There’s a coffee arms race brewing in Amarillo, Texas. Last summer, we reported on the split between Palace Coffee Company and their longtime roaster Evocation Micro-Coffee Roastery, a once symbiotic relationship that catapulted both entities to barista competition success and national renown. Since the great schism (in actuality, it was an amicable parting; the histrionics are for Texas-size effect), the increase in high-quality cafes is nearing prolific proportions, a veritable cold war of hot beverages. The most recent shot across the bow comes from Evocation, whose brand new retail-only space manages to fall squarely within what you would expect from owners Roman and Amy Leal while still feeling like something completely new to the Panhandle coffee scene.
Only a mere three miles southwest of the original roastery location, the new Evocation is an organic extension of it, a more mature version of its predecessor. It’s what the original space wanted to be but didn’t quite have the bone structure for. Both cafes share a minimalist aesthetic and reserved color palate of whites and light woods, but the new West Amarillo shop far exceeds the original in its execution.
“The simplicity is an homage to our old location. When we first opened our roastery-cafe, we did it on a tight budget and the space was extremely simple and almost spartan out of necessity,” Roman Leal told me. “That clean, minimalist look came to define Evocation and we wanted to bring the same feeling to [the Western Amarillo location].”
The Leals worked with local architect Charles Lynch to help create that refined simplicity for their new location. Their choice in furniture and light fixtures impart a light mid-century modern feel, an often geometrically-driven aesthetic that allowed for the seamless inclusion of a few small accents borrowed directly from the shapes and colors of Evocation’s retail coffee bags. The addition of a dozen or so succulents from Chaparral Cactus and Succulents add a touch of warmth to the thoughtful build-out, lending to a space that is clean without feeling sterile.
This ethos of well-executed simplicity permeates all aspects of the shop. Whereas the previous location offered a variety of pour-over methods, the West Amarillo Evocation only has one—Kalita Wave—which gets paired with a black Mahlkönig EK 43 grinder, matte black Stagg kettles, and white Acaia Pearl scales. The espresso setup is almost as equally understated, employing a custom-painted two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic—the only funky departure from the aesthetic—and a single black Mahlkönig K30 Air.
The menu is equally refined. The majority of the drink offerings fall under one of two headings: “coffee” and “latte”, the latter of which is shorthand for any milk-based drink. There are a few teas and seasonal drinks, but the point of most interest on the menu is the food, or rather, that there is a food menu at all. Now, most international readers are probably saying to themselves, “So what?” Good food in cafes is almost mandatory! But here in the States, the instances of high-quality menus in coffee shops are few and far between. Roman Leal tells me they looked to a few of these American outliers—Go Get Em Tiger and Blue Bottle, in particular—when contemplating Evocation’s streamlined menu. “I love the way that they do food. Simple menus with excellent and unique food items.”
Gone are the obligatory and generally underwhelming scones and muffins wallflowering their way along an otherwise open countertop. Instead, Evocation has two offerings: toast and waffles. The bread for the toast is made by nearby Scratch Made Bakery and Cafe and is served with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. The waffles are made in-house and come with a variety of spread options. Small, simple, but well done.
The thoughtfulness of the new Evocation comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the Leals body of work, but perhaps it should. Both at age 24, Roman and Amy Leal are mere babes still; babes who got their first (long overdue) write-up at Sprudge just over two years ago. Yet their cafes present as something far beyond their years, the West Amarillo location in particular. Perhaps the Leals are just old souls, or maybe it’s their industry tenure outshining their years orbiting the sun that makes Evocation’s cafes work. But whatever it is, they are going to need it. With an equally experienced frenemy in Patrick Burns at Palace, the race for Amarillo coffee dominance is afoot, and it’s neck and neck.
Zac Cadwalader is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Dallas, Texas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.