Specialty coffee is a movement now so highly proliferated worldwide, it’s hard to believe that in some places, very few people understand or have even heard of the term. Such had been the case until recently for Omaha, Nebraska, which sits on the edge of the Missouri River along the Nebraska and Iowa border. This part of the United States is often dismissed as “Flyover Country” by those who live closer to the coasts, but today, Omaha is home to five Fortune 500 and five Fortune 1000 companies. Ameritrade Park sits just north of downtown Omaha where the College World Series for baseball is held every year. One of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet, resides in the Omaha metropolitan area. The city has a lot going for it, and the coffee scene? Never better.
That's thanks in no small part to Beansmith Coffee Roasters, founded in June 2010 by Chris Smith, a native of the Omaha area. For three years, Beansmith was solely a wholesale roaster which provided coffee to local cafes in the region. However, in July 2013, a cafe space called The Tasting Room was opened at Beansmith’s roastery in La Vista, a suburb on the edge of town. The Tasting Room was Beansmith's first endeavor to create a space where the general public could experience its coffees in-house. And in the summer of 2014, a year after the opening of the Tasting Room, the company decided to bring a firsthand tasting and education experience to the heart of downtown Omaha.
Thus began a shift for Beansmith: a full rebranding, hiring on of new staff, and most recently, the opening of a new, ultra-sleek cafe on Harney Street, in the Old Market Historic District of downtown Omaha. The brand's retail development and strategy manager, Aaron Rauch, calls the new cafe “minimalist, subtle, classic, timeless…a canvas in which the coffee itself could shine.” Hardly the sort of place you'd want to fly over.
The design elements of the new cafe were arranged and selected by Rauch in consultation with Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture. Light washes into the space through giant floor-to-ceiling windows, illuminating a white quartz countertop that sits atop rich, dark woods at the bar. White Emeco Broom chairs contrast the wood grain of the tables, which were made by a local craftsman. The dark wood tones continue throughout the space from the flooring to the shelves and cabinetry which are accented by various lighting fixtures including pieces from Portland-based Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.
At the bar sits a two-group custom Slayer espresso machine with zircote actuators, handles, and cup rails. Beansmith actually owns the first two Slayers in Nebraska; the second being a single-group machine that now sits at its roastery location. In addition to the Slayer, the bar houses a Mahlkönig EK 43 grinder for batch grinding and pour-over brews, a Nuova Simonelli Mythos for espresso grinding, a pour-over bar, Wilbur Curtis batch brewers, and two Yama cold-brew drip towers.
Behind the bar is an audiophile sound system: Rotel preamp power amp, digital audio converter, and a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable with an upgraded acrylic platter and a Denon DL110 high-output moving coil cartridge. Connected to the system are two Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2 speakers. Music in this cafe sounds great, Sam Cooke to Sigur Rós.
The menu includes an assortment of espresso-based drinks as well as pour-overs or batch-brewed coffee which can be enjoyed alongside a variety of European-style pastries that are provided by Omaha-based La Charlotte-Caniglia Pastries. Beansmith sources the milk used in its beverages from family-owned Burbach’s Countryside Dairy in Hartington, a small town about 150 miles outside of Omaha.
For his part, Chris Smith is optimistic about Beansmith's ambassadorial role in the Omaha, and greater Midwestern, community. “The vision I saw was to be more approachable with our audience,” Smith tells me. “That was developed first by the Tasting Room and secondly by planning a location that would have a lot more visibility and would truly represent our take on coffee. We want to be inclusive in how we connect with others in established and developing coffee communities, as well as invitational by welcoming others into our space.”
Beansmith’s new space on Harney Street is a good portent of things to come for coffee in Omaha. Last year’s opening of Archetype Coffee marketed another exciting step forward, and current developments by others in the area give the city much to look forward to. Great coffee doesn't care where you're located; great coffee's quite at home in Omaha.
Ben Richardson is a Sprudge contributor based near Omaha, Nebraska. Read more Ben Richardson on Sprudge.com.