Catching a Buzz With Fernando Valdez aka "Menso One"

I met up with the renowned tattoo and street artist, Menso One, to chat and catch a buzz outside of his Memory Lane studio in the famous Fairfax Village district of Los Angeles.

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What’s up, Menso! I tried doing this interview thing the other night, but we drank too many California beers and I forgot to take pictures or record our chat. It was a fun hang session though. Thanks for sitting down with me today to try again.

No problem, brother. I expected nothing less from Brewklyn Buzz.

I made you try a variety of brews from IPAs to ambers to blonde ales, but never asked you what’s your all-time favorite beer?

That was cool. I like the Stone beer we had because I grew up near their brewery. I remember being a busboy as a teenager and the owner would personally deliver kegs to the back of the restaurant before they got big. I think my all-time favorite beer is Corona with a lime. It’s classic.

Now, we’re here across the street from your Memory Lane studio at Paramount Coffee Project and I see you ordered an iced coffee with a little sugar. Is that your usual go to for coffee?

I like my own homemade coffee—grind the beans, let them simmer in my French press, and add my own flavor. If I go out for a coffee like at a Starbucks, I think I’m a caramel macchiato guy. I also might pour myself a mocha from that machine at the am/pm gas station when I’m on the road. Those are pretty good.

I love seeing your work from tattoos to murals and I’m wondering when you first started working as an artist.

We’re getting right into it. You know, I called my private studio Memory Lane for a reason because it’s always cool to reminisce and reflect. Really, I think art is my God-given talent and it’s in my blood. My dad was an artist, my grandfather was a carpenter, so I like to work with my hands and create. They also instilled in me a great work ethic.

So, you always kind of knew you wanted to be an artist?

Yeah. When I was young, I wouldn’t pay attention in class and would draw cartoons of Winnie the Pooh. As I got older it would progress into more themes of street culture. I lived in an area where there were gangs, so I was influenced by the Southern California lifestyle as far as the use of lettering, old English script, spider webs, angels, and stuff like that. All the gang members had nicknames and everyone wanted to have their stuff decorated. I was pretty much the artist for people who couldn’t do it themselves. They would get me to go into the alleys and write the gangs’ names. My dad caught me and moved the family away to Temecula. He didn’t like the route I was going down.

That must’ve been a culture shock, but maybe in a good way?

I didn’t like it there at first. I was in 7th grade thinking, “this place sucks, who are these skaters and punks.” But, I began to realize that art was my universal language to communicate with everyone. I could hang out with the kids that were Mexican, the Cholos and Cholas and they would understand my writing. I would hang out with the skaters and help them tag on the skate ramps and underneath the bridges and on the skateboards.

I also was introduced to hip hop and graffiti art coming from the NY subway systems, which I fell in love with and wanted to master spray cans to do my art. It was its own style and own culture, and like nothing else out there. It was like a secret society. We would say, “real recognize real.” It means someone that has credibility or a street etiquette. They were able to take what they learned from hardship and utilize it with a talent and creativity to make something of it.

Is that when you got your nickname “Menso One?”

Menso is actually a derogatory name for “stupid” or like a name for a troublemaker or class clown. I’d hear my grandmother often say, “¡Ay, Menso!” I decided to make the negative a positive like they did in the NY hip hop scene, you know, stupid fresh. You always had to add the number “one” after your name to know that you’re the number one.

When did you start making art your full-time gig?

I had an older friend that influenced me with the hip hop graffiti style and he would bring me up to LA at 16 years old. Doing graffiti was all that I cared about basically from 16 to 25. I was a graffiti artist and a starving artist. There was no social media, so you had to get your name and fame out there in every city. We were just traveling and being nomads. We went from San Diego, to North County (where I was from originally from), to Temecula, Murrieta, San Bernandino, then Los Angeles, Orange County, Anaheim, North Hollywood, then conquered San Francisco.

We would shoot out from San Francisco to Oregon, Seattle, Utah. Made my way to New York a few times. It’s the best feeling ever to create a mural in another city and have it last forever. I want to keep infiltrating and leaving my mark.

When did you add tattoo art to your skill set?

You know, I was a starving graffiti artist, barely making $300 a month. I would stay at friends’ houses and overstay my welcome. There would be times when I would finish a mural and riding high, then after the money ran out, I’d be cold and hungry at a park thinking, “What am I doing with myself?” In 2005, I was in San Francisco, on the street with nowhere to go in the most expensive city in the world. I only had a quarter to my name and used that to call me dad. I had to swallow my pride and he sent me a bus ticket back to Temecula.

I reconnected with some of my old friends who had an art studio called “Us Versus Them.” They had me curate art shows and I could sell my own work. I was making good money and had some stability with enough to have a small car and apartment. Things were looking great until the economy started going down and they had close the shop. It was literally the last day when I was cleaning out the shop when a local tattoo shop owner came in who would buy all kinds of art for her studio. She suggested that I come by to see if one of the artists would take me as an apprentice.

Did you ever think about being a tattoo artist before then?

At that point I never thought about being a tattoo artist and didn’t even have any tattoos. I once curated a tattoo art show at the store, but that was the closest thing.

What was the name of the shop?

Heritage Tattoo and the owner is Cindy Holmes—beautiful lady with a beautiful heart—who is like a mom to me. Her husband Geronimo is like a dad. They’re like my parents in the tattoo world. I would do everything they wanted, sweeping and making the floors sparkly. I didn’t have a dollar to my name but would still go out and get them coffees and sandwiches. Anything I could do for them. I needed to show them that I wanted it very bad. They were introducing me to a whole other culture and I wanted them to accept me because they put their blood, sweat, and tears into their work. Again it was “real recognize real” because they noticed that I had heart and potential and I was a good kid. They were good to me, but were also hard on me because I was still an apprentice.

My friend Kenny Tats was in charge of running the shop and he set me up with the other OG in the shop, Cody Iverson. He was rocker from desert with long hair, black metal, tatting dark looking stuff, like skulls and zombies. He was the silent type, but also people were scared to talk to him.

Is it really tough to tattoo compared to other art mediums?

Dude, it is super, super tough. That’s why I was excited about it. I watched over Cody Iverson to soak up everything that he was doing. After a year of apprenticeship, they let you actually touch some real skin. At that point I had to recruit buddies down the street to come in and let me tattoo them.

What was your first tattoo you inked on someone’s body?

The first tattoo was on my friend and it was a disaster. I’m supposed to be the lettering master, it was my specialty as a street artist, and I do the shittiest handwriting script on my friend. It looked like a little kid did it. He was an apprentice at the same time and he did his first tattoo on me too. That was my first tattoo on my body, and he fucked that one up, it fell out. It was a playboy bunny with a skull face and it fell completely out.

Wow, that’s crazy.

It was rough. I thought to myself, “Boom, I can’t tattoo.” It really took a lot of hustling and convincing people to come in and get tattooed by me so I could get better. I was broke and barely making ends. So, what I would do was go next door to a burger shop and I convinced the guys in the back who are Mexican like me to let me tattoo them in exchange for burgers. All the cooks, 4 or 5 guys, came from the Chicano lifestyle and they didn’t care how good that tattoos were and let me practice on them. Slowly but surely—it took me about six months to a year—I finally smoothed out my shading and found my touch.

As I got better, I learned to invest in myself and get the right tools. At first I was using the knockoff stuff, but once I picked up some quality equipment, I started to get good. I had a true tattoo apprenticeship, getting down and dirty in the trenches. I didn’t just read a book and call myself an artist. I got knocked down, so to speak, and kept getting back up. I got fired and fired again and kept coming back.

When did you open Memory Lane?

I was at Heritage for 10 years. I gave them a good decade of my life and learned everything I could and it was time to spread my wings and start fresh. Like when I first graduated high school, I did every job I could think of from busboy, to auto mechanic, to street twirler. None of them worked out and I’m glad because it forced me to focus on my art. You have to struggle through that to get to top. I’m where I am today from my struggle.

What is your specialty?

I’m definitely known for my lettering. I’ve won awards for lettering and am considered a lettering master. I also specialize in portrait art and realism. My dad was a portrait artist and I got it from him. I can do faces, family members, icons, and even animals in the black and gray Southern California style.

How do you like being a tattoo artist?

It’s a really cool thing to be able to do as a profession. I can glorify a newborn baby, or celebrate someone after they pass. Sometimes you see people reborn with a tattoo and it can be like a fountain of youth.

How do you like living and working in LA?

I love LA and its people. There are musicians, artists, other creators, professional BMX riders, you name it. I’m able to work with them and create tattoos, murals, album covers, graphic designs, pop up shops. It’s never-ending and I’m able to spread my wings a little bit more. I felt I was more than just a single tattoo artist. I feel my art has become more authentic and has a realness behind it instead of like a production line deal. It’s something that is classic that can have some longevity to it.

So what’s next?

As an artist, I’m creating my story. I’m about halfway through the movie where things are turning around for the character, stuff is looking up, stars are aligning. I found that energy where everything unfolding in a great way. It’s a cool feeling to know that my hands are able to find who I am as a person while also contributing something to the world.

It’s a bonus being part of the LA scene. It’s cool to just open my door every day, step out of my office, and meet all these great people like celebrities, athletes, movie stars, and radio personalities. I tattooed Michael Crabtree after he won the Super Bowl and had tattoo party. I’ve tattooed R&B guys like Omarion and old school gangsta rappers like MC Eiht, to modern artists like Dom Kennedy and Jay 305. You may recognize some of my work on singers like Rita Ora, Jhene Aiko, Iggy Azalea just to name a few. It’s a great time. They inspire me and I hope I inspire them.

What’s the Deal with Japanese Craft Beer?

Japanese Craft Beer, an association created by 23 breweries to promote Japan's artisanal brewing methods, dared me to “Drink in a New Language” by tasting some of the best offerings from the Far East.  

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So, what’s the deal with Japanese craft beer? Let’s start from the beginning. The industry was born in 1994, following deregulation that allowed smaller beer makers to acquire brewing licenses. The early players were mostly sake distillers who opened breweries on the side or other companies who made beer to promote tourism to their area of the country with batches featuring local ingredients like yuzu, wasabi, sansho, and even matcha (that’s why you see many Japanese beer companies with two names, i.e. Hitachino Nest/Kiuchi Brewing).

An early setback for most of these would-be beer companies was that they entered the business with little to no brewing experience (the majority of them literally only received a two-week crash course from visiting German brewers) and the product was admittedly not very good. We’re talking Tomato IPA bad! This turned off many Japanese beer drinkers from trying more craft brews and the industry almost failed before it really could get started.

Then around 2005, Japanese brewers got serious about the process of beer making as a “craft.” These reinvigorated and artisanal-minded brewers began creating modern, harmonious offerings that didn’t fit a single archetype, but still incorporated key from classic beers, like German-style lagers and American-style IPAs. The brews were actually starting to get good.

At least that’s what Japanese Craft Beer was trying to demonstrate when they had me taste these offerings (spoiler alert- I enjoyed most of these brews):

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Hitachino Nest White Ale. Chances are if you’ve only heard of one Japanese craft beer, it’s this white ale from Kiuchi Brewery. To be honest, it’s a great introduction to craft beers from Japan and piques your interest to try more. The Belgian-style witbier is flavored with coriander, orange peel, and nutmeg, tastes great, and goes down smooth. Try this if you like Allagash White.

COEDO Beniaka Imperial Sweet Potato Amber. This is a strong amber (7% abv) that’s brewed with Kintoki sweet potatoes from Saitama, Japan. It delivers an earthy hop bitterness, kind of like being smacked in the face with a sweet potato just pulled from the ground. Try this if you like New Belgium Fat Tire mixed with root vegetables.

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COEDO Ruri Pilsner. This is a crisp offering with a light body. It finishes with a bite of hoppiness (if you like that sort of thing) that helps to prevent you from putting down too many of these 5% abv brews too fast. Try this if you like Pilsner Urquell.

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Wabi-Sabi Japan Pale Ale. Baird Brewing Company got creative with this 6% abv beer that adds wasabi and green tea to the traditional malt and Scottish ale yeast. There’s no great way to describe it except weird, but good. You’re not sure you want to drink it, but you just have to. For those in Los Angeles looking to try this on tap, stop by Harajuku Taproom for this and a dozen more Baird beers on draught. Try this if you like…just try this.

Kanazawa Hyakumangoku Pale Ale. Nothing weird or funky here. Just a well-balanced and refreshingly hoppy brew that proves the Japanese can handle expertly making a traditional favorite. Try this if you like Lagunitas Sumpin' Easy Ale.

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Karuizawa Weiss. This 5.5% abv German white is less cloudy than you would normally see from its European or American counterpart because of a special filtration process that maintains the flavor and gets rid of the other stuff. The brewers at Karuizawa say they are dedicated to both quality and design, which can be seen in their double frosted green bottle that feels smooth in the hand and to deliver their great beer. Try this if you like Hoegaarden.

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Sorry! Umami IPA. YOHO Brewing created this Experimental Adjunct IPA with a hint of the flavor of the traditional Japanese culinary ingredient of “Katsuobushi” or bonito flakes. That’s right, there’s actually mackerel inside this beer! But, don’t worry about a fishy taste because the aquatic addition helps fermentation and brings out the fruity tropical notes of the brew. Just remember it’s not vegan friendly. Try this if you like Stone Ruination IPA.

5 Coffee Instagram Accounts Worth Following

I love witnessing the creation of crazy coffee concoctions, spying on the latest in espresso tech, and watching people in the coffee world make a difference. That’s why I follow these 5 awesome Instagram accounts.

1. @baristadaily

Barista Daily features some amazing gadgets in their fun exploration of espresso and coffee. Their feed consistently showcases the latest coffee technology, creating the vibe of a mad scientist’s lab with all of the experiments producing the perfect latte or double shot. They’ll also tell you how to purchase these amazing machines, tf you’re so inclined. As an added bonus, they sprinkle in some regrammed content from coffee lovers at the coolest cafés all over the world. Sadly, they have not selected any of my posts… yet.

2. @coffeehunterproject

The official account for Cafe Kreyól, a coffee roaster and importer committed to “creating sustainable jobs in Haiti, using organic specialty coffee,” takes you on the 100% traceable journey of their coffees to your cup. Their operation has expanded to other countries and they even helped start the Cocaine 4 Coffee Project in Colombia as a means of rescuing farmers and their families from a very dangerous industry by encouraging them to turn in their cocaine plants for coffee trees.

3. @baristahakan

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Cold coffee cream time.☕ Have a sweet day.

A post shared by Hakan Yılmaz (@baristahakan) on

Can Hakan Yılmaz be my local barista? I don’t know anything about him, except that he is coffee magician from the desert, sent by the internet to wow us with his amazing creations. A cold coffee cream? I’ve never heard of it, but because of his mesmerizing video, I want to be sipping it right now.

4. @croptocup

I know Crop to Cup very well because it was only 2 blocks away from my old apartment in Brooklyn. It was the first coffee shop I visited that was also a green coffee importer. This means that I could actually see the large bags of beans from Africa arrive and get ready to be roasted. It deepened my connection to enjoying each morning coffee more by gaining an appreciation for the journey from its roots as a plant to the beverage I was drinking (literally crop to cup). Their Instagram feed contributes to this experience by showing their coffee drinks along with photos of the farmers who cultivate their beans. It continues to make a positive impact on me and, dare I say, helps me love coffee even more.  

5. @dritanalsela

“Il Barista” Dritan Alsela’s coffee mission is to travel across the globe to inspire people for the barista profession and to exchange knowledge acquired from his unique expertise. So, you will see him working on a coffee plantation in Guatemala one day, then creating latte art at the New York Coffee Festival the next. It is so much fun to see his adventures around the world and interactions with other coffee lovers. Check his Instagram story highlights (conveniently organized by city) to see if he was recently in your neck of the woods.  

Best Holiday Gift for Your Coffee or Beer Lover? Hint: It’s Coffee & Beer

When shopping for the espresso expert or hophead in your life this holiday season, skip the “But First, Coffee” tee and use this gift guide to get something they will actually enjoy (although those Christmas ornaments are kind of growing on me).

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I’ll be the first to admit it, I was very difficult to shop for. I responded to every “what do you want for ____” question with a shrug. Then one magical Christmas, my wife found my perfect present, a basket of beers. It was just that simple all along. So if you have a curmudgeon like me in the family that is also a fan of beer or coffee, here are some gift ideas that are sure to win over even the surliest gift recipient.

Growler Filled with Seasonal Brew

Couldn’t resist the urge to purchase the “Most Wonderful Time for a Beer” growler at the Christmas Tree Shop? No worries, simply top it off at the nearest brewery before wrapping. Most places will have a holiday brew on tap that any beer enthusiast will be happy to try. If you’re confused by the crazy names or not sure whether to get an ale, lager, or sour, just ask for a suggestion. Despite their gruff, beardy exteriors, brewers are mostly jolly people (like Santa), who love to talk beer and help out the beer-selecting novice.  

Extra Shot: Did you receive a kitschy (and sadly empty) growler? Don’t re-gift it just yet. Instead, stash it securely in the trunk of your car. It will be out of sight and mind, but readily available for when you stumble upon a tap room and need a large take-home vessel for that delicious DIPA you sampled!

Roasted Beans from Neighborhood Coffee Shop

If you’re traveling to see a coffee-loving family member, make sure to bring along a bag of whole beans from your local café. I always think it’s such a treat to sample a blend from a roaster in an area I don’t often get to visit. I’m sure your loved one will feel the same. Fun fact about coffee beans traveling in your checked baggage, it vacuum seals itself from the air pressure on the plane.

Extra Shot: Too swamped with holiday overtime hours or only have a Starbucks nearby (no knock on Starbucks, but anyone can grab that same bag of beans down the block)? Companies like Trade Co. will deliver freshly roasted beans from some of the best coffee shops across the country.

Coffee Delivery Membership

Want to give a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year? A coffee delivery membership like ones from Bean Box or LA Coffee Club, will make sure your loved one stays caffeinated without ever having to leave the house. Sadly, I have yet to find comparable memberships with beer (they’re usually a little too pricey and have a limited selection), but maybe next year some options will be perfected.

Extra Shot: Don’t want to spend the money on a many-month commitment (hey, you barely were going to give this person a present in the first place). Never fear, as most of these services offer a sample pack that makes for a great one-time gift.  

Tried & True Gift Card

Gift cards were once thought to be the ultimate impersonal present, and they still kind of are. But, when those gift cards grant you access to some of the best breweries, they become elevated to top-notch status. That’s right, the little plastic card equals sudsy goodness and will make your beer lover feel like a kid in a candy store.

Extra Shot: When buying a gift card for your coffee lover, it works best when its personalized to the recipient. Find out where your fave person picks up their morning cup and purchase accordingly.

DIY Gift Basket

Add a little personal touch and creativity with a DIY gift basket filled with all the beers and coffees they love. This option is my favorite because it’s the perfect way to mix my two obsessions. I have received these gifts from friends and family alike on almost every occasion and I never had to fake a smile.

Extra Shot: If you really want to elevate your giving to expert level, you can incorporate all of these fantastic gift tips into one mega basket aka Best. Gift. Ever.

My 6 Favorite Beer Accounts on Instagram Right Now

As a big fan of beer and Instagram, I give these guys my stamp of approval. In no particular order, here’s who I love following for their latest releases, charitable ventures, and so much more.

1. @8bitaleworks

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8-Bit Aleworks, a microbrewery located outside of Phoenix, AZ, has done something that I wish I had thought of years ago: They combined the nostalgia and imagination of classic video games from the 80s/90s with craft beer. Everything that they post will bring you back to days of glory with Nintendo Power. From the can designs, to the awesomely original brewing nomenclature (they call their seasonals Bosses or Mini Bosses), to their impossibly fun beer cocktails (oh yes, they did just create a shandy from their Wit and Mountain Dew Code Red), you’ll enjoy every throwback moment. 

2. @craft_not_crap

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I first remember seeing posts from the Craft Not Crap guys around the same time I started posting for @brewklyn.buzz a few years ago. The masterminds behind this self-proclaimed “craft beer connoisseur” account give a daily dose of great recommendations (thanks to them, I will be on the hunt for Lakewood Brewing Co.’s Sin Mint Temptress Imperial Milk Stout). The co-founders have also elevated their content from simple photos to a collection of dazzling images of their featured brews. Cheers, gentlemen!

3. @pinkbootssociety

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Women are too often overlooked in the craft beer game. But Pink Boots Society is on a mission to change that by assisting, inspiring, and encouraging female brewers through education. Not only would you be supporting an important organization by following them, you’ll also get updates on some of their innovative collaborations with top and up-and-coming breweries across the country. (Please save me a batch of your Dirty Boots unfiltered DIPA, brewed in conjunction with @fallbrewing!)

4. @beerzombies

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The Las Vegas-based craft beer lifestyle brand, Beer Zombies, has grown from humble roots to become a hop lover’s force with a yearly festival, beer dinners, and tap takeovers. Their Instagram account takes you on a tour of their fun beer-ventures and they’re super engaged with their followers. Ask them where to go or what to drink, and they’ll be sure to give a quick response through the comments.

5. @elcerritoliquor

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Visiting the official account for El Cerrito Liquor, a beverage store located in Corona, CA, is like walking down the aisle of your beer market and finding a veritable Who’s Who of awesomely rare brews and newly released offerings (take your pick of bottles from Russian River Brewing Company or cans from Evil Twin). It kinda makes me want to move to Corona.

6. @stillwater_artisanal

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Brian Strumke, the founder of Stillwater Artisanal, considers his brews to be an art project/collective and a place for his creative release.  Their collection of unique beers are featured in “old word psychedelic” cans, which are not only great to look at, but also available throughout the U.S. The best way to keep up with their latest concoctions, like their Whipped series of nitro beers in “the can you can shake,” is to follow their feed.

Why I’m in Love with this $100 Coffee Maker

It grinds. It brews. It’s the first grown up kitchen device I ever “splurged” on. (And it was worth every penny.)

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When it came to coffee at home, I was fine being the plastic-pod-brewed-into-a-mug-sweetened-with-heavily-flavored-creamer kinda guy. And since I lived in coffee shop heaven, Park Slope, Brooklyn, with great cafes only blocks away (like Crop to Cup or Konditori), I never had to look too far when I really wanted the good stuff.  

Yet, each time I’d swing by the corner supermarket, the self-serve display of Brooklyn Roasting Company beans kept calling my name. Varieties of roasts from Guatemala or Sumatra with notes of blueberry, toasted coconut, or cocoa, gave me an instant pick-me-up just from the aroma. I wanted to take them all home with me. But, I knew my half-functioning drip brewer, still packed away in the back of a closet, would turn even the finest, freshest grounds into mud.

Finally, I had enough of being taunted by that sweet coffee scent, and dusted off an Amazon gift card I’d been saving and started shopping for a shiny new coffee maker and a grinder to pair it with. Then I found it. The Cuisinart® Grind & Brew™ automatically grinds beans before brewing to deliver the freshest cup.

Everything changed once it arrived. I programmed its digital clock to 6:55 a.m. and prepped with filtered water and a light roast. That next morning inaugurated my new wake up ritual and my mornings have never been the same: the sound of crackling and the subtle roar of the grinder; the wafting aroma filling my one bedroom apartment; and the three beeps to announce that it was time to roll out of bed and fill my cup. And it wasn’t just good coffee, it rivaled and almost made me stop going to the local cafes (almost).

My favorite kitchen gadget has helped me through so many tired mornings in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and now Los Angeles. It fueled me to take on the daily grind of subway delays, foggy hills, and traffic on the 405. Even vacations are now more fun as I can’t wait to search for the best beans and bring back local souvenirs like Maui’s Lava Java, Portland’s Heart Coffee, or Toronto’s Balzac’s Roasters.

I know it’s hard to believe in this new world of #sponsored content, but this little love letter was completely unsolicited. I just wanted it on the record that since I decided to brew my own coffee with the Cuisinart® Grind & Brew™, every cup from its pot has tasted like home.