It’s been years, decades, really, since coffee began evolving from its role as a get-me-going commodity into a culinary craft, a tricked out piece of the foodie puzzle that may be every bit as demanding as haute cuisine. You need good equipment, a capable barista and the best beans, sourced from all over the world.
Long the clinched domain of specialty coffee hubs like Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, that same international ethic and devotion to the craft now is thriving in Kansas City. Shops, cafes and specialty roasters have sprouted up all over the metro, slavishly devoted to providing locals not only with their caffeine fix, but also the equipment and beans they can use at home to elevate their wake-up-call-in-a-cup into a thoughtful and surprisingly satisfying morning ritual.
So with recent medical evidence suggesting that coffee may offer some health benefits, such as potentially lowering your risk of diabetes and some neurological disorders, it only makes sense to go for the good stuff. And in Kansas City, there’s plenty to go around.
“Kansas City is known for having a great palate,” says Jason Coffee, the aptly-named operator of popular Kansas City-based website CoffeeCupNews.org, where readers can find tutorials on brewing coffee, equipment reviews and celebrations of the city’s burgeoning coffee culture. “We have a thriving and growing foodie and culinary scene. The success of places like The Roasterie and Broadway Roasting Company has proven that the same growth is sustainable in coffee as well. I believe that success and growth we are seeing now is only the beginning.”
Johnson County residents have no shortage of choices when it comes to quality coffee. You’ll routinely find baristas happily talking with customers about the painstaking process of making high-end espresso, lattes and cappuccinos.
Customers can watch as the barista pours just-off-the-boil water over freshly ground coffee, creating a mouth-watering aroma and rewarding the customer’s patience with flavors they didn’t know coffee could hold. The Take Five Coffee Bar, at 5336 W. 151st in Leawood, has one of the more interesting takes in the area, combining the exacting parameters of single-cup pour-over coffee and high-quality espresso with late night music, usually jazz-themed.
“My husband and I have a lifelong love of music and planned from the start to incorporate music into Take Five. In fact the name is derived from Dave Brubeck’s tune,” owner Lori Chandler says. “That said, we did not plan on becoming a prominent jazz venue. We’re glad it has happened, though! The ability for families and fans to gather around a band, not a stage with concert seating, has propelled our success.”
But even when the jazz is jumping, the coffee remains on center stage. Chandler gets her beans from Seattle’s Zoka Coffee Roasters. “They focused on exactly the level of unflinching quality I knew customers in south Johnson County would value. It was in their cafe that I first experienced a pour-over. Let me say up to that time I drank my coffee so doctored up that it was more like chocolate milk. After that first pourover… I have not added anything to my cup,” Chandler says.
Chandler’s experience with coffee proved so good she could stop adding milk and sugar. For roasters and specialty shops, that’s the goal—coaxing out the bean’s natural flavors. Of course the milk and sugar are there if you need it.
Beans sourced from Latin America often have floral or citrus notes, while Brazilian and Sumatran coffees carry deeper, more cocoa nuances. Ethiopian coffees, considered by some to be the most prized in the world, can, in the right hands, produce notes of berries that dance bright and juicy on the palate.
Those are the kinds of coffee that have helped Revocup, 11030 Quivira Road in Overland Park, earn a reputation among local quality advocates. The cafe specializes in what it calls “authentic, single-origin coffees” sourced from across the coffee planet. The owners are native Ethiopians
who seem most proud of the beans sourced from their homeland, varieties such as Yirgacheffe, Harrar and Sidamo. (Tip: Go for their Sidamo variety, whose blueberry and chocolate notes could kick your Maxwell House habit for good.)
Perhaps Kansas City’s most popular roaster, The Roasterie recently opened one of its two cafes in Leawood, a sleek but welcoming shop that also puts a premium on single-origin pour-over coffees and high-quality espressos, lattes and cappuccinos. But the company has made its bones as a nationally respected roaster, producing pound after pound of single-origin coffees and espresso blends from its Kansas City production facility for cafes, restaurants and home baristas across the country.
Leawood is also home to Joe Paris, whose Parisi Artisan Coffee roasting facility in Kansas City has earned him plenty of buzz in local circles. Parisi recently opened a shop in the increasingly busy Union Station near downtown, where
affable baristas make everything from press-pot coffee to single-cup pour-over to espresso.
Oddly enough, most of these same shops are helping customers replicate the quality-coffee experience at home. Many shops sell beans in 12-ounce bags, often just days off the roast when coffee is at its freshest. With practice and patience, would-be baristas at home can make terrific coffee and espresso-based drinks with just a little investment.
In some ways, those advances have helped the commercial scene. “Almost every coffee roaster I have been to in Kansas City is willing to help you make great tasting coffee at home,” says Coffee, whose website is filled with stories and videos about local shops and their outreach with customers. “The coffee shops benefit from this relationship in two ways.
As a consumer gains more knowledge about what it takes to brew good coffee at home, the more money they will pour into this newfound passion. As that consumer flows further and further down the coffee geek funnel they can’t help but share this newfound treasure with their friends.”
The presence of so many quality roasters and cafes in the metro reflects a broader worldwide trend in specialty coffee, Chandler says.
“It isn’t unusual that Kansas City would follow suit. Give credit to Starbucks for raising the visibility and accessibility of high-end coffee beverages. That said, I think having a local coffee shop that offers equal product (better, in my opinion
of course!) and keeps the money in the community is something customers really get behind.”