Coffee break with Anthrax’s Charlie Benante
Interview by Melanie Falina
There are two things that hard-core coffee lovers truly delight in – – – drinking coffee (that one is a no-brainer) – – – and talking about coffee. And one of the most passionate coffee enthusiasts of the metal world is without a doubt Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante.
A fan of the beverage since his toddler years, it’s really no surprise that Benante’s life-long love of coffee eventually lead to the creation and sale of his very own Benante’s Blend coffees. And much to the delight of the metalhead coffee lovers of the world, Benante also indulges in that secondary activity of talking about coffee, but with other coffee worshiping metal luminaries in what he calls his “Talking Coffee” video series. Already racking up super cool coffee chats with people like Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe, Megadeth’s David Ellefson, Slayer’s Tom Araya, and many others, it’s always a thrill to see who Benante will be talking coffee with next.
But UnRated Magazine recently caught up with Charlie Benante whilst in the midst of Anthrax’s KILLTHRAX tour with Killswitch Engage – – – only this time Charlie became the interviewee rather than the interviewer for a fun chat about all things coffee…
Melanie Falina: I’ve heard you use the expression “the art of coffee” before when you were talking about Dark Matter Coffee who you’ve partnered with recently. But explain what “the art of coffee” means to someone who might not be a hard-core coffee lover like yourself?
Charlie Benante: I think with any subject – take someone who’s an audiophile – they have to have the best quality of the music. You know, we spend so much time making records to sound good and we spend so much money to make these records sound good, and then at the end of the day someone’s listening to them on these little tiny pods and it’s kind of like, ‘No, no, that’s not how it was intended,’ but that’s how some people want to listen to them, and it’s the same thing with coffee. Awhile back someone turned me on to a French press and I fell in love with doing it that way. Then someone turned me on to the AeroPress, which extracts as much of the bean/coffee as possible so that’s another way of doing it. I remember years ago when I stumbled on to this thing at Starbucks, they have what’s called the Clover machine and that tastes so good because that uses the exact elements that I just talked about but it’s a machine that does it. So when I say “the art of coffee,” there are so many different ways people try to get the purest taste out of that bean.
Melanie Falina: I’ve read that your mom used to put coffee in your bottle when you were really little, is that true?
Charlie Benante: That’s a true story, I’m not making that up. When I would sit at the table with her, sitting on her lap, I’d grab her coffee and take a sip, you know what I mean? I loved the taste of it and so she would put a little in my bottle. It’s funny, when my daughter was born I talked to her doctor about that, and they said that coffee is no problem for a kid, it actually helps them focus. And I thought that’s a good thing. [laughs]
Melanie Falina: You know how we all have certain tastes that we discover we really like as kids and we carry that fondness through our entire lives? Would you say that coffee is that primary taste for you?
Charlie Benante: Absolutely! It’s something that I never grew tired of, as a matter of fact it’s way stronger nowadays. I go to sleep thinking about the morning – about the coffee. Even today, I woke up on the bus as we were driving through Savannah, Georgia and I was just like, ‘Come on, man, are we there?’ We do have coffee on the bus but I didn’t want it, I wanted to get out into the city, wherever we were. Luckily for me, two blocks away from the hotel was this kind of ma and pop coffee roaster place that actually roasts the coffee there. So I just sat there and the smell was everywhere, it was one of those experiences that I talk about.
Melanie Falina: What is your morning ritual at home? Do you use a French press or automated drip, etc?
Charlie Benante: [Laughs] I have so many different ways of making coffee. Usually if it’s during the week and I’m taking my daughter to school, I get up early and I make her lunch and then I’m pretty much making a drip – – – unless I don’t have time to do it and I’ll just hit the Starbucks up the street. Usually on the weekends is when I have more time to do things and I’ll use the French press or the AeroPress. But at the end of the day it’s all about the experience.
Melanie Falina: Do you only drink it in the morning or do you have coffee all day long?
Charlie Benante: I don’t drink as much as I once did, I’ve kind of limited myself to the morning cup and then maybe in the afternoon I’ll have a cold brew or Americano or something. I’m trying to limit my coffee intake later in the day, it’ll make me wired at night because I don’t drink mild stuff, I drink ass-kicking stuff. [laughs]
Melanie Falina: You had mentioned waking up on the bus this morning but not wanting to make your morning cup there. What’s your set up on the bus?
Charlie Benante: We have everything. We have everything on the bus – we have a grinder, we have a Keurig machine, we have a regular coffee machine. The other night in Virginia Chris [Adler] from Lamb of God brought me a bag of beans from his local place. He said, ‘This is really good stuff…’ so I was really happy about that. [laughs]
Melanie Falina: You do video interviews – aptly named “Talking Coffee” – where you talk to other people in the music world who like coffee. In the video you did with Corey Taylor I kind of got the impression that he’s drawn a bit more to the kick of the caffeine than the taste of coffee. What’s that balance for you between the jolt and the taste?
Charlie Benante: I don’t even notice the kick anymore to be honest with you. I’ve become so immune to it that it doesn’t really affect me the way it did 15 or 20 years ago. And other people that I’ve spoken to, like Brent Hinds from Mastodon, like he was saying [his coffee experience] was all about him and his dad – that was their bond. We don’t drink alcohol with our parents when we’re younger but everyone has coffee in their house. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been places where they’re complete tea drinkers, and they’ll try to give me the argument about caffeine in coffee, but there’s more caffeine in the tea they’re drinking than there is in coffee. But this is the funny thing, back in the 90s when Starbucks hit the West Coast and I remember enjoying it there but it was nowhere near the East Coast or Midwest or anything. And once it started to make its way, I’d tell people, ‘Starbucks is such good coffee,’ and most people would just drink McDonald’s coffee or the local stuff so once it came around they’d say, ‘It’s gross and so bitter…’ and I thought, ‘Whatever, eventually you’ll get the hang of it.’ Sure enough, a few years later people drink Starbucks exclusively. And it’s also a part of the culture that happened in the 90s where people were going to coffee shops to meet up, to vent, to read, to do work, whatever, and now it’s a normal part of our everyday culture.
Melanie Falina: And that is what paved the way for all of the smaller, craft roasters that are around today as well.
Charlie Benante: Correct. Let’s face it, it spawned a whole other subculture and to me there’s nothing better. Like today, I went to a local coffee place and it’s nice to be able to experience America. This is the type of America that I encounter and like, not worried about anybody’s fucking race or politics or anything – everyone’s just having a cup of coffee. They could be black, white, red, brown, green – I don’t give a fuck.
Melanie Falina: So in regards to your own coffee, you have the partnership with Dark Matter coffee, and on your website you sell your Be All End All which is a dark roast and the Forever Metal medium roast. Any plans to add any additional roasts as well?
Charlie Benante: We did come up with another one which you can get in stores and online, it’s our Fernet Branca Blend collaboration. And I’ve been talking about doing another type of blend with the guys at Dark Matter. As soon as I get the time to go there we’ll sit down and do a taste test of this kind of thing and that, and then we’ll come up with something really cool again.
Melanie Falina: Between Anthrax and being a busy dad I’m sure it’s hard to concentrate on the coffee as much as you’d like to, but if time wasn’t an issue where would you like to take all this? Grocery store distribution or having your own cafe someday?
Charlie Benante: I would love to have my own place where people could come and just sit, drink coffee, do artwork, get up and do a song. [chuckles] You know, just come and hang.
Melanie Falina: Maybe like a heavy metal coffee joint?
Charlie Benante: Exactly! I think there’s room for it. But I think the best thing for me would be to incorporate everything that I love and everything that other people love and have a cool collaboration. I love branching out and doing some of the horror conventions and things like that because I get to meet people who are just as deeply into the stuff as I am. It’s always good to meet people at those and talk, I’ve made such great acquaintances at these types of things. And everyone has something genuine about them that you can learn from or they can learn something from you – you can bounce something off of them. You know we did this beer [Anthrax Wardance Pale Ale] and the distributor that brought it into Illinois, Gun Craft Beer, are just such cool people I was happy that they’re so passionate about it too and it really helped us. If you go to Kuma’s you can get it there and at Binny’s, making those connections is a really good thing.
Melanie Falina: For myself, now that I pay more attention to the kinds of beans that are in my coffee, I’ve discovered that I like a lot of the beans that come from Ethiopia and Kenya. Are there any specific places in the world that grow beans that you really like?
Charlie Benante: Yeah, Ethiopia is one of them – some of my coffee is blended with Ethiopian beans. I also love Costa Rica, Guatemala is another one. One day I went down to Dark Matter and we all did this coffee tasting and we tried all different types, and I gravitate more towards those beans.
Melanie Falina: So just for fun…if suddenly there was no coffee anywhere in the world, what would you drink?
Charlie Benante: Um – my mornings would definitely be strange. [laughs] I don’t know. I guess I would have to force myself to drink tea. I mean, I wouldn’t want to drink alcohol in the morning.
Melanie Falina: Is there anything else you’d like to mention in regards to your Benante’s Blend coffee?
Charlie Benante: I’m just glad that people enjoy it, that’s the truth. And if they tell two people and they tell two people and it spreads. In this day and age when you have other people putting out coffee I’m happy to say that I was one of the pioneers way back doing it. And I didn’t just slap a sticker on it, I pretty much made the coffee from scratch, I picked the beans, I did so much taste-testing on it – so what you’re drinking is what I’m making.
To learn more about Charlie Benante’s coffees (and other endeavors) head over to his official website by clicking here.