Local Hero: Beverage Artisan, Non-Alcoholic
An Interview with Paul Gallegos, Owner
Photos by Stephanie Cameron
New Mexico native Paul Gallegos learned the art of coffee roasting during a twenty-seven-year tenure at California-based Peet’s Coffee, the provenance for modern American coffee culture. In 2018, Gallegos and his family founded Cutbow Coffee Roastology, bringing his knowledge and passion for great coffee home to Albuquerque.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned from working at Peet’s?
It’s impossible for me to give a singular answer. I am extremely fortunate to have begun my coffee journey in the shadows of three great men who I like to call the Royal Triumvirate: Alfred Peet, Jerry Baldwin, and Jim Reynolds. Mr. Peet is widely regarded as the grandfather of specialty coffee. I was scared shitless, as a skinny young Chicano from the South Valley in Albuquerque, to roast coffee for him. He appeared a curmudgeon, but was actually quite sweet and nurturing. He taught me that coffee speaks, and that it is the roaster’s obligation to listen to it. He also taught me to not take the task too seriously—it’s only coffee. Jerry Baldwin, who founded Starbucks and later owned Peet’s, insisted that quality remain a priority. This is why everything at Cutbow, from drink preparation, to customer service, to our fresh flowers, must absolutely be top notch. Evaluating every detail of his business, Jerry would ask: Is it as good as the coffee? I ask myself the same. The most lasting, valuable lessons come from Jim Reynolds, roastmaster emeritus at Peet’s. Jim is the most pleasant, yet demanding, person I’ve ever known: Respect the bean, revere the cup, and trust the tasting spoon. When speaking, be concise but eloquent. Always, be a gentleman. Listen to jazz. Smile often.
Tell us about the process. What makes roasting an art form?
I perceive coffee roasting as a dark art, illuminated by science. The science part is easy to understand: specifics like time and temperature can be monitored and measured very simply. The art is much more mysterious and romantic. I’m inspired after all these years by taking a decidedly sensory approach. I love the fluidity of the roast, the poetic nature of it, its rhythm, the symbiosis between bean and machine. A batch of coffee lives and breathes in the roaster. Like any art—dance, painting, cooking, glassblowing, metalwork, ceramics, music—the dedicated practice of motion is essential. I place great importance on my responsibility to this process, because no one wants bad art.
Paul Gallegos at Cutbow Coffee.
Your name implies a love of local wildlife and landscapes, and we noticed you donate a portion of every bag of coffee sold to the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance. It’s nice to think that a nonlocal crop, such as coffee, can provide indirect impacts on watersheds far from its origin. Why did you choose that group in particular?
Our motto is Agua es Vida, Café es Amor. Cutbow Coffee is a tribute to my dad, who passed away in 2008. He was the consummate norteño—fishing, hunting, providing, and living life to its fullest. We wanted to honor his legacy as profoundly as possible. The Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance makes great effort to preserve and protect the waters of northern New Mexico, where my dad loved to fish and where the inspiration for Cutbow flows. There was a bumper sticker I used to see, usually on old Volvos and VWs, that read “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Coffee is the world’s second-largest commodity. I know this industry well, and work only with reputable importers who pay farmers fair wages that reflect the quality of their crops. I can say with confidence that I am living up to that classic bumper sticker. Now I just need a Volvo! Since my dad was more of a truck guy, we have a classic 1970 Ford F-100 parked in front, always ready for a fishing trip up north.
What’s your favorite part of running a coffee shop?
Creating a welcoming space for friends to gather, and offering them the simple pleasure that cafecito provides. There’s been a definite connection with the community, a resonance that makes what we do very fulfilling. My dad wasn’t easy to please, but he’d definitely be proud of Cutbow. Hopefully, anyone who comes in feels like they are part of our family.
How do you typically drink your coffee each morning?
Black coffee, from my favorite mug, the one with a little chip in it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with edible readers?
There are many great coffee shops in New Mexico, as well as great bakers, brewers, food trucks, and other culinary artisans. Especially during the pandemic, we are very grateful that locals support local. We are all extremely proud to be New Mexican, but we also welcome guests and visitors into our hearth and home con gusto! I believe that makes our community special.
1208 Rio Grande NW, Albuquerque, 505-355-5563,