Ink Food & Drink

Kitchen Convo: Kate Blackman is a ‘coffee chef’ at Parisi Café

Kate Blackman is coffee quality assurance and beverage development specialist for Parisi Café. She makes a mean pumpkin spice latte.
Kate Blackman is coffee quality assurance and beverage development specialist for Parisi Café. She makes a mean pumpkin spice latte.

For many, pumpkin spice is the most highly anticipated signpost of autumn. The wildly popular seasonal flavor has permeated all kinds of food, from cakes and chocolates to cereal, salsa and even Triscuits.

But the paragon of all things pumpkin spice is the PSL — the pumpkin spice latte.

Parisi Café’s Kate Blackman might just be the Pumpkin Queen of the pumpkin spice latte. Her secret recipe incorporates real pumpkin and few other ingredients.

“It tastes amazing,” she says.

Blackman’s passion for drinks doesn’t stop there.

Q: Do you consider yourself a “coffee chef”?

A: I’m a coffee quality assurance and beverage development specialist. So my job has two parts. As far as the coffee quality assurance side: sourcing coffee, procuring samples, working with producers, importers on deciding what coffees we’re going to buy …

The beverage development side is everything that we serve in Parisi Café. We make all of our flavored lattes in-house. It’s my responsibility to develop those recipes.

I get to make up drinks, basically. Anything that anyone drinks in the café comes through me — coffee, syrup, tea, all of it. I’m the drink lady. But I like “coffee chef.” I’m going to get new cards.

Q: How do you create your flavors?

A: I look at herbs and spices from all over the world. I love the Phoenix Herb Company. I start buying stuff and figuring out how to make syrup out of it. We wanted to make all of the syrups ourselves. I wanted to use real food flavorings.

Q: Do you have a love/hate relationship with pumpkin spice?

A: It’s a necessary evil because everybody wants it. I’m very proud of it. I want it to be as good as possible. … I like making sure that people have nice things to drink.

Q: Are there any challenges to putting real pumpkin in your pumpkin spice lattes?

A: One thing that’s difficult about it is that it’s very, very popular. I think Starbucks has done an amazing job of marketing it, and theirs typically comes out Sept. 1. So once they open that gate, it’s on.

The thing that makes it difficult for us is that you can’t buy a pumpkin in Kansas City on Sept. 1. They’re not ready yet. Usually the second week in September, I can get my hands on one. It’s a little bit stressful, but once you get the first batch out the door, you’re like, “Aaah. I did it.”

Q: When did you drink your first cup of coffee?

A: I had sips of Folgers with milk and lots of sugar with my grandparents. My parents never drank coffee. It was not something that was ever in our house. My father’s a mega caffeine guy, but it was always Jolt cola. Mom drank black tea and Earl Grey tea.

Q: When did you first make a connection to coffee?

A: I never had an espresso drink until I moved to Kansas City for college. Muddy’s behind UMKC is where I started drinking espresso.

It didn’t take off for me at first. It was really just the vibe of the place. It was so cool. I got into it because I liked the environment. As an impressionable small town kid from Sedalia, I was like, “This is really cool.”

Get your caffeine kick

Parisi Café is one of 25 coffee shops participating in Caffeine Crawl Kansas City Nov. 3-6. The crawl features a variety of routes with stops for samples of coffee, tea, kombucha, juice, soda and artisan chocolate. Tickets cost $24-$30 at caffeinecrawl.com.

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