KC Coffee: It takes a village

This week I had a one-day trip down to Kansas City for my day job in online education for Eastern Mennonite University. I had a conference to attend, so I drove down the night before and stayed with a friend-of-a-friend. As a "thank you" for putting me up, I gave him a bag of the just-sold-out, dark-roasted India RFA (Rainforest Alliance) Arabidecool coffee. As I was leaving in the morning he asked if I'd heard of Second Best Coffee, which just so happened to be on my way to the conference center. I had not heard of them and he strongly suggested I check it out. And so I did...


When I walked into the shop - nestled in a very unassuming small, old strip mall - I was immediately struck by the austere, old-meets-new styling of the joint. Very clean and uncluttered. I didn't know it when I first walked in, but sitting on the counter is one of the best espresso machines ever: The Slayer (the orange & white machine above).

After talking to the barista a bit (Cameron, on the right), telling him that I was an home-scale coffee roaster from out of town, I surveyed their coffee menu and asked him about the options. I settled on a single-origin Brazilian coffee that they had roasted. Cameron pulled a single shot and brought it out to me with a very nice presentation: the cup, saucer, and spoon on a metal tray along with a shot glass of soda water (to clear the palette, I assumed). Classy.

I gave the espresso a whiff, and took a sip.

Oh. My.

I'm relatively new to espresso, so it's not like I have years of experience of high-grade coffee run through high-grade espresso machines, but this much I knew: I had never tasted anything quite like this.

I'm also not a trained cupper, so I'll not even try to use the fancy trade language to describe it. But here's what I said on Twitter last night before bed, when I was still marveling at this espresso shot...
That's what it did. Wow, guys. Well done. But wait, there's more! I had a full day of conference sessions before me, so I also grabbed a breakfast burrito and a normal cup of a Rwandan coffee, run through a Clever Dripper. Another "Wow" experience. It was a lighter roast, and prepared by these pros, it had a bright acidity and the fruit notes really came out strong. I savored it all the way to the conference center.

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After the conference, I had a four-hour drive back to Iowa before me, so I stopped at the roasting facility for The Roasterie, which I had been following on Twitter for a while.
The famous plane

I had no idea the Kansas City coffee legend this place is, and it was fun to get a peek at a big roasting facility. After perusing the very well-designed and attractive coffee bar & dining area and "special event space" (see below), I grabbed a cup of Ecuadorian coffee for the road.
The event space room, looking into the roasting ops

Earlier that morning I had mentioned to the guys at Second Best that I planned on stopping by The Roasterie. In some ways, these are two very different businesses and the most obvious difference is scale: Second Best is a craft roaster/coffee shop, and The Roasterie is a behemoth operation (as specialty coffee roasters go) with their coffees going all over the US and abroad. But Cameron said he got his start at The Roasterie, and there got networked with the community of coffee roasters and baristas in Kansas City, which I'm learning boasts quite a specialty coffee culture.

And that's precisely the part I miss by not being in a major metro area: Community and culture around coffee. In a small rural town, I've had to learn basically everything I know about roasting and brewing through friends via Facebook and other pros who happen to share the craft on social media like YouTube, Twitter, etc.

But it's fine because I think there's good stuff to be done in small towns, and it means that when I make visits to places like Second Best and The Roasterie, I get to enjoy and absorb a bit of that community and culture myself and take it back to "the farm town." So I'm really grateful for the experience yesterday, because it gets me that much more connected with a craft I'm falling more and more in love with by the day.
Posted on February 25, 2015 .