The Inimitable Bean: White Rock Coffee

White Rock Coffee

A Latte from White Rock Coffee. (Photo by Finny Philip)

Map (Northwest Highway Coffee House)
Map (Abrams and Mockingbird, express location)

It started out as a hobby for Bob and Nancy Baker, but what began as sport soon turned into a full-blown, bean-centric business for the owners of White Rock Coffee.

“We thought it was going to be a retirement job,” said Nancy Baker, who owns the shop along with her husband, Bob.

Bob spent his college years at the University of Oregon when coffee was becoming more than hot water and black stuff. When they decided on a property to buy, they spent two years perfecting their food and coffee in their test kitchen. They demolished a vacant 1964 Church’s Chicken building, keeping only the flagpole, and built from the ground up. The unusually lanky building, with its white stone and galvanized aluminum exterior, seems to have been squished upward by the constrictions of the lot. In fact, zoning laws and the small lot are what helped created the second story, which serves a perch to watch patrons come in and out of the store.

White Rock Coffee

White Rock Coffee. (Photo by Finny Philip)

Just inside, shelves of bagged coffee are flanked by Chemex coffee makers, French presses, percolators and more. The coffees range from light to dark, fruity to smoky.

“It kind of starts out as a city roast, which is the lightest roast that we do. Then it goes to full-city, then it goes to Vienna, then it goes to French roast.”

“In fact, one of our most popular coffees is a French roast—Lady of the Lake. I’m from the neighborhood, so a lot of our coffees are named after parts of White Rock Lake. There is a mysterious myth…This is actually a little more local than King Arthur and a little more updated. Probably in the ’20s, maybe, a woman was killed at White Rock Lake and people have seen her ghost around. Most people who grew up in this area know about the Lady of the Lake mystery—so a lot of people have seen her. But anyway, it’s a very mysterious blend of coffee and people love that coffee. It is a French roast; however, it is not bitter. It is bold without being bitter.”

The intuition involved in cupping and blending brews is nearly unfathomable. Sometimes it is just trial and error that guides Bob. On type of blending involves mixing lightly roasted beans with the same type of bean roasted slightly darker. Other times different beans are blended in the same roast. Throughout the process of buying beans, roasting and processing them, the Bakers try to please everyone involved. Even decaf drinkers are appeased, with each type of coffee made in both decaf and caffeinated varieties.

“The only decaf we use is Swiss-water processed—using only water to decaffeinate the beans instead of harmful chemicals, and it makes a huge difference. Most people go decaf because they want to be healthier or have a healthier alternative, but they’re using regular decaf which uses mehylene chloride, which a component in paint thinner, to take out the caffeine…It’s just a responsible way to offer decaf to your customers. There’s a lot of pregnant moms and older folks who are particularly sensitive to chemicals, so we feel really strongly about Swiss-water processing.”

Nancy says that sourcing coffee has become a full-time job for her husband. The coffee shop has framed photos of some of their trips to coffee farms. Nancy can’t help talking about how direct trade with growers helps makes their farms better.

In the roastery, just 10 minutes away from the shop, empty burlap coffee bags are hung up on the walls like banners representing their country of origin. It’s a small, insulated commercial garage, but in pleasant weather it only gets to be about 80 degrees inside. There are two roasters running simultaneously, each one listened to intently for the first and second crack—sounds that coffee beans make when water expands and escapes from inside of them. Bob says that for 12 pounds of green coffee put into the roaster, he expects to get 8.5 pounds back. The rest is lost to steam and chaff.

White Rock Coffee

The roasting process in action. (Photo by Finny Philip)

As soon as the coffee is roasted to perfection, the roaster’s hatch is opened and the coffee spills out onto a mesh cooling rack. Air is drawn downward through the steaming beans while they are being stirred by rotating paddles. Hadean heat and steam combine with the smell of fresh brew. For a few minutes a garage is transformed into Costa Rica, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

The smell must take the Bakers back to some of their origin trips and remind them of the friendships they’ve developed with growers like Chad and Krista Wallace, who own Spirit Mountain Organic Coffee.  Spirit Mountain has been mentioned in Entrée Dallas before, but the Bakers have developed quite the relationship with them.

The Wallaces are two A&M graduates who developed a passion for teaching youth at Young Life summer camp in Costa Rica and eventually started Doulos Discovery School in the Dominican Republic, a private school that aims to integrate students from all social classes. Nancy says tuition is based on what families can afford and that they have been able to send some graduates to American colleges because of their proficiency in speaking English. After starting the school, the couple bought lands next to their property and began growing coffee.

The Bakers have shown that the business of coffee is really centered on building relationships with growers and customers. Though they may officially be retired, the couple works hard to infuse their passion for coffee into every cup.

About Finny Philip