Meet Ben Usen, Founder of Installation Cold Brew, an all natural coffee concentrate brewed and bottled in Los Angeles. e initially planned on interviewing Ben for our Meet A Local Monday series, but once we heard his story and his take on the current status of coffee in general, we felt it necessary to feature him as a guest editor. From a musician in the band, Papa to coffee brewer at Installation, we are quite intrigued by Ben and his dedication to bringing damn good cold brew to Los Angeles and beyond. You know us Angelenos and our coffee...
Where did the idea to start your own cold brew company come from?
Well, my main mission starting this company was to help bridge the gap between the 'specialty' coffee world and the regular American coffee drinker. This new 'Third Wave' coffee movement has made strides in producing unbelievable coffees, but has struggled to make the product accessible to everyone. Cafe lines are too long,
baristas take their time to produce drinks at a high cost, and sometimes with an
unpleasant attitude. 95% of coffee drinkers don't go to these cafes, and there's a
reason for it. Most Americans are at home using Kuerig and Nespresso machines for a less than mediocre cup of coffee. But ease and efficiency can go a long way. Which is why consumers pay so much ($60/lb) for tiny amounts of poor grade coffee in little plastic pods...because it's so fast and easy. So I figured why not bottle a product that's
already brewed, lasts a long time, and is even faster to make than a pod. Cold Brew is essentially a 'gourmet' instant coffee, all you have to do is serve it.
My original idea was actually to target homes and offices, setting up clients with
coffee equipment ranging from espresso machines to a french press setup, and teach them how to properly brew coffee. But I quickly realized that taking 5 minutes to make coffee is too drastic of a change for people who are used to such a fast process. My main goal is for my Cold Brew to be used as a gateway into coffee education and
paying attention to quality. Hopefully it introduces the average coffee drinker to what great coffee can really taste like, and I believe a good amount of them will never be able to go back to those pods. Coffee doesn't have to be consumed solely as a vessel for caffeine, but a superfood that is the most aromatic/complex food in the world
(followed by wine) that can open your mind and build your palate. My dream is that a
percentage of those drinkers venture out into trying new coffees and (properly)
brewing at home. It's really easy and affordable. And worth it.
How did you get started in the food industry?
My start in the industry was completely accidental. I had been a touring musician for a few years and found myself home for an extended period of time with a dangerously low bank balance. So I picked up a job at a cafe my friend had just started managing called Paper or Plastik in Culver City. He needed me there at night to count money, which also called for being the dishwasher since I wasn't a barista.
It was brutal. I had never had a shot of espresso before, but right away I started
tasting what was happening at this place and became intrigued. It was right up my
alley: detail oriented, challenging, the perfect blend of science and
art/interpretation. I trained to be a barista, attended coffee events and conferences and spent my spare time reading as many coffee blogs/magazines/books I could get my hands on. When I went back out on tour I visited as many good cafes in each city as possible. After a few years I started consulting for various coffee companies around California specializing in barista training and setting up coffee operations. I carved out a niche that takes old school high volume places, implementing quality without jeapardizing efficiency, and vise versa with high quality cafes that lack the
capacity for volume.
Which Featured March Ingredient would you be most intrigued to try?
Tough call between P&H Hibiscus Soda Syrup and Willy B's Dehydrated Hot Sauce, but I'm obsessed with hot sauce and would love to cook with it. I also love trying
anything Chef Christan Page puts his hands on.
What's your favorite Los Angeles foodie spot?
I was born and raised in Santa Monica so I have to stick to my roots here and go with Bay Cities Italian Deli. I'm a big sandwich guy, and nothing beats it. I also love
everything at SQIRL, and have lately been eating numerous amounts of tacos at the 24 hour Tacos Mexico stand underneath my building. My favorite foodie market is Urban Radish in downtown.
How do you take your coffee?
My favorite thing to do when I wake up is make a cappuccino. In my eyes, it's just the perfect drink. If we are talking about regular coffee, I always start by drinking it black to see what's going on in there. If I taste something unpleasant, I'm not ashamed to put in some milk and sugar to mask it. But that rarely happens. There's a lot of
wonderful coffee out there.
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