Enthusiasm in coffee is easy to come by; the first step of almost everyone's third wave journey is doe-eyed excitement at this beverage they've consumed their whole lives but only now feel like they are really seeing for the first time. The tricky part comes in keeping that same sense of wonderment as one progresses through their coffee career, to not get jaded by the workaday rigamarole. Even after years working a variety of jobs in the coffee industry, husband and wife Ben and Haley Lytle have found a way to not let their enthusiasm dull; they have honed it, sharpened it. And it's that excitement that is on full display at Cryptozoology, the brand new coffee bar for this pair of first-time owners, opened inside Denton’s Armadillo Ale Works.
Inside the 5,500-square-foot space, Cryptozoology occupies just one half of the bar top stretching across the southernmost wall. The rest of the space is devoted to fermentation tanks or communal, picnic table seating, almost all of which have at least one person sitting at them. It’s no small feat for a shop opened less than a month ago to have this sort of draw in a college town full of already established and very, very good coffee bars and to do so without any pull from Armadillo, yet to officially open their taproom. But one stop in and it is easy to see why.
During my visit to Cryptozoology, Ben (who full disclosure, was a coworker of mine at a local coffee roaster a few years ago) was working the counter and greeted everyone—and I mean everyone—by name; each guest was already a regular. A mix of big personality and bigger hair, Ben’s natural habitat is behind the bar, interacting with people. Intently focused on making drinks at the two-group Synesso Hydra, Haley is the yin to his yang. Whereas you might expect Ben—winner of the 2016 Western Conference Brewers Cup, his only year to compete—to be the person making the drinks, the espresso machine is Haley’s domain. Originally a schoolteacher before diving headfirst into specialty coffee and taking a barista position at Shift Coffee in Denton, Haley is academic, efficient. She quietly churns out drinks while Ben takes orders, never falling behind even with a line that refuses to let up, perhaps aided by the leisurely pace set by the stop-and-chat nature of ordering drinks at Cryptozoology. This experience, in a nutshell, is what Ben and Haley—currently the coffee bar's only two employees—want to define Cryptozoology.
“Our mission is to serve really great coffee quickly and with great hospitality,” Haley tells me. “Ben and I really have a heart for hospitality, but wouldn’t it be great for a coffee shop to have both warm personalities AND stellar coffee?!” Ben adds, “For me, I’m idealistic, and I want Cryptozoology to be pushing the boundaries of quality and experimenting with service styles while simultaneously being a place that’s welcoming to anybody who ordinarily feels alienated by specialty coffee. We take coffee really seriously behind the bar so that our guests don’t have to!”
And while you don’t have to be really into coffee to have a great experience at Cryptozoology, it certainly helps as they have one of, if not, the most progressive coffee programs in the entire DFW Metroplex. Similar to that of Denver’s Amethyst Coffee, Cryptozoology adheres to an “any coffee, any way you want it” approach. Their menu consists of offerings from two rotating roasters—San Francisco’s Ritual Coffee and Bellingham’s Camber Coffee during my visit—that can be made as a pour-over using Crypto’s preferred brew method, the December Dripper, or as an espresso, pulled as an EK shot on one of the two Synesso groupheads specifically calibrated for this style of drink. Or you can just order an espresso or a latte and the Lytles will serve you their house espresso from the Mahlkönig K30 grinder in a more ristretto style (as compared to the longer EK shot, at least).
Cryptozoology also keeps a handful of non-coffee-forward drinks on offer, including a carbonated iced black tea made with Spirit Tea, because “if you don't have good iced tea in Texas, what are you even doing?” Ben tells me with a smile. Or, if you fancy something a little sweeter, the Mothman may be more your speed. Espresso based, the Mothman includes sweetened condensed milk, sea salt, and a touch of activated charcoal and can be served hot or over ice.
In the future, Ben and Haley will be collaborating with Armadillo for some taproom-only coffee beers. I've already put in a not-so-subtle request for a shandy-style beverage combining Crypto's carbonated tea with Armadillo's Land Yacht IPA.
The coffee scene in Denton right now is crowded and it is only getting bigger, bolstered in no small part by a number of barista-forward cafes, where the owners will still strap on an apron and get dirty. It's a tradition that Cryptozoology carries on, and even as this new coffee company grows and evolves, I wouldn't expect that to change. The Lytles love being behind the bar. It's where they belong.