It's a bright 10:30 a.m. in Park Slope. We are sitting around a communal table at Cafe Grumpy because the espresso machine is busted in the shop we were supposed to meet. There are three of us. The fourth at the table is a stranger.
Chermelle has come to meet me with her friend and intern Cathy —a vibrant Aussie who has recently come to the states soak up New York culture. In a few brief moments of sharing betweens friends and strangers, it so happens that our 4th table mate had lived in Australia for 15 years. A connection is forged on this friday morning over coffee in Brooklyn. The stranger is no longer strange and our late morning interview continues on.
It's not a surprise that one of the phrases I heard Chermelle utter more than twice over our few encounters in New York is 'everything happens for a reason.' In fact on this day she also pointed out that we are sitting here in this cafe for a reason. The espresso machine in the other shop was broken for a reason and our 4th table mate was sitting with us for a reason. Her faith based approach to life is contagious, gives her an alluring sense of freedom and is tied in closely with the work she does. As she would say, "it's all about the connections... those moments that happen in a coffee shop."
Chermelle is the famed Coffetographer and face behind the blog smdlr. If you are in the coffee world and on twitter you have probably encountered her. If you have connected with me and you work in coffee I've probably asked you if you know her. She would tell you, she is smdlr or smdlr is her. The two are undeniably a reflection of each other, and it is this human element which makes it hard to sum up all that Chermelle's coffee blogging platform encompasses.
Smdlr, for those of you that don't know, is an acronym for small, medium and large—simple words that were once popular in coffee retail before the strange Starbucks sizing terminology took hold. It was born through notes jotted down on scraps of paper while Chermelle was trudging through her days at her former corporate job. She was passionate about coffee culture—the art, music, fashion and people—and was secretly etching out her vision to break free of the confines of a nine-to-five in hopes of communicating these uncharted aspects of the coffee world.
It was her pioneering spirit that saw an opportunity to explore a more feminine and human side of coffee that was not being chronicled in those days. "Two years ago most of the conversation about coffee online was male driven and very technical," Chermelle pointed out. So she began curating the music she heard in coffee shops and making mix tapes, profiling cafes, baristas and roasters, keeping abreast of artists who displayed their work in shops while photographing cafe patrons and documenting their fashion. All that said, just listing off the things Chermelle does really doesn't do them justice. If nothing else, you must understand this—she does all of this in the most poetic and artistic of ways—through the lens of her emotions.
Chermelle's first collision with coffee sounds like no accident. She recounted a story of how she was up late one night working on a creative writing assignment for school. Looking for a little help getting through the evening, she—with not an inkling of what she was doing or how it worked—elicited the help of her father's coffee maker. In that moment, whether Chermelle knew it or not, coffee and her creativity became inextricably linked. Today, she is as knowledgeable about coffee as she is of the culture that surrounds it. On her journey toward launching smdlr, Chermelle knew she needed to learn as much about the technicalities of coffee as possible in order to be taken seriously within the community. Yet another reason to respect her work.
Being with Chermelle is kind of like sitting next to a fountain of creativity. It's a pleasure. She is as passionate with the spoken word as she is with her writing. Her enthusiasm for her work is undying. She is continuously bubbling with ideas of places where she wants to take her blog and ways to express her vision. She has a clear path she is rolling on, but remains open to all possibilities with that gorgeous everything happens for a reason optimistic attitude.
On this day, she allows me into her Brooklyn apartment for a moment. I see medals hanging on wall from races she has run. She gives me a sneak peak into the room she works in when not in a coffee shop. It's the space of an artist. There are stacks of her contour drawings—a more recent project she is working on. And, not unlike her running medals, some of her drawing conquests are hanging loosely against the wall. We flip through a few and she points out the contours she did of LA bloggers Blake and Ashley when they were recently visiting for New York fashion week. Her drawings are beautiful. And, frenetic.
Used to being the resident Coffeetographer—a term she coined one day while running —it's a bit of a different experience for Chermelle to be in front of the camera. However, she has carved out a name for herself and this burgeoning fame is undoubtedly something she is going to have to get used to.
Chermelle is a natural, and it's time for her to jet off to her next meeting.