw potential in espresso.
“I saw these machines had so much potential and weren’t being utilized,” he says. “Even in Italy, they had a slow and languid pour but they suffer from having to use whatever coffee the machine representative is putting on them. There wasn’t the economic freedom in Italy to buy top beans from around the world. But we could in Seattle.”
Along with then-wife, parenting partner, and forever friend Geneva Sullivan, Schomer founded Espresso Vivace in 1988. While the business began as a few scattered coffee carts in downtown Seattle, today the world-renowned company consists of three prospering cafes in urban Seattle neighborhoods: Brix (532 Broadway E), Alley 24 (227 Yale Ave N), and Sidewalk Bar (321 Broadway Ave E).
Over the last 30 years, Espresso Vivace has received praise from the Seattle Times, National Geographic Traveler Magazine, and Food Network.
How David Schomer and Espresso Vivace Changed Coffee
Espresso Vivace spearheaded — and continues to lead — espresso research, advancement, and roasting. Thanks to Schomer and his work, espresso went from cheap stimulant to culinary art.
“[The espresso] just kind of took over my imagination,” he says. “With meteorology, we learned how to control a result by controlling all the factors that might affect it, such as temperature, seismic activity, static electricity, etcetera. And applied this approach to espresso. The more I learned the more fascinated I became. It’s just a simple goal to preserve that fragrance of the roast into a cup.”
In 1988, Schomer began grinding each shot to order. And as obvious as that technique seems today, it was fairly radical in 1988.
Additionally, Schomer made tangible contributions to espresso machinery. In February 2001, with help from LaMarzoco, Schomer pioneered the first PID controlled espresso machine. PID, which stands for “Proportional-Integral-Derivative,” has a variety of commercial applications. In an espresso machine, it keeps the brew temperature steady.
How David Schomer Established Latte Art In America
Schomer’s other big contribution to coffee came in the form of latte art. Although the art was being poured since the 50s, Schomer shared it with the world, producing the latte art training course, Caffe Latte Art.
Schomer’s novel art emerged from “a natural observation of what the coffee and milk were actually doing.” As he recalls, “I was on the 5th Ave cart, and as we poured, we noticed a natural ‘V.’ With a little manipulation, it became a heart shape. It was just an organic process of watching what the milk and coffee wanted to do, and being able to embellish on that.”
While visual art was not Schomer’s original calling — “I’m more of a texture and flavor artist and musician,” he says — he has grown to love latte design, especially when it decorates a delicious cup of coffee.
David Schomer’s Efforts To Reduce Espresso Vivace’s Carbon Footprint
In 2004, Schomer partnered with the Cascade Land Conservancy to start his own Carbon Sequestration Program.
With the goal of absorbing Vivace’s annual carbon output, they planted nearly two thousand native cedar trees in Seattle’s Interlaken Park. In 2005, they planted four thousand more.
“I walk and see them all the time,” says Schomer. “I’ll probably take a walk in that forest today.”
Furthermore, Schomer says that “Vivace uses a small electric van, generates no car commuter trips in its employees, and uses entirely compostable materials including coffee bags.”
The Bottom Line On David Schomer and Espresso Vivace
Espresso Vivace’s Northern Italian roast “features a very high caramelized sugar content,” according to Schomer. In each cup, one gets the maximum development of origin flavors like blueberry, chocolate, or salted caramel, and the roast itself is meant to piece all these things together without a shred of citric acid.
To learn more about Schomer and his contributions to coffee, check out his book, Espresso Coffee: Professional Techniques. You can also look out for Schomer’s upcoming book, Espresso Perfection. And check out Espresso Vivace the next time you find yourself in Seattle, Washington. It’s only an hour drive from another one of our favorites, Olympia Coffee Roasters!
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