South By South West has descended upon Austin, TX for eleven days of music, film, “interactive,” and of course, brands. As with most creative gatherings that happen at least twice, people have been decrying SXSW as “over” for years now–all while attendance and influence at the event has ballooned. Brands from around the world have zeroed in on the crowds attending this music, media and tech bacchanal as prime targets.
Quality coffee, meanwhile, is in the full flower of its 2014 media moment, and these two trends have combined to create a cornucopia of cobranded coffee popups at the 2014 SXSW festival. We convinced Ethan Billips, head of the coffee program at Austin stand-by Frank, to sneak out between double shifts and document every popup he could. What follows is a barista-eye view of SXSW's coffee conflagration, and a bonus look at the brand new Toms cafe.
Finally, our week of reckoning has fallen upon us here in Austin. A week of arriving home long after the sun has fallen, only to wake before its rise. A week of 13 hour shifts followed by 8 hour shows, where pulling a shot of Heart's Ethiopia Chelelektu directly into a can of Red Bull isn't the worst thing you'll see. A week where badges and wristbands are a status symbol. Welcome to SXSW.
Between all my bar shifts and late nights, I was able to make it to a couple of rad pop-ups this year. This is by no means a complete account of all the cool shit roasteries and cafés are doing here (I was only able to get second-hand details of Cuvée, Four Barrel, and Flat Track's various collaborations) but it's what I've experienced so far. It was all that a human being – nay, a working barista – could possibly experience in one day.
Houndstooth Coffee's #patiocart
Location: The patio of Houndstooth's Frost location (4th and Congress)
What was rad about it: Listening to a muffled Tech N9ne rap across the street while I drooled over the Nuova Simonelli Mythos grinder. Also, my love for a nice (or completely abused) looking La Marzocco Linea is never ending.
House Of Card
Location: The beginning of Rainey St.
What was rad about it: Having some genuine Aussies make me a flat white. Also, it's in a sustainable-something cardboard shanty? House of Card is a project from PER Archictects in Melbourne to promote “Australian-style coffee, food, ice cream, design and sustainability!”
The Brew Hub (@austinbrewhub)
Location: E. 5th and 35, Fader Fort, and other rotating spots
Coffee: All iced coffee, made via Japanese drippers and kegged for consumption. Roasted by Chicago's Halfwit Coffee.
What I had: 16 oz cold coffee of Halfwit's Sulawesi Toarco AA.
Tasting Notes: Chocolate, maple, smooth, and chuggable.
What was rad about it: Kitted-out Surly bikes pulling brand new custom made carts. Endless people coming up and saying OMG R U GUYZ A CHARGING STATION!?!
Nespresso‘s VertuoLine #coffeedome
Location: 7th & Trinity
What was rad about it: This pop-up is a giant inflatable dome modeled after Nespresso's new VertuoLine. Basically like a Keurig, but produces crema. A lot of crema. And it tastes like ash.[Editors note: Mr. Billips' editorial on this pop-up has been edited in line with the Thumper principle.]
Four Barrel x Airbnb
Location: East 6th St. and Comal St. (in the Airbnb Park)
I was working when they were open, but Four Barrel is popping up 10-12 every day in the Airbnb Park. They're serving pourovers right near the party cabana that Snoop Lion designed.
Austin mainstays Cuvée Coffee partnered with all sorts of people, including The New York Times, who promoted their NYT Now initiative with cobranded cups (see below). Cuvée's Black and Blue kegged nitro cold brew also popped up at fêtes by USA Today, McGarrah Jessee and the Austin Film Festival.
Location: Gibson & South Congress.
Coffee: Their flagship espresso blend “Carpe Diem” and a single origin of their choice.
What I had: I had an espresso shot of their blend and a V60 of their Peru.
Tasting Notes Espresso was nice and balanced with notes of cocoa nib, dried spices and a mild sweetness. V60 was clean and balanced at beginning. As it cooled the acidity increased and the cup unfolded nicely into granny smith apples with a nice juicy mouthfeel.
The shop is located in an old house, giving it an unmistakable Rainey Street vibe. I was initially hesitant, but found it to be very welcoming and comfortable. Upon entering and looking right you are confronted with the bar and looking left you see a wall of Tom's eyeglasses. Off of the room with the eyeglasses is the room with their shoes. Directly ahead of you upon entering is a living room of sorts with comfortable seating and a couple of tables. The custom Atelier Dion demi cups they use are gorgeous, and really everything about the space is very finely detailed.
It really does feel more “organic” than seeing their shoes at Macy's.
Want more SXSW on Sprudge? Check out our list of top Austin cafes.