I believe in Xavier Alexander. The co-owner and founder of Chicago’s Metric Coffee was born in the city and raised in Orlando, Florida, before returning home for good almost a decade ago. He speaks circuitously, addressing pieces of questions at a time before looping off into the past, telling stories. But he always eventually comes back up for air to connect threads of thought, doing so as if they’re revealing themselves to him on the fly.
Alexander spoke with me over the cupping table in his Fulton Market roastery, bouncing between his seat and a Kenya Peaberry brewing in a Chemex. Together with co-owner Darko Arandjelovic, he signed a lease on the space to house their ’61 Probat UG 15 back in 2013, after nearly a year spent refurbishing the roaster from the inside out in an unventilated garage.
They’d bought it sight unseen from a descendant of Probat’s founder in Germany eight months earlier.
“Finally it shows up to the US,” Alexander says. “And we open the crate, and it’s completely trashed.”
They could either sell the machine or fix it.
Alexander shrugs. “We decided to fix it.”
Like their roaster, Alexander and Arandjelovic built Metric by themselves, with a little help here and there, and for the next three years operated mostly as a wholesale business. Although you could get their coffee at some of the best restaurants and shops in Chicago–including Caffe Streets, which Arandjelovic happens to own–Metric never had a brick-and-mortar location. That is, until 2016, when after another round of renovations they opened the front of their roastery as a bar.
Before Metric, Alexander was head roaster at Intelligentsia Coffee just down the road, where since 2009 he’d been honing his skills with what he considered the greatest coffee company on the planet at the time. But despite doing work he loved, something felt off.
“I still admire Intelligentsia and what I learned there,” Alexander says. “I’ll never not be thankful for those opportunities. But there was also a point where I as a human being wanted to express myself through our brand, our art.”
Arandjelovic has his own origin story. He came to the United States from Serbia 16 years ago and fell into work in construction to get by. “I’m kind of handy,” he says. “I can build stuff, and like making something from nothing.” As for coffee, “Passion for coffee was something that was always there. Coffee is always our time, it’s something that restarts the day.”
Arandjelovic met Alexander through Intelligentsia, whose coffees he was serving at Caffe Streets. What drew the two to each other was a shared vision and intensity. “It’s hard to find someone who cares as much as he does,” Arandjelovic says of Alexander. “Coffee is love, man.”
Since beginning the company as the sole employees, the two have grown Metric to a staff of 13. That’s tiny in comparison to many coffee companies, but in Chicago their star is rising, especially in the city’s thriving culinary scene. Metric is on the menu right now at notable restaurants like Avec and Lula Cafe, as well as Cellar Door Provisions, Goddess and The Baker, and Beatrix, to name just a few.
“I think we have something special,” Alexander says. “Other people are starting to see it, but it’s because of the people involved. We lit the match, but everyone is keeping the fire going. We get up in the morning have a meeting, have doughnuts and coffee. We laugh. We have a time of togetherness, and then we go to work. This feels like home.”
It’s a feeling that—when you’re around him, with the smell of roasting coffee hanging in the air—is infectious.