The crew at Artís Coffee are trying to do something a little different. For starters, they’ll roast a pound of coffee for you to order. Alex Lowe, CEO of Artís liked the concept of coffee roasted to order that he saw in Japanese markets so much that he brought it to Berkeley. Elvis Lieban, previously of Equal Exchange, and James Gutierrez, an architecture and retail expert, along with Lowe, helped make Artís happen in the trendy 4th Street retail district of West Berkeley.
Artís Coffee is in a big high-ceilinged airy space, in the grand tradition of Bay Area high-ceilinged airy spaces. The centerpiece of the café is the trio of JavaMaster Roasters. The other centerpiece is the Blossom Coffee Brewer, a precision coffee maker made here in the Bay Area. The Blossom at Artis is the first of its kind in a cafe setting.
The other thing that you’ll notice is the absolutely bonkers retail display of coffee gear. They have gear like the Bunn Trifecta on display in their retail showroom area, plus all variety of other home batch brewers, a fleet of Baratza home grinders, kettles, scales, pour over contraptions, and more.
Then, finally, tucked in the corner is the neat two group UNIC Stella Di Caffe DCL espresso machine paired with a UNIC grinder. We've seen these UNIC machines at Barista Nation events around the world; they're still relatively rare in US cafe settings, but that's starting to change, and the one at Artis is clearly being used intentionally to help unite that space. It fits the usable technology vibe.
So, there's a lot for us to unpack here, and a lot of really interesting things happening in this café. For starters, I asked Mr. Lieban to explain the “Live Roast” concept. “Everyone has a roasting philosophy,” he said, “here the philosophy is to let the customer make the roasting choices.” That’s made possible by the JavaMaster, a little fluid bed air roaster that roasts 1-3 pounds of coffee in about 6 minutes.
Basically you can pick batch size and internal bean temperature, and it does the job for you. I have no idea how it does this in practice – Lieban told me they were looking forward to a software update that would give them more control over actual roast profiles. Alex Lowe assured me that it’s drinkable practically right out of the roaster, and they’ve even noticed shorter degassing times than with drum roasted coffees.
Lieban demonstrated, roasting up two different batches of Ethiopia Guji (courtesy of Royal Coffee) to 393 F and 400 F. Sure enough, the beans were different colors. Artís is sourcing their coffees from a variety of importers, including Royal Coffee, Coffee Shrub, and Café Imports. While the trio of founders knew each other from the Boston area, the choice to start Artís here in the Bay Area was very intentional.
“You’ve got to go where the coffee is.” He said, “I think people here know more about coffee than almost anywhere else.” Lieban talked a lot about the education side of the industry – to roast coffee to order you pretty much have to get customers acquainted with origins, varietals, processing techniques, and roasting. As Elvis Lieban tended to customers, he fielded my questions and dropped some knowledge about all those things.
“We consider ourselves a roaster and a retail shop, more so than a café,” he said. “We really want to help people learn about coffee.”
Artís Coffee, if nothing else, is not afraid to try new things. And while they’re at it, they plan to try to do some good with their Seed Fund program, which sends one percent of the shop’s sales to projects that “focus on education, the environment, and entrepreneurship.” For this first year they’ll be donating funds to the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, to support projects based on “women’s leadership and business training in Brazil.”
Is this the fourth wave? The third and three quarters wave? Japan in the 90s wave? Are we done with waves? I don’t know. Whether roast to order becomes a thing or not, Artís is certainly worth checking out if you’re looking for coffee in the 4th Street area in Berkeley, or you want to check out some seriously sweet retail gear, or get a cafe setting experience with a UNIC espresso machine. It's safe to say there's nothing else like it in the Bay Area. They'll do well with street traffic, both for curious coffee enthusiasts and those in need of directions to the Apple Store and the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Room up the street.