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A Taste of Success

Circus trumpet player swings through the Falls for a little latte learning

I'm about the only person in the newsroom without a major jones for Starbucks, Jitters or just piping hot brew from the office pot.

Still, a trumpet-playing circus musician whose love of lattes has spurred an Internet extravaganza will get anyone interested in the bean scene.

Nathan Slabaugh, 26-year-old Williamsburg, VA,-resident, plays trumpet for a touring circus. He's started something of a weird trek for the best mocha latte on the globe, and he came through Wichita Falls not too long ago.

The idea came to him as the tour wound through its about 50-city circuit. A love of travel and new foods got him thinking seriously about one day opening his own coffee café.

"One of my favorite experiences in traveling through Europe was the coffee/café culture that is literally everywhere. Since I get to see so much of the country with my job, I decided to make the most of this opportunity to travel and taste the country and set out to visit as many coffee shops as possible," he wrote in an e-mail. "I mean, how many people opening a coffee shop or that really love coffee have the opportunity to visit hundreds of coffee shops, talk to the owners, and weigh the pros and cons of each shop? I would say most get to visit 20, maybe 30. As of today I’ve currently visited and documented 273 shops around the US and Canada."

Slabaugh knows Joe.

"I usually have anywhere between 1 to 4 double shots of espresso a day since I’m constantly working on my barista skills on my own espresso machine in my RV. But, if I get some new beans from a roaster that I’m excited about, I make up a French press pot for some friends or even the circus band," he wrote, explaining that his brew-ha-ha started in high school but took off when a college girlfriend gave him his first Mocha Latte. "Since that time, it has been my drink of choice. Coffee, chocolate, and milk….truly a little heaven on earth."

Last year he had about 220 mocha lattes, or about four a week. He hit his latte limit in Sarasota, Fl., downing six in one day.

"I didn’t drink all 16oz of each of course," he wrote, "that would just be gluttonous."

The effort can make someone a coffee bean-counter.

"I always drink a 16oz Mocha Latte at each coffee place, and they average around $3.65 (before tax). As of today I’ve documented 273 Mocha Lattes," Slabaugh wrote. "You can do the math."

His effort has taken him to many locations. He's been to about 43 of the lower 48 states as well as two territories in Canada as well as Puerto Rico. Typically, Slabaugh choses a site depending on the circus’ tour schedule and the coffee shops.

"I do a coffee and espresso search in Google Earth (unfortunately the data isn’t updated very often, so there are a lot of dead numbers and closed shops still listed)," he wrote. "Sometimes, if I have an extra day or two off I’ll hop on the motorcycle and take a trip to somewhere interesting. For example, when we played Kennewick, WA last year I took a couple days to ride up and visit Seattle, WA. Who wouldn’t pass up a chance to visit the birthplace of the American coffee revolution, right?"

He came to Wichita Falls for four days, starting March 15.

"My first impression was the highway construction. Between that and the one way streets downtown, it left me very confused my entire visit," Slabaugh wrote. "The city itself has the “everything is bigger in Texas” appearance but seemed to have a pretty laid back pace with a rather empty downtown and an abundant supply of friendly and helpful people in any direction."

His coffee cup didn't runneth over, though.

"Well, there doesn’t seem to be much of a coffee scene in Wichita Falls unfortunately. Which, as I mentioned in my pod cast, would make Wichita Falls the perfect place to open a new independent coffee shop," he wrote. "With a city this size it seems a pretty wide open market with out much competition. All of the shops that were listed in the Google search were either closed or not coffee shops as such."

The project sounds like a grind at times.

"This is a one person operation. It has been hard finding time to do the research on the shops then visit them then post the reviews on my blog AND produce a weekly pod cast," he wrote. "Mix that with the other weekly requirements (playing the circus shows, maintaining the RV, laundry, food, etc.) and it becomes a balancing act of time and organization."

Still, it sounds like it's been worth it.

"I’ve been on the tour with the circus for 1 ½ years now and it has been an intense experience to say the least. I have many stories I could tell, but has it been what I’d hoped? Yes, perhaps even more than what I had hoped," Slabaugh wrote. "When I started the tour with the circus I had never imagined that I’d get to try so many coffee shops, meet so many great people, and start a pod cast."

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