Coffee-geek refinement

Nick Minton and Ilah Rose Cookston

PHOTO by Bobby Mull

Check out The Mill at or at the Midtown Farmers Market Sacramento on Saturdays, at 2020 J Street, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and high-quality “third wave” brews have certainly been popular in Sacramento. For the past six years, admitted coffee geek Nick Minton has tamped some of Temple Coffee’s finest cups; now he and Ilah Rose Cookston, his girlfriend and partner, are bringing the brews to the people with their on-site barista service, The Mill, at events and places such as the Midtown Farmers Market Sacramento. Despite making impressive drinks, Minton says he still doesn’t feel like Tom Cruise behind his custom-made counter.

Where did you come up with the idea for The Mill?

Nick Minton: It's an idea that we came up with together. The idea took a lot of forms before it became The Mill.

Ilah Rose Cookston: It really began with you, because you're in coffee, and we were looking for a kind of livelihood that wasn't too narrow and that we enjoyed doing, and we set out for the most recognizable choice, which was the coffee shop. That led to a pretty serious wild goose chase further and further away from our lifestyle, and we kind of ended up realizing that we don't usually stay in one place for very long, and so why should our coffee stay in a one place very long?

How often are you on the move?

Minton: I guess the last couple of years we have done a lot of moving around. I think that it's more like that we don't necessarily want do business just for the sake of doing business.

Cookston: We move a lot! (Laughs.) Maybe not like out of Sacramento, but in Sacramento we've moved a lot. … I think, more importantly, not that it's the focal point, but there's a lot of other places that we want to explore, and we aren't able to do that maybe right now, but as soon as we looked at finding a location, we found that do we want to live in Sacramento for the length of time it would be to own a business here? Or do we want to live in Oakland? … Maybe we could just do everything that a cafe does on site?

So that’s what The Mill does?

Minton: We make pretty awesome coffee wherever. Our target is to do events like weddings; to be a service. Right now, we're … doing things like markets and public events. We're making espresso drinks at a cafe standard in places that are not cafes. Places that you don't usually expect to find incredible coffee, where it would otherwise be impossible to do it.

Cookston: Even the espresso bar that he just created, I think you can say something to that: It's not a mobile cart, it's actually the whole ambience you are literally creating when you're there.

Minton: A great interest of mine and job, at least in a part-time way, has been doing woodwork. … I've worked with one [lumber mill] in particular here in Sacramento, New Helvetia Hardwoods … [and] The Mill is kind of a merging of my great interest and passions. It represents those two things in one space.

Can you describe The Mill’s setup at an event?

Minton: Well, the cabinet that we serve on and actually set our service on is a cabinet that I custom built for us out of a really beautiful olive wood from an olive orchard in the Central Valley that a family member of mine personally saved from becoming firewood, had milled and turned into just the most beautiful material. … Depending on where we are, we're really exicited to play with the space, and consider what might be interesting to do … and change things up and explore.

What got you into woodworking?

Minton: My grandpa was a carpenter, and my stepdad was always remodeling something. [Growing up,] I was always in a construction zone, and I think I was just pretty interested in how things are made. That, combined with being taken by how beautiful wood is, how surprising it can be and different the material can be. As far as how I got into it … it's something I've been around all my life, but I don't pretend to be good at it. I just enjoy doing it and learning—

Cookston: Yeah, right. … He's really an excellent craftsman.

I’m going to need you to tell the truth.

Minton: I really enjoy the history and lineage of it. My interest is in the wood-joinery tradition of woodworking. It's really fun to explore that. … I think it's really interesting, all of the parallels: A mill takes a raw material and refines it in some way, and I think that, whether that's a tree getting turned into material that can be turned into something usable and beautiful, or it's turning some coffee beans into a delicious drink, I think that there is a refinement there that's taking something and that's what we do, and that is what connects us to that idea.

How was it at the Midtown Farmers Market? Did you feel like Tom Cruise in Cocktail behind the counter?

Minton: It went well. … [We'll] probably pick up the Sunday market in Carmichael Park soon, too. Cocktail? Never seen it.