Since I started exploring coffee over two years ago many people have asked me, “Oh, so are you going to open a café? You should totally open a coffee shop since you know so much about coffee.” If I ever had any notion of attempting to do such a thing back before I started all this, I certainly now have no delusions about what the process of opening a café would entail.
If I were to open a coffee shop I know that I would need a healthy sum of investment capital, a team of people I thoroughly trust to help execute everything from building-to-code to branding-with-precision, a wide timeline, and most importantly a profound patience, patience of the sort I’m not sure I even possess at all. I would never open a coffee shop unless I could do it right.
But what does right mean, exactly? Would I source all the coffee myself (on the surface it seems like that would make sense, since I know so many stellar coffee producers)? But sourcing means importing, and that’s another whole barrel full of squirming monkey logistics. If I somehow imported my own coffee, who would roast it?
Obviously I have not futilely wiled away my time working out the castle-in-the-clouds kinks of an imaginary coffee shop, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about what my ideal right for a coffee shop would be. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend a few bus ride hours every now and then dreaming up all the icing-on-the-cake frills with which I’d adorn my dream café.
I would call it the Furrowed Brow. People (ordinary people and coffeepeople) toss around terms like “high brow” and “low brow” to respectively describe hand brewed microlot single origins and canned Folgers. I would offer things in my café that span the spectrum between both, that fall into neither category and leave drinkers with a furrowed brow, wondering/marveling at/scrutinizing what they were drinking.
First and foremost, Furrowed Brow would serve slow food coffee; there would be no espresso machine in the café. Espresso is the lynchpin of barista culture, but it requires expensive machinery that is hard to maintain. I personally much prefer drip coffee to even the best espresso, so it wouldn’t be hard for me to ditch espresso without a qualm.
86ing all espresso drinks would significantly decrease equipment costs and eliminate the maddeningly incessant sound of milk steaming that plagues even the most charming cafes. If customers want espresso drinks, I would recommend numerous nearby café serving excellent espresso. I am not a barista and wouldn’t want to open a café centered on something I don’t know much about or particularly like. The Brow’s regular crowd wouldn’t be coming for superior shots; they’d be coming for something else.
That “something else” would still be the draw of beverage prep performance art. Part of espresso’s charming allure is that it does require such elaborate preparation on a machine that, at its best, looks like a shiny, sexy and sleek sports car. The performance aspect of the Brow would be that coffee is prepared in-house as it is in the countries where it grows.
Want a cup of Colombian coffee? You can have it prepared as Colombians drink it, black made with sweet aguapanela. Want Costa Rican coffee? You can have it made in a chorreador, the stained cotton “sock” suspended in a stand, in the most rudimentary pour over method. Determined to have your espresso? Have it prepared in a Bialetti pot heated on a boiler plate (because even I couldn’t have a coffee shop without at least one nod to Italian coffee culture).
You wouldn’t be obliged to drink a given coffee a particular way. Go ahead and order Kenyan coffee prepared in a Costa Rican chorreador. A little healthy rule breaking is what brought coffee to the world in the first place, and the industry as a whole could always use a good dose of creative experimenting.
The Furrowed Brow would have Fetcos full of “regular” drip coffee for the morning rush, but it would be the place you come for something you can’t get anywhere else: a plethora of coffees and preparation options that offer a near infinite matrix of possibility.
A living coffee restaurantaseum of coffee from around the world, much of the coffee at the Brow would be prepared with kitchen implements that are borderline museum artifacts. Visiting the Brow would be like a trip to the hearth of a rural Ethiopian village where you can experience the world’s oldest coffee tradition. Or, if you’re over cross-cultural warm and fuzzies and you want to demonstrate your true grit, order a lukewarm cup of Panamanian instant coffee from a packet.
Sure, a few people might mistake The Furrowed Brow for a threading salon when they first hear the name, but sometimes it’s more fun to be quirky and surprising than it is to be obvious. Everyone will be even more confused (maybe even blush!) when the bar Stiff Joe opens up next door, serving all the winning cocktails from the past years of Coffee in Good Spirits Championships and a row of brew-on-brew coffee beers on tap.
Does it seem like coffee’s nauseating trendiness is making the café experience esoteric, elitist, and stale? Not if my imaginary establishments have anything to say about it.