Tyler Wells’ mornings each start the same way. He wakes up, heads downstairs, turns on his espresso machine and electric kettle, then takes his dog out. Once back inside, with the equipment warmed up, the Orioles right-hander will undergo an intricate routine.
He takes the coffee beans out. He finds one of his two grinders, chooses which one is best for the job, and then grinds his freshly roasted beans to the correct coarseness. For an espresso, extra fine. For his pour-overs, more coarse.
By the time Wells’ girlfriend arrives, he’ll have two coffees ready. There’s no other way Wells would start a day than by indulging in a passion that began in earnest in 2020.
Wells is process oriented. It’s what he loves about baseball. And, by extension, it’s what he loves about coffee. The intricate details, the minor adjustments, the tangible differences and the postgame — or post-sip — analysis of it all keeps Wells coming back for more.
“The best part about coffee is that the taste tells you everything,” Wells said. “If it’s acidic, you can adjust the burr or the grind size. If it’s bitter, you can turn back the grind size. You start to learn all these different things that the coffee is telling you. It’s like pitching, and the hitters are crushing the baseball, you have to make an adjustment. Otherwise, it’s just gonna keep being really bad. It’s the same way with coffee — if you don’t like the flavor of it, you’ve got to make an adjustment to figure it out.”
Wells, who began a rehab assignment with High-A Aberdeen on Friday in his return from lower left side discomfort, never drank coffee until after he was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 15th round of the 2016 draft. The hectic schedule of a minor league season led him to Starbucks, where he ordered a vanilla sweet cream cold brew.
The sugary drink opened a world to him, although with all the additional sweetness he could hardly taste any coffee. As he roomed with then-Twins minor leaguer Tom Hackimer in 2020, waiting out a season that was canceled due to the coronavirus, Hackimer’s love for craft beer began to rub off on Wells.
Wells began to differentiate the types of hops used at craft breweries for different styles of beer. Wells isn’t much of a beer drinker, though, so while he admired the subtle differences in flavor, he gravitated toward coffee.
“So I was like, ‘I’m going to start trying out different black coffees and see if I could taste the difference,’” Wells said. “And sure enough, I did.”
Wells went from his vanilla sweet cream cold brew to one with only a little bit of cream. He tried a pump of sugar free vanilla syrup. He “slowly weened myself off from sugar, to sugar free, to next-to-zero syrup in it to just black after that.”
As Hackimer used the coronavirus-canceled season to make his own beer at their apartment, Wells discovered his love for a process.
“It kind of became a thing of like, ‘I think I can make this at home. And I think I can do it better,’” Wells said.
And once he arrived in Baltimore as a Rule 5 draft pick, left-hander John Means imparted more than baseball wisdom. He told Wells to invest in a Chemex coffeemaker — the first, and far from last, piece of equipment Wells acquired.
The options are plentiful. He has one grinder for his pour-over and French press methods, and one grinder for espresso only. Wells has a manual lever espresso machine, a pour-over brewer, a French press and a Chemex, an hourglass-shaped container designed for pour-overs. He has an electric kettle, two different scales to weigh beans and several other accessories needed to make espresso.
“I have a full-on little coffee setup at home,” said Wells, a former closer who went 7-6 with a 3.90 ERA in 20 starts this season before landing on the injured list July 28.
Road trips are more difficult, but Wells has figured out a way to create an on-the-go barista counter in his hotel room. Wells brings a small coffee setup in a bag along with him, but it all depends on whether he can find a kettle at the hotel. To avoid that hinderance in the future, Wells is looking into a portable electric kettle for travel.
And if all else fails, he wakes up early and seeks out local coffee shops in whichever city the Orioles are in.
“Go taste their coffee, taste their beans, or see how they make espresso, how they make pour-overs, and what espresso machines they use,” Wells said. “It’s so fun, because there’s so many different ways of making coffee and getting the same result or a similar result. And it’s just like every single guy here. Like, you can look at every guy on the field. They all had a different path to the big leagues. And it’s the same way with ultimately getting a good cup of coffee.”
Wells learned the trade over time, trying and failing and trying again. He knows enough to tweak his methods based on the flavor, and he can recite the differences between an espresso and a pour-over, how the concentrations vary and how to mix the espresso with hot milk.
It’s a passion of his, but when asked whether he’d be a coffee roaster if he wasn’t a professional baseball player, Wells hesitated. Traveling around the world to taste different beans all year long? He’d rather spend the time at home with his girlfriend and their dog.
Besides, coffee is a passion of his on the side. He could see himself one day opening a coffee shop in a small town, but the individual process of measuring and grinding and brewing relates more to him as a baseball player than it would as a full-time occupation.
“Whenever you make even the smallest detail change in coffee, or even smoking meats, those little, tiny differences make such a big change in what you actually can taste,” Wells said. “It applies to baseball. I mean, baseball is a game of failure. And it’s like, the less times you fail, the better, right? Whenever you do it so much, like making coffee, you just eventually get better and better at it. And as long as you continue to try and learn and further your education, from start to start or coffee to coffee, you can start to kind of taste the fruits of your labor.”
Or see it play out on the mound, when Wells’ focus turns from a passion for coffee to a passion for pitching.