The Inimitable Bean. If it sounds like the name of a new series, then that’s good. Because it is. When resident wordsmith Finny Philip voiced the idea for a series on coffee houses, we readily agreed it was a good one – he looked very sleepy at the time.
I sat down with Chanel Leaf for a 3 o’clock cup of Joe — her third cup of the day and my first. Coffee both fuels and is her passion. She learned the basics as a barista in a Barnes & Noble, and has since spent hours learning to pour latte art from YouTube and by watching baristas compete in throw downs. Learning latte art required a year of personal trial and error, many gallons of milk and pounds of espresso. She is now Coffee House Café’s lead barista and a vast source of coffee knowledge on everything from beans to machines.
The beans at Coffee House Café are certified fair trade, organic and shade-grown, “which means we’re planting trees instead of actually cutting down trees. It helps makes the coffee taste a little bit better because the sun’s not scorching the coffee.” Since coffee is overwhelmingly made up of water, the water is triple-filtered through reverse osmosis. To take care of the rest of coffee’s contents, Coffee House Café relies on the Strada model of the La Marzocco espresso machine.
“This machine has been designed by some of the world’s top coffee experts and also world champion baristas. And that helps do pressure-profiling so we can play with the extraction of the espresso, play with the flavors a little bit. Also, the Marzocco is a true Italian machine. It’s made in Florence, Italy and it’s also all hand-made.”
Pressure is important since making espresso is nothing but a different extraction process involving higher pressure and a thicker end result. Although a warm cup of coffee swirling around in milk is perfect for rainy or cold weather, Texas summers demand a drink that cools down as well as revives.
Here in the South we’re familiar with New Orleans-style cold-brewing, which in most methods is analogous to steeping coffee in a French press for 12 hours and then pressing it. Coffee House Café not only does this, but also uses a lengthier process made possible by a Japanese cold-brewing machine made by Oji. The contraption looks as though someone gutted an hourglass and decided that time was to be kept by the slow drip of crystal-clear water from a glass orb. The water from the large orb is directed to a smaller sphere, where it collects and then bifurcates, flowing past two valves and finally gently dropping into a cylinder where coffee is sandwiched between two filters.
Many say the end product has the bite of bourbon but lacks much of the acidic taste of drip coffee. I suppose one could hire a man to stand over a coffee filter with an eyedropper and achieve a similar effect, but the process takes 12 hours to complete at the rate of ten drops each 15 seconds and a man could never hope to match the artistry of this machine.
The machine is displayed proudly next to the bar and blends in with the décor of the café. Every booth and table provides the perfect amount of privacy needed for a group to sit down and enjoy each other’s company, whether it’s by the bar, in a tall booth or on leather chairs near the entrance. A semi-outdoor patio with a fireplace lets customers have yet another option that allows Coffee House Care to better accomplish their mission:
“We care about the customers. That’s the whole point — it’s to give the neighborhood a place to come and relax and have a home away from home.”
Being a home away from home also means being part of the community. Used coffee grounds and orange peels are turned into compost by a few community members. Musicians often fill the café with local sounds and soon there may even be salsa dancing in the patio area.
Executive Chef Jeff Rockow’s menu is a blend of all that is soulful and comforting. Burgers, schnitzel, rotisserie chicken, crab cakes and tilapia take center stage and smaller but no less notable sides, like truffle sea salt fries, make up this menu’s all-star cast. Leaf maintains that whether you go to Coffee House Café for the coffee or for the food, your soul will be filled.