Tucked discreetly in a business park seven miles south of downtown Amarillo, TX is the roasting lab and espresso bar for Evocation Coffee Roasters. The location is a bit off the beaten path, even for Amarillo, a city of around 200,000 inhabitants in the remote Texas Panhandle. There isn’t much in the way of signage at Evocation; only a simple white logo of a plant sprouting from a portafilter lets you know you’ve found the place. Nonetheless, owners Roman and Amy Leal have developed a devoted following, and are an important part of the burgeoning coffee scene in the Texas Panhandle. Along with shops like Palace Coffee Company in Canyon and newcomer Yellow House Coffee in Lubbock, Evocation is helping redefine the geographical boundaries of delicious coffee in America.
Evocation’s space is small, but thoughtfully and efficiently laid out. The floor-to-ceiling windows introduce lots of natural light to reflect off the soft white walls, giving the space a surprisingly open feel. Light maple counters punctuate the very clean, minimalist design. A dark hardwood four-top table, one of the few accent pieces, rests in between the front door and the coffee bar and comprises half of the shop’s limited seating. On top of the table rests three potted caturra variety coffee plants, legal-ish souvenirs from Mr. Leal’s origin trip to Finca Santa Marta, the Costa Rican family farm of Alejandro Garcia (one of the founders of Thrive Coffee Farmers, a producer alliance oriented towards direct trade, sustainability and high quality green coffee).
To the left is the cupping room, a rectangular space containing only a long, waist-high maple table. The room is being prepared for today’s festivities – Patrick Burns of Palace Coffee is coming by to taste coffees to take to the United States Barista Championship. Eight blue cupping trays circumscribe the table, holding the different roasts Roman and Amy have prepared. Each tray is accompanied by two soup cups that will soon contain the tasty slurries. In the middle of the table, a mason jar filled with cupping spoons completes the motif. (For more on the cupping, Patrick Burns, and Palace, check out the first article in our Panhandle series.)
Evocation’s functional design continues in the coffee bar, where stainless steel tables line the walls, providing multiple work stations for the baristas. Resting behind the front counter, the espresso bar consists of a black, two-group 1970’s Gaggia GX Lever machine Mr. Leal restored himself. To the right of the Gaggia, a black Mazzer Major E is dispensing Evocation’s Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kochere. “We cycle through espressos fairly regularly, just depending upon what we’re really excited about each week,” Mr. Leal told me. “We’re about to switch to the honey-processed Coban from Guatemala.”
Back and to the left of the espresso station, two tables combine to make the L-shaped brew bar. A wooden rack sits atop the intersection of the two tables, housing glass Erlenmeyer flasks that have been repurposed as coffee servers. Twin Baratza Vario-W grinders stand along the wall to the right of the flasks. Above the grinders, a maple shelf holds the various brew methods Roman and Amy employ; flavor and body profiles for each method are listed above the brewers. Like the espresso, the roasts used for pour-over change frequently. During my visit, the Guatemala Coban was being brewed with a Chemex, and the Costa Rica San Rafael was being made with a Bee House cone, Evocation’s primary brew method.
The heart and soul of Evocation is in the room behind the café, the roastery. The space is no frills; from the plastic bins storing green coffee to the desktop computer analyzing and saving roast profiles, everything has a purpose. In the center of the room is a black Diedrich IR-7 roaster, a birthday gift from Roman’s father. “When I turned 17, my dad offered to buy me my first car with an $8,000 limit. Being the anti-social coffee nerd that I was, I convinced him to invest in a used Diedrich I found in Ohio instead,” Mr. Leal told me. “Five years later, it’s still a versatile, reliable machine. I’m more social now, but just as nerdy.”
It’s on the Diedrich where Mr. Leal shines brightest, producing well-crafted roasts that have been featured at shops across the country. Along with being guested in shops like Front Café (San Francisco, CA), Solo Espresso (New Orleans, LA), and Caffé Medici (Austin, TX), Evocation serves as the backbone of Palace’s coffee program, both in store and in competition. At this year’s Big Central Barista Competition, Patrick Burns placed 3rd using Evocation’s Finca Santa Marta from Costa Rica. “For Patrick’s coffee, we did a blend of two different [roast] profiles,” Mr Leal explains. “A 14-minute profile brought chocolate, caramel, nuttiness, and body, while a 10-minute brought butterscotch, intense sweetness, and florals. No single roast profile had the complexity and depth that we were able to achieve through that blend.”
While Evocation is a roastery first and foremost, their espresso bar continues to be one of the standout shops in the Texas Panhandle. By collaborating with Palace, they are helping transform Amarillo from an otherwise disconnected string of shops into the epicenter of a serious coffee community. This is a place of stark beauty, of endless roads and billionaire pranksters, mesas and historic buildings and cheap motels, and excellent coffee.
Photos by Cara Michelle Smith (@caramsmith) for Sprudge.com.