As the heat rolls on in the Northern Hemisphere, so too does our annual summer compendium of the latest and greatest in new coffee spaces around the world, in a little feature series we like to call the Build-Outs of Summer. So far we've profiled a monster movie Airstream trailer in Minneapolis, a high-end donut complex in Asheville, NC, a contemporary cafe in Columbus, bikes aplenty in Alaska and California, modern minimalist coffee bar realness in Rochester, NY, a Chicago design set piece off the coast of Istanbul, some ambitious coffee lovers in small town Vermont, the new coffee playground by the Twin Cities' own Cafe Imports, and dozens more. We've even managed to fit in a Winter Fit Out or two, from high design in Canberra to the latest from St. Ali Family in Melbourne.
But summer's chased by autumn, after all, and like all good things the season must inevitably come to an end. You can't blame us for being just about ready for a change in the air, the impending harvest festivals and fairs, back to school sales, and the American football kickoff. For our part, we've only got a handful of Build-Outs left before the series closes up shop for 2014.
Today's feature focuses on the latest from Modern Coffee, a popular multiroaster whose original location opened in 2009 in downtown Oakland. Five years is a long time no matter how you slice it, but it feels like eons where Oakland's concerned; few predicted the culture boom (and attendant NYT trend pieces) that would turn Oakland into a new global capital of cool. Coffee's been a huge part of that transition, as our own Oakland-based staff writer Leif Haven profiled in his 2013 feature, “Why Oakland Coffee Matters“.
Modern Coffee is owned by Kristen Nelson, an industry veteran whose gig before opening Modern was with the original East Bay coffee stalwarts, Peet's. She spoke with us from Oakland.
As told to Sprudge by Kristen Nelson.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
I’ve been searching for the right spot for a second location for a couple of years now and finally found one in uptown Oakland. Our current shop in downtown Oakland is in the Tribune Tower (an Oakland landmark that was built in 1904) and we love that it has so much history and character. When we came across this space in another Oakland landmark, The Leamington (built in 1926, it was originally the Leamington Hotel), I knew I’d found the perfect spot for our second shop.
The 900-square-foot space has presented us with various design and construction challenges. For example, from a design standpoint, Franklin Street has a significant slope, so all of the businesses on 19th Street have stairs somewhere in the space. Because our space is so small we were challenged to find a way to seamlessly integrate the upper and lower areas of the store. One of the construction challenges we’ve come across is that the floors and ceilings are made of concrete with thick beams that are impossible to drill into. Because of this we’ve had to put things like floor drains in places we might otherwise not have chosen. That said, the building is so unique and has such a rich history that we’re continuously inspired by the space and honored to be part of its future.
What's your approach to coffee?
I want to create an environment that is approachable and inviting–one that allows customers to explore and learn more about coffee and tea if they are interested, or simply come in for some friendly conversation and a delicious cup.
What I love about being a multi-roaster coffee shop is that our customers get to experience a variety of coffees from great roasters across the country and my employees get to taste and explore them too! I also love that our taproom environment continues to challenge us as coffee professionals. To me, this challenge is an important part of what makes work fulfilling.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
Our primary brewing method for drip coffee is the Fetco, a trusty batch brewer that makes a tasty cup. We also have a rotating selection of made-to-order coffees available that customers can choose to have brewed in a Clever coffee dripper (a Modern favorite) or in a Chemex.
It was important to me to bring something along to the new shop that would immediately make it feel like home, so we’re bringing our beloved 3-group La Marzocco GB/5 with us from the original shop. We’ve had it since we opened in 2009, it’s the second GB/5 ever made, and it’s currently being tuned up and powder-coated by our pal James Warren at Chromatic Coffee.
What's your hopeful target opening month?
Fingers crossed that we open sometime in August.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you'd like to mention?
Yes! We’ve been working with Daniel Scovill and his amazing team at Arcsine Architecture. They are all Modern Coffee regulars and have been instrumental in making this project a success and helping me get a little more sleep than I might otherwise be getting.
The incredibly talented craftsman Conor Sweitzer is fabricating all of our wood and metal work. We feel very fortunate that we will be able to admire his work in our shop for years to come.
Our friend Sam O’Leary is a fantastic artist and illustrator and over the years has helped shape modern into the brand that it is. He just finished redesigning our website, is responsible for the coffee brewing illustrations featured on our hoodies and totes, and he will be designing and hand painting our menu in the new space.
Photos by Martina Nemling.