Barista Spotlight: James Neustaedter

Formerly known as Alterra, Colectivo Coffee is a Milwaukee-based coffee chain known not only for their compelling masala-chai-to-milk-ratio, but also as a pinnacle coffee shop in our Brew City. Though the Colectivo chains are usually more high traffic than the common neighborhood coffee shop, each one of their locations strive to offer individuality to set them a part from their fellow competitive corporate chains.

Colectivo on Prospect. Photo by Emmy Yates.

Colectivo at 2211 N. Prospect is no exception. It’s arguably the most underrated of all its competing locations. It’s easy to fall in love with Prospect because of its tall ceiling, long wooden table, dimly lit iron lamps and exotic plants that hang from the sky light. Tucked just out of reach of the busy Eastside, Prospect Colectivo becomes a sort of escape from the business of Brady St. and Farwell Ave.

Meet James Neustaedter. A culinary chef turned barista. With the modern demand of the commercial pin-up boy barista, James’ indifference towards the barista culture is a breath of fresh air. He doesn’t get too caught up in the coffee enthusiasts world, though he lives for double espresso’s and quality pour overs. Though he enjoys the artistic aspect of perfecting the perfect latte art, James is more hungry customer connection and raw conversation.

Neustaedter at Colectivo on Prospect. Photo by Emmy Yates.

Full of colorful tattoos and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia references, James is both easy to talk with and alarmingly genuine. It’s characters like him that give coffee chains their own personality.

Neustaedter prepares a latte. Photo by Emmy Yates.


A latte leaf design. Photo by Emmy Yates.

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon/ does it involve coffee?

My perfect afternoon consists of sunlight, some light reading (maybe some comics if I’m feeling like some really light reading), followed by some GTO enchiladas, nice conversation and some more espresso…

What is your go-to morning beverage?

Double espresso followed by a 12oz pour over. Every day.

What is your go-to evening beverage?

Generally I tend to drink water later in the day, maybe some sportea if I’m feeling adventurous.

What does being a latte artist mean to you?

You can’t have a good latte without the proper milk, so being able to pour a nice latte for someone who really appreciates it fills me up with some gratification. Being able to make imagery with set skills is just a plus for the customers eyeballs. It’s real fun though.

How long have you been a barista?

I have been working in coffee shops for the last 5 or 6 years but have been an actual certified barista for a little less than a year now.

How did you learn to master the art of it?

Reading, watching a lot of videos, practice, practice and practice!

What is your favorite latte art to create?

All pours are fun in their own way. Once you get bored of doing one, you can move on to the next. I personally enjoy pouring a nice concentric with some tulip tears, customers seem to think its “pretty.”

How do you see your art developing?

From where I began, I continuously find myself more intrigued. I have expanded my library of artwork from a sloppy monks head and moved on to nice even pours. It’s always a work in progress though.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m happy doing what I’m doing.

Who is your favorite writer?

I don’t necessarily have a favorite writer, HP Lovecraft has always been good. Along with Alleister Crowley.  But I’m currently reading a book by John Fowles who I think is rather great also.

What is currently your favorite album?

Six Feet Deep by Gravediggaz

You’re familiar with barista competitions. During these events, how do you respond to your competitors? Is it usually high tension?

I have only done one so far, and I sucked. They are friendly inviting scenarios, I wouldn’t say high tension. If anything we just get the shakes and can’t pour, but maybe that’s just me.

 How long have you worked at Colectivo coffee?

In April it will be one year.

Why did you choose to work here and how is it different than other coffee you’ve worked at?

I chose to work at Colectivo to further my education and become a real certified barista. The other coffee shop I worked in was at the mall… it was more of a smoothie shop accompanied by really gross coffee.I am extremely happy I moved on.

 What is a quality you most like in a customer?

When they have a conversation with me rather than stand there and stare at me as I make their drink.

What is a quality you most dislike in a customer?

I wish I had “PLEASE DONT GRAB HOT DRINKS OUT OF MY HAND” tattooed across my forehead.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?

I should be saying my fiancé here, right? I’d say our equal passion for horror and oddities is the greatest love of my life.

What do you value most about the coffee business?

Everyone I have met in the industry is pretty rad. Good people, good times, good coffee, good stuff.

 What do you dislike most about the coffee business?

Waking up at 4:30AM.

What is one tip you would pass down to an aspiring latte artist?

Educate yourself. Knowledge and skill don’t come to you instantaneously.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one beverage (coffee related or not) what would it be?

The obvious answer here is SURGE, but they don’t make that anymore do they? I guess some nice ice cold water would be okay too.


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