Think, for just a moment if you will, of the humble coffee pop-up. It’s how brands get started before they find a permanent location; it’s a way to build a customer base before putting down roots; it’s a stepping stone on the march to stable commerce. A great many pops have popped up in the 7 years we’ve been publishing Sprudge, enough to say that this format has become something of a movement. There’s no shame in the pop-up game. Sometimes you feel like a pop; sometimes you don’t.
HEX Coffee of Charlotte, North Carolina started life as a pop-up, partnering with beer spots around their city, offering up nitro tap cold brew, pour-over coffee, and waffles on demand. Now they’re settling down in partnership with a popular local bottle shop. Sounds like a good excuse for a pop of a different kind—the kind where you’re popping bottles.
As told to Sprudge by John Michael Cord of HEX Coffee.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
HEX Coffee was started by Tanner Morita, Chandler Wrenn, and myself (John Michael Cord) in 2015. We were operating as a pop-up offering nitro cold brew, pour-over coffee, and made-to-order waffles. We featured coffee cocktails (non-alcoholic, but are tasty with as well) at each of our events. We played off the growing beer culture in Charlotte by partnering with different tap rooms for events, using a nitro tap for our cold brew, and also using local beer in the batter and syrups of our waffles. From the beginning, we have offered coffee from Passenger Coffee Roasters.
Outside of offering delicious coffees, we have tried our best to be a brand/design focused company. It was important to us to create a brand that was recognizable and trustworthy of everyone that experiences it. We have a few friends that are designers, which has proven to be an ace in the pocket more than just a few times. A community of creativity and inspiration is what we are cultivating. That is our product through great coffee and service; we want people to experience this vision each time they walk up to our counter or interact with us on social media. This concept has been integral in the design of our cafe.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
The space is actually at the front of a bottle shop that our friend Chris owns, Good Bottle Company. We have done a number of events with GB that have proven to be our most successful to date. Not long ago, Chris approached us about setting up in the front of his shop. We were stoked to have that opportunity.
The space has a lot of natural light, and we wanted to complement that with white cabinets, light wood countertops, and white brick. There is a small bar and tables that have room for about 10–12 customers to sit. It is important to us that we don’t just look like a pop-up at the front of an existing business, but an identity all our own.
What’s your approach to coffee?
This is very much an experiment, operating as an espresso-only bar. With filter coffee so prevalent in the American coffee scene, we wanted to take a step back and give people an experience that is, in some ways, uncharted territory. So often people dismiss espresso because they are unfamiliar with it. Within this concept, we are trying to invite those who have never had espresso into an experience that might be more familiar, while challenging the hard set dogma for those who love their espresso short and stout.
We had to find ways to breach this while not being alienating. We found that by using smaller baskets (15 grams), we can provide an espresso that is sometimes up to a 3:1 ratio without breaking the traditional aesthetic of the demitasse. We offer vanilla syrup and chocolate ganache lattes, which are made in-house using vanilla from our local Savory Spice Shop and chocolate from Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, North Carolina. We are offering coffee shots as our only “drip” option. We had to meet the needs of customers that want to walk in and grab a cup to go. The coffee shot allows us to pull an 8 ounce from our espresso machine in 45 seconds and achieves a cup reminiscent of an AeroPress. Brewing specifically with an espresso machine, we have managed to meet the needs of our customers with something familiar and progressive at the same time.
We still offer our cold brew on tap and we are still offering coffee cocktails, which were so popular at our pop-ups. Cold brew was the first part of HEX that we felt set us apart from others in Charlotte. We researched and tested many batches before settling on a recipe that took six hours instead of 12 plus. We found that we were able to yield higher extractions and increase balance and sweetness, something we found to be lacking in lots of cold brews we had tasted in the past. The result was clear when customers who had never gone without cream and sugar started drinking their coffee black.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We are currently using a La Marzocco GS3 and Mahlkönig EK 43 for our espresso bar.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
We are now open.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
We built our bar in-house with help from family and friends. Without them, we would still be peddling our wares from event to event.
Our branding was done by the talented Eric Hurtgen (www.erichurtgen.com) and Tanner Morita.
We will also be doing work with local artists for limited release merch.
Photos courtesy of John Michael Cord.