WATCH | This former biochemist left his job to open up a coffee shop and figure out how to make the perfect cup of coffee.
Jack Benchakul used to be a biochemist by trade, working at the likes of Amgen and Genentech, and now he's a barista, working at Endorffeine Coffee, his coffee shop in Los Angeles.
He spent the majority of his life making cancer-fighting drugs until he realized something.
"I didn't love it as much anymore," he told us when we visited his coffee shop in L.A.'s Chinatown. "And I think I was doing myself a disservice. I was doing patients a disservice."
I didn't love it as much anymore. And I think I was doing myself a disservice. I was doing patients a disservice.
—Jack Benchakul, barista
Benchakul first started fiddling with the idea of becoming a barista when he tried Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco, years before it went national.
Benchakul has always loved coffee. And now he's using what he learned as a biochemist to figure out how to make the perfect cup.
What has he figured out so far?
1. The environment matters
"Is it a humid day? It's it a dry day?" How cold is it outside?"
These are all questions Benchakul asks himself when he's making a drink.
Warmer weather, for instance, means warmer burrs in an espresso grinder, which means faster flowing shots, which usually produces sour espresso. To prevent that, Jack will adjust the grinder to yield a finer coffee grind.
Benchakul says cooler temperatures may give him a bitter espresso.
2. The water
"One thing we don't talk enough about in the industry is water chemistry. Good water quality is so important making coffee," said Benchakul.
He uses a two-stage filtration system to remove contaminants from his water because he says it gives it the best ionic content.
This is what chromatography, which is what's used to separate proteins, looks like.
3. How you treat the roast
Endorffeine's Coffee comes from Portalnd's Heart Coffee Roaster. And when making an espresso, he treats it like chromatography, a lab technique used to separate the components of a mixture.
"In biotech, a chromatography column has to be packed very tight for it to be used efficiently. And int he same way, espresso groundsan espresso puckis quite similar, actually."
Benchakul is the only one that makes beverages at Endorffeine Coffee. And he has a reason why.
4. You need a constant
And that's himself. He's the only person making beverages at his coffee shop.
"I believe in having one standard for the beverages. If someone else were working here, they would taste different from what I made. Not necessarily bad, but different for sure."
Jack is now in his 40s and plans to be a barista for awhile longer.
Why he left biotech
So what drives someone to leave a successful career in biotech to start all over at 35 years old?
Benchakul says he realized that at work, he was thinking more about where he was going to have his next coffee or meal than about his job.
Six years ago, his appreciation for a good cup of coffee led him to start working part-time as a barista on the weekends, while he was still in biotech.
"Then I crunched the numbers and realized I could be poor for awhile."
—Jack Benchakul, barista
He left his job as a biochemist, enrolled in culinary school and started working full-time as a barista.
Opening Endorffeine Coffee
He eventually opened a little coffee cart in Los Angeles, and people liked it so much, he started getting invited to different restaurants around L.A.
Finally in 2015, he opened up his own coffee shop, Endorffeine Coffee.
On the menu is everything from a classic cappuccino, which you can get for $3.50, to a whiskey palm sugar iced latte for $5.25.
This is what a whiskey palm sugar iced latte looks like.
What customers says
Endorffeine Coffee is doing pretty well. It has a 4-star rating on Yelp and has been featured on various food blogs. We asked a few customers who were there during our December visit to the coffee shop how they liked it.
"It's like jazz," said Johnny Agnew. "And you come in, and the coffee is strong."
"[There's] always attention to detail," said Alfredo del Castillo. "And there's always a strive for really great quality., not just good."
What his parents say
How do Benchakul's parents feel about his career change?
"I think they were upset when I said I was going to leave biotech and go into coffee," he told Circa. "I think in the end, your parents just want you to be happy."
Jack's coffee shop, Endorffeine Coffee, resembles a sterile laboratory, tucked away in one of Chinatown's plazas.
Science and coffee
Benchakul isn't the first to treat coffee like a science experiment.
His inspiration, Blue Bottle Coffee, actually has a Siphon Bar that uses siphons, beakers, fire, and a hopper among other things to give customers a "tea-like cup of coffee."
Still figuring it out
And Benchakul will be the first to tell you his coffee isn't "perfect."
"In an ideal world, conditions will never change after a barista 'dials in' and espresso in order to produce the desired flavor profile."
But in this world, they do.