LM Texas Road Show: Houston Report

Sprudge.com co-founder and writer Jordan Michelman is embedded with the La Marzocco Road Show crew as they tour the great state of Texas. Follow along as they tour Houston, Austin, Dallas, and all points in between all week long.

The city of Houston is not boots and barbecue. It is not George Bush Jr., or 10 gallon cowboy hats. Houston is dim sum, all-night phở, weird oil field vistas, and 30 mile “short” drives. It’s palm trees, in-house butcher shops, and a seemingly endless network of tiny water ways tinted in mud and sun. It’s the Los Angeles of the South, the fourth largest city in America, startlingly diverse and weird and cool. The people here doing great food, great drinks, and great coffee have done it all themselves, in the process developing a kind of gracious, polite chip on their collective shoulders; there’s amazing stuff to eat and drink in Houston, and they’re damn proud of this fact, and they want you to know it. Houston is growing into something very special, and as is so common with these narratives of fine dining and awesome beverages, small businesses and young entrepreneurs, those roasting and serving great coffee are helping to lead the way.

Sprudge and La Marzocco were lucky enough to experience this town as part of the first-ever Texas installation of the La Marzocco Road Show. The event itself went down at The Hay Merchant, a tastefully appointed beer bar in the historic Montrose neighborhood. La Marzocco had their own little landing pad set above the seating floor, where they set up an impressive tech line-up: a three group Strada EP, a GS3, Robur E grinders, a Marco grinder, and a Marco water tower. The Hay Merchant is part of an enormously influential and forward-thinking restaurant group in Houston, whose other spaces include Underbelly (high-end Houston locavore) and Anvil (nationally recognized cocktail-palooza). All of these are located in the historic and uncharacteristically dense Montrose neighborhood; if you’re in Houston and you enjoy beer, consider The Hay Merchant to be your first stop.

Around fifty people filtered in and out throughout the event, making this one of the most successful LM Road Show events yet. Props for the turnout are owed to the event hosts, Greenway Coffee and Fusion Beans. These small independent businesses are doing fascinating work here in Houston.

Greenway Coffee is the work of David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto, a boyfriend-girlfriend business combo on the forefront of Houston’s burgeoning coffee scene. Mr. Buehrer is a native Houstonian, and has worked in the coffee industry for more than decade. Ms. Prabanto is the roaster for Greenway. They currently have their flagship space in a office park in metro Houston, described to us as being a Third Rail-esque microcafe. Coming soon is a second flagship cafe, called Blacksmith, located in the Montrose neighborhood and adjacent to the current Hay Merchant / Anvil / Underbelly triumvirate. They’ve purchased, and are now in the process of restoring, a beautiful and historic former gay bar called Mary’s, which was the epicenter of Houston gay culture until closing in October of 2009. Greenway’s plans for the space include a lush outdoor patio space, food service, and a showcase for Greenway’s coffee offerings, with a tentative opening date projected for this Fall. At the event itself, we enjoyed a variety of Greenway espresso including   the Cocatu Cooperative from Rwanda and a single origin espresso, Hunapu, from Guatemala (Alterra Coffee also serves Hunapu, and was the espresso choice of BCRBC finalist Sam Brown last weekend.)

Fusion Beans is owned by Sean Marshall, another Houstonian coffee entrepreneur with big plans for expansion. Fusion Beans has been roasting and selling to Houston-area clients since 2007, and they’ll be opening their first permanent cafe just down the block from The Hay Merchant and Blacksmith. Mr. Marshall is calling his new cafe Southside Espresso, and he’ll be offering fine coffees from Fusion Beans and various guest espressos, as well spirits and beer. Immediately prior to the Road Show event in Houston, Mr. Marshall had been in Yemen, where he has established and is now operating an entity called Red Tree Trading Company. Red Tree specializes in Yemeni coffees, and they’ve built their own mill there called Rayyan, located near the capital city of Sana’a. The Rayyan mill specializes in natural processed coffees, on account of tradition and also due to a nation-wide water shortage. The coffees processed at Rayyan comes from the Beni Ishamel region of Yemen, where it’s grown not on estates or via co-ops, but rather by individual farmers cultivating in their own backyards. Mr. Marshall and Red Tree will soon make available three distinct – lots for sale as green coffee: Al Dha’im, Al Maharaba, and Al Malala, and also a peaberry lot called Lul Beni Ishmael and a blend of lots called Zumirid Ishmael. He expects around two containers to be produced and shipped from Rayyan in the coming year.

It’s worth mentioning that Mr. Marshall and Mr. Buehrer are longtime friends; Mr. Buehrer told us the two “grew up together in coffee”, which is a characteristically sweet way to describe their longtime professional and personal relationship. This owes much to why these guys are opening specialty coffee shops within a few blocks of each other. They want to aide in the Montrose neighborhood’s growth into a major destination for consumer experiences, and to add great coffee to the list of reasons why Westheimer Street is worth visiting, regardless of where you hail from. Other reasons include: amazing and historically reverent Tex-Mex at El Real; the fried pig ears at The Hay Merchant; lunch at Underbelly; food truck Chinese from The Rice Box; and surely lots of other stuff we didn’t get to see on this trip.

On the way out of town we stop at Revival Market, a foodie nerd’s dream of a grocery store in the Heights neighborhood, offering in-house charcuterie and butchering, a wide variety of preserves, jams, and condiments, and delicious sandwiches. Coffee before hitting the road: Greenway’s Scrimshaw espresso – “a tribute to 2008 Black Cat”, according to David – made up of 60% Daterra Estate Sunrise, 40% Bella Carmona from Antigua, Guatemala, processed by Beneficio, paired with a cappuccino and some Topo Chico mineral water from Mexico. This is, we’re told, the quintessential Houston coffee experience: Topo Chico and great espresso and an outstanding cappuccino made with grass-fed, local dairy from Revival. David and Ecky and Sean are keenly focused on making Houston better, but if you’ve never been before, or your experience there is limited to last summer’s USBC convention center moonscape, please do not be misinformed: people in Houston already have it pretty fucking good.

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