Waco, Texas is decidedly a small town. Though it may be home to Baylor University and its 15,000 students, Waco feels more akin to other small Texas towns than it does to bigger cities like Dallas or Houston. It’s a place where the urbane fades quickly into the pastoral the farther you meander off the highway. This isn’t the typical setting in which you’d expect to find a properly made cappuccino, but owners Brett Jameson and Alina Mikos and CCO (Chief Coffee Officer) Cody Fergusson of Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits are looking to change that perception.
It's part of a narrative that's stretching far and wide across the United States, where the coffee in mid-sized and small towns has never been better. Let's call Waco a microcosm of that, with Dichotomy as a kind of test case, the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
After holding a temporary residence in a local art gallery, the aptly-named Dichotomy opened their permanent space in downtown Waco on November 25th. The interior of the 100 year-old building in which they now reside is a mix of modern and traditional elements (featured here as part of Sprudge's “Build-Outs Of Summer” series). The slate black and pale blue of the two main walls in the shotgun-style building make it feel clean and open, while the original brick exposed sporadically throughout and the view of the courthouse across the street import a sense of the space’s history. The massive counter that runs along the northern wall is divided in the middle by a brick column – grey granite and coffee on one side, black granite and craft cocktails on the other.
“Doing both coffee and cocktails just made sense to us,” Brett explained. “There weren't any shops that did coffee the way that we liked it, and there weren't really that many bars that served the type of drinks that we liked. Basically, we just wanted to open a place that we'd like to go, and hoped that the rest of Waco would like a similar place.”
Just beyond the countertop sits a cluster of stained maple tables created by local artist Harrison Connally, of Goodhand Woodworks. Here you are just as likely to see a pair of cowboy boots and Wranglers drinking a macchiato as you are a pair of mid-top chukkas and rolled-up skinny jeans. These two archetypes are often sharing a table. Currently, it’s finals time at Baylor, and tables are coming at a premium. The canary in the coal mine is chirping happily.
Closest to the entrance is the grey granite side, the coffee bar. The pastries sitting next to the iPad register are made fresh and delivered daily by local restaurant owner Sergio Garcia, who baked for the famed Czech Stop in West, Texas, a favorite kolache and sausage roll stopover for the informed Dallas-to-Austin traveler. The menu behind the coffee bar lists a few of the coffee creations Dichotomy offers, like the 1885, a pure cane sugar Dr. Pepper (made in Waco) paired with a shot of espresso; and the One & One, a solo espresso and solo macchiato served on reclaimed wood trays, also made by Goodhand Woodworks.
The most striking feature of the coffee bar is the beautiful simplicity; there is no espresso machine in sight. Dichotomy is the first shop in Texas to implement the Modbar Modular Espresso System. Only five slender silhouettes – two group heads, two steam wands, and a brew head for manual brewing – extend upward from the countertop, each unit housed discretely. With no above-board machine casing to stand in the way, the Espresso Module of the Modbar allows for an almost 360-degree view of shot extraction, creating a more interactive experience.
Hidden under the countertop, the brain-center of the Espresso Module allows the barista to control multiple variables, like temperature and a five-stage pressure profile. To the left of the Modbar, two stock black and a matte white Mazzer Robur grinders are inset in the counter, so as not to tower over the rest of the minimalist design. During my visit, the baristas at Dichotomy were dishing out Tweed Coffee Roasters‘ Ethiopia Kochere and Time Piece espresso blend.
On the other side of the Modbar is Dichotomy’s manual brew station, a larger space used when things get a little too busy around the steam wands and the brew head is hard to access. The station consists of a few v60s and a set of twin Baratza Forte grinders, filled (at that particular moment) with PT’s Coffee El Rubi Honey, from noted Salvadoran producer Lucia Abrego de Ortiz. The operation is small but efficient, and there are plans to expand into new methods in the near future. “The brewing is ever-evolving,” Brett told me, “and we’ll add the Bonavita immersion brewer, Chemex, Kalita Wave, and AeroPress at some point. We just want to get everything running smoothly before we start throwing different things at the baristas.”
Beyond PT’s and Tweed, Dichotomy holds accounts with nine other roasters from across the country that they rotate between regularly. Having so many accounts allows them to showcase local Texas roasters like Avoca (Ft. Worth), Flat Track (Austin), and Cuvee Coffee (Austin), while still bringing in nationally renowned favorites like Handsome, Ritual, Madcap, and Counter Culture. They even have the lesser known but equally delicious Thirty-Thirty Coffee out of Peoria, Illinios. Brett explained his shop's maximalist multi-roaster approach thusly: “There wasn’t really any specialty coffee in Waco. We wanted to expose people to a bunch of different roasters that were doing awesome things and hopefully encourage them to even go out and find other roasters on their own.”
The importance of community is a common theme when talking with Brett and the gang at Dichotomy. Whether it’s filling holes in (read: creating) Waco’s specialty coffee and craft cocktails scenes, utilizing local artisans for their build-out and beyond, or helping kick start the urban renewal of the downtown area, Dichotomy’s community-centric ethos is evident. Along with an ever-growing number of local businesses, like the award-winning Balcones Distillery, Dichotomy is helping revitalize Waco and change non-locals’ perceptions of the city. And it’s working. The days of Waco being considered a “drive-over” city are rapidly eclipsing; it’s becoming a place where you want to stop.
Photos by Cara Michelle Smith (@caramsmith) for Sprudge.com.