The alluring aroma of dark roast coffee, the abrupt sound of steam hissing at you and the soft alternative rhythms in the background. Although this could easily describe almost any coffee shop in Spokane, First Avenue Coffee, 1011 W. First Ave., sets itself apart from the crowd with new interactive Roast House classes.

These classes, created and led by coffee connoisseur Ryan Baker, are a fun and engaging way to learn more about the history, methodology and creativity that lies behind the bean. The classes are free and walk in welcome with further details on First Avenue Coffee’s Facebook calendar.

Each week Baker prepares a theme for the class.

When I went, it was based around understanding the origins behind Ethiopian coffee, which is known as the birthplace of the coffee bean. After receiving a very detailed crash course that is told like a story, you are finally able to taste the fresh brew that Baker roasted himself. Not only do you get to try the coffee, but you are also taught the proper tasting technique. After combing the top layer back with your spoon, indenting your tongue inwards and quickly slurping a strong sip thus properly aerating the coffee for a better taste, you can confidently say you are well above the average coffee drinker.

Baker teaches in the back of the shop in a very sleek yet cozy coffee bar. With music like Alt-J and Arcade Fire softly playing in the background, it feels like you are in every hipster coffee aficionado dream that you’ve only ever hoped for. The intimate and limited space you have allows you to not only hone in on the coffee, but the people around you as well.

“I really liked the roasting class,” Gonzaga physics professor Adam Fritsch said. “I didn’t know anything about it so it felt like the one where I learned the most. [Baker] went through the process, like how quick it is, how fast it happens, how careful you have to be and how it affects what the bean tastes like. I knew it mattered, if it’s more roasted or less roasted, but that was really cool to hear. And then of the coffees, I like [the Nano Challa brew] because I like Ethiopian so much. It was very fun to participate.”

Coffee enthusiast and blogger, Matthew VanDeLeest, has been to all of Roast House’s classes at First Avenue Coffee. He can recall the progression of each class and how they complimented one another.

 “The earlier classes started with different styles of coffee,” VanDeLeest said. “A lot of us that come to First Avenue wanted to see what was different and what you could do with it besides what we’re used to. He would break down a history lesson to start with and then would go through the different brew methods. You would see different profile tastings to try them out and expand your pallet. They’ve always been pretty consistent. Each one you come to you know you’re going to learn something new about it.”

With all this immense knowledge, how did Baker’s passion for coffee first come into fruition?

“I traveled quite a bit,” Baker said. “When my wife and I got married we decided before we have kids and everything, we’re going to travel for five years. We ended up going to Greece, Italy and, not purposefully, but all the fun coffee places in between. I just gained a lot of accidental knowledge from traveling.” 

So, for someone who is consistently bringing curious coffee lovers together over a small marble and white bar, what does coffee mean to them?

“Connection, I would guess. I like how in every culture they have a time set aside for talking together, and that tends to be surrounded around coffee,” Baker said. “It’s kind of fun to look at that and think this one little tiny thing made a million different ways, can combine so many people and have so many opinions.

 “That was the original idea of the coffee house, to come in and discuss ideas, whether it be political, emotional, and whatever it is.”

Even if you don’t particularly care for coffee, the class itself is a unique opportunity to not only learn, but to also immerse yourself with a growing and ever-evolving niche in Spokane. And for those of you that are fond of coffee, if the descriptors in this article weren’t enough to entice you then perhaps more free coffee will.

First Avenue Coffee is the brick and mortar retail side of Roast House, a roastery not far from campus. After a class, take advantage of your free cup of coffee coupon that you receive at First Avenue and head over to Roast House’s coffee bar for a sampling of the finest craft coffees. 

At the end of your class not only will you leave with a “good caffeine high,” as Baker jokes, but also, “ ... just a little extra bit of knowledge of the world. That was kind of the point after traveling. I just want to share those little bits that I had, that tidbit of knowledge, and just a little bit of joy for the day.”

 Valerie Fetzer is a staff writer.

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