There are drip coffee drinkers and then there are coffee snobs. You already know which one you are: the 7-11 grab-and-go customer or the person who will stand 10-deep in line for a perfect macchiato made with Ethiopian beans.
If you’re a drip coffee drinker, I’ll save you some time. It’s going to get deep-level coffee geek in just a moment. But if you’re someone who appreciates the nuance of bean origin and brew technique and who enjoys the full-frontal palate assault of rich, dark coffee, then a new Tacoma coffee house is worth a visit.
Metronome Coffee opened a month ago at the corner of Sixth and Union in the space that formerly housed Origin 23 Coffee, which unexpectedly closed in June.
Metronome joins a neighborhood already bustling with fantastic coffee – from the no frills, laidback coffee roasting at Valhalla Coffee, to Caffe Dei, the arty coffee house that specializes in well-pulled specialty espressos and vegan eats. There’s also Beyond the Bridge Café, a combo espresso house and music venue that specializes in bagel sandwiches (from Puyallup’s Bagel Boyz). The rest of the java tour of Sixth includes Shakabrah, the downscale coffee cafe that serves good Joe and heaping breakfast plates, and Satellite Coffee, the tiny offshoot coffee stop located inside Masa that serves straightforward coffee made from Stumptown beans.
Each of Sixth Avenue’s coffee houses exudes a wonderfully different vibe, and Metronome’s mood clearly meanders into the Land of Big Coffee Geek. At this coffee house, the theater is in preparation, method, flavor and origin. Ask just a few coffee questions of Metronome co-owner Joshua Boyt, who works in national sales at Dillanos Coffee Roasters (and also is the Northwest Chapter Representative for the Barista Guild of America), and he’ll regale you with technical information that is at once fascinating and dizzying in volume.
His coffee vernacular includes a whiff of science class: Barometric pressure brewing, gold-mesh screen filtering, pressure power agitation, positive acidity, ceramic funnels.
All that to brew a cup of coffee? You bet.
“We have the benefit of being in the Northwest, which is the most educated coffee industry,” Boyt said.
How does a coffee house appeal to an already educated and fickle audience? By refining the product and catering to consumers who want to get deep into the supply chain of coffee.
“You cannot know the guy who puts your TV together in China, but you can know every person in the supply chain of coffee. That’s the characteristic we’ve found in the coffee community. I’ve gone to the farms myself and watched them harvest and taken a good look at their (growing practices),” Boyt said.
Add educated, friendly baristas and fancy brewing equipment to the equation and you have coffee theater. Complicated looking machinery lines the counter at Metronome, a stylish coffee shop that retained the open flow and spacious, comfortable seating of the previous Origin 23 coffee house.
There’s the yama brewer, the chemex, the siphon brewer. It can sound all a bit precious, really. I don’t know that I need that kind of coffee geekery for my morning fix, but I still find the process fascinating.
But the baristas at Metronome are so engaging and friendly, it’s not intimidating to ask, “Why do I need to know what temperature I like my coffee brewed?” The answer: It depends on your extraction preference. What’s extraction? Good question. It’s basically how coffee is made. At Metronome, that’s done by machines with strange names.
Here’s a look at coffee bean choices and a description of each machine, as described by Boyt and wildly paraphrased by me, a devoted French press enthusiast, but otherwise a coffee geek neophyte.
Yama Cold Brewer
How it works: Cold-brewed coffee? Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me at first either. But this machine turns cold-water extraction into a 12-hour slow brew. The top chamber holds water and ice which drops down into a chamber holding ground coffee, which then makes its way down a condenser coil. The whole process is 40 drips per minute.
The taste: The results are similar to tea. The slow, cold process removes the acidity of the coffee, leaving behind a strong, earthy flavor without the acid backbite that some coffee drinkers don’t like. Think smooth and full flavored.
How it works: The coffee is made in a ceramic funnel set on a stainless steel holder. A filter holds the coffee grounds and a very small amount of hot water is poured in a very slow circular pattern over the filter. As the barista pours, the movement agitates the coffee grounds.
The taste: The process allows the gases to expand, which softens and loosens the flavor, said Boyt. “The flavor is a little cleaner, there’s no sediment like you would get in a French press. … It’s complex, but filtered.”
How it works: A filter is placed over a brewing decanter. The method is much like the pour-over, but there are no holes at the bottom restricting the water. In other words, the coffee grounds are not submerged like they are in the pour-over process.
The taste: “It’s less extracted,” said Boyt. That means it’s smoother and less bitter.
How it works: This machine is like an inverted Aeropress or French press. The brew chamber is filled with grounds, and a portion of the water is infused with the coffee grounds, releasing the flavor. Then after the “pre-infusion,” as Boyt calls it, a pump agitates the grounds to extract the coffee from every angle.
The taste: “A really amazing full-bodied but very sweet, clean finish. It goes through a mesh wire filter. It strains all the grounds, which allows some of the sediment through as well as the oils and sugars that get caught in the paper filter. You get a more complex flavor, an amazing mouth feel,” described Boyt.
How it works: I left this one for last because it’s just that cool, although this description is wildly oversimplified. (I can only write so much about coffee before the editors protest.) It’s a two-globe system. The bottom globe is like a vase with a round bottom, the top globe is more a cylinder. A glass tube with a filter separates the two. The globes are suspended over a butane burner. The bottom globe is filled with water, then the burner is turned on. The water rises into the chamber, and through the tube. Then, the coffee grounds are added and two bamboo paddles (yes, you read that correctly) are used to agitate the coffee grounds. And here’s where it gets interesting: A cold rag is wrapped around the bottom globe, changing the pressure, which creates a vacuum that sucks the coffee down through the tube into the bottom chamber, leaving dry grounds that have been completely extracted.
The taste: Amazingly rich and smooth.
Panama Esmeralda: This rare heirloom variety is prized for its complex wildflower scent.
The flavor: “It’s so complex and tea-like in its smell and aroma. You get ripe red raspberries, browning sugars, really fruit and floral.”
Cost: This coffee is $50-$100 a pound, and thus a 12-ounce cup is $8. You’ve been warned. All other coffees mentioned here are $2.50-$3 for a 12-ounce cup.
Try it: In a siphon brew or pour-over.
Tanzanian Peaberry: Grown by a co-op of farmers in Tanzania.
The flavor: “You’ll find … a tangerine peel on the front end, it’s got a positive acidity. It coats your mouth like a buttery feel. The final finish falls away to the most non-existent finish. It’s amazingly flavored.”
Try it: In a macchiato or a short Americano
Costa Rican Las Lajas: This certified organic coffee is shade grown and is a partially washed coffee. That is, the fruit is only partially removed from the bean and it’s allowed to dry on the bean.
The flavor: It’s floral and sweet with a honey syrupy finish.
The flavor: A more full bodied coffee, but not as floral.
Guatemalan Rio Azul
The flavor: This coffee is what “coffee should taste like,” said Boyt. It has cinnamon and mango notes with a full-bodied, clean finish.