Magic ManJon Ferguson drops some science on Minneapolis coffee community
By Chris Ryan
Jon Ferguson’s title at Minneapolis’ Dogwood Coffee Company may read director of quality control, but it may as well be resident coffee geek. Since joining Dogwood in April, Ferguson has held monthly gatherings called Magic Science Nights in which he has educated crowds consisting of both consumers and Dogwood wholesale customers on complex coffee topics ranging such as particle distribution in grinding and organic acid identification. Ferguson is a self-professed nerd who earlier this year won the North Central Regional Brewers Cup and took second in the U.S. contest with mind-bendingly technical routines. He talked to Fresh Cup about science’s role in the industry, incorporating science into barista competitions and more.
Q: How did these Magic Science Nights come about?
A: When I was hired at Dogwood, one of the job descriptions was to host an event on a monthly basis in which we would do a little bit of outreach and education to the public. The Magic Science Nights were born from people always being fascinated by magic – but when you break it down, magic is just science. For the first event, I had a magic trick where I pulled an apple apart using my bare hands – it was about organic acids, so I identified the different acids in an apple, then applied that to coffee. In both cases, it’s simple stuff that can seem complicated.
Q: What’s your audience for this?
A: My target audience is people who are using Dogwood Coffee at their cafés and restaurants. I want to provide them with information that will get them excited to learn more about coffee. I try to tie these Magic Science Nights into subject matters that are not just specifically related to coffee, but food as an industry. And I maybe get one or two people who are customers that really like coffee.
Q: Tell me about the next one coming up at the end of the month (Aug. 28).
A: It’s about using science in barista competitions. The idea stems from the things I did in the Brewers Cup with using gauges and measurements to get more specific – to replicate quality at a high level without using just your intuition. I think the entire industry is a craft and you have art and science, and it’s a balance putting those two together. Right now, people are leaning more toward the art than the science. But I think the more we introduce science into the competitions, it lends the competitors a little bit more credibility to what they’re doing. So the idea is basically to assemble a group of Minneapolis people who want to compete in the next barista competition, and push the idea of science a little bit more into their routine to explain how things work rather than using a lot of esoteric descriptions. I think the judges are seasoned enough to want to be engaged and have some light bulbs go off in their head.