Calling a business "on wheels" used to be an insult, but not in the age of food trucks and pop-up shops. In Edmonton alone, some 60 restaurants have opened on wheels in just a few years, bringing inspired cuisines to the streets, from Filipino beef stew to vegan burritos to bannock burgers. There's even a bakery selling whole artisanal cakes out of a window. But until this summer, craft coffee was glaringly missing.
Enter Steve Moyer. Since his first sip of a high-quality roast in 2011, the 30-year-old has become so obsessed with coffee that he's created a fully functional café on a 2-by-4-foot custom cart. Nomad Espresso serves meticulously made cappuccinos and lattes in ever-changing places and only uses direct-trade beans from coffee farmers with the highest standards.
From week to week, Nomad might pop up at a festival, office or wedding. The path Moyer took to open his business in June has had just as many stops, beginning at NAIT. But Moyer, then 19, wasn't enrolled in business administration or culinary arts. He studied Millwork and Carpentry (class of ’04), an unlikely prelude to his coffee cart until you see him in action.
From curious to connoisseur
"I've always liked to work with my hands," says Moyer while he grinds beans to a fine grain, weighs it to exactly 19.5 grams, steams milk and delicately pours leaf-shaped latte art into a paper cup. "I really enjoy kinetic work."
As a property manager and accountant for the family's commercial real estate business, Moyer also puts his NAIT education to work on the occasional building repairs. But one only needs to hear him wax poetically about "doses," "particle sizes" and "wash roasts" to know where his heart is.
"Even year over year, the same bean from the same farmer, based on the conditions of this growing season, will taste different from the last," says Moyer, who dedicates evenings and weekends to Nomad Espresso.
Fifteen years ago, that might have sounded like the ramblings of a food snob but a growing number of people talk about the humble cuppa joe like they would fine wines.
Craft coffee – sometimes referred to as "third wave coffee" (the second wave being the Starbucks of the world; the first, your morning Folgers) – now slurps up 37% of the market, according to the Specialty Coffee Association.
"Years ago, all the awesome NAIT grads would finish the culinary program and have to leave Edmonton if they wanted to do something exciting," he says. "Now they can stick around and do things that are known Canada-wide."
Moyer sources some of his small-batch roasted beans from Transcend Coffee, credited for introducing craft coffee to Edmonton in the late 2000s. That’s also where he was reacquainted with his mentor, Ben Put, who placed third at the 2015 World Barista Championships in Seattle.
The two first met in music school, yet another unusual stop on Moyer's journey. They fell out of touch until meeting again in 2011 at the café, where Put worked before moving to Calgary to start Monogram Coffee, the coffee cart that would inspire Nomad Espresso.
Moyer became a repeat customer at Transcend, spending hours observing processing techniques and participating in coffee tastings. After Put moved, lessons continued on Skype. "Steve, from the start, was more interested in why you do things than how."
Now focused on getting Nomad Espresso rolling, Moyer is waiting on a street-vending permit allowing him to load the cart on a cargo trailer and show up just about wherever and whenever he wants. Until then, Nomad relies on advanced and private bookings. It's narrow enough to glide through an apartment elevator.
Nomad's logo – an N shaped like a tent, paying tribute to nomadic cultures – stands out for its cleverness and minimalism, but it's the cart itself that really makes a statement. "I could have a functional setup on just a table with a tablecloth," says Moyer, "but with this, I'm adding to your space – people are happy to have this there."
He used his carpentry skills to draw up the plans, but went to boutique design company Oliver Apt. to interpret them with black walnut cladding, additional counter space and a geometrically appealing garbage bin on its side.
It was a fulfilling project for principal designer Landon Schedler (Carpentry '10), an appreciator of fine coffees who knew it was just a matter of time before someone brought the coffee cart concept home. "I thought, 'Finally someone is going to pull the trigger on this.'"
One day, Moyer may supplement the cart with a bricks and mortar café. In the meantime, he’s proud to be the first to put the concept on wheels. And he’s pleased that his hometown is a place where he can serve good coffee and have it be appreciated.
"People are waking up to realize that Edmonton is growing up, that it's the new kid on the block." And with Moyer's help, they're staying awake.