Stepping into Monarch Coffee in Kansas City feels like you’ve suddenly been transported eight hours forward in time and roughly 4,500 miles east. The Parisian aesthetics (reinforced through Instagram imagery) and detailed botanical wallpaper beckon even the shyest of selfiers to snap away in a fit of self-documentation. The space is simultaneously clean, intelligent, calming, and indisputably cute. But beyond the beautiful design, there is a holistic intentionality at work here, built around bringing people of all walks of life together in a comfortable, forward-thinking space.
The brainchild of Tyler and Jaime Rovenstine, Monarch Coffee’s mission becomes clearer when given some context. Tyler, a long and pedigreed member of the Kansas City coffee community as well as regional Barista Champion (South Central, 2014), sought to instill the space with some of the practices he picked up along the competition circuit. “We wanted to give the level of attention that’s given to judges [in competition] to the customer,” he tells Sprudge. Water service extends to guests in every corner of the cafe, for example, and seasonal signature beverages are given a prominent menu presence.
When initially stepping into the bare architectural space he saw the perfect layout for his ideal in-the-round coffee bar. “We knew we wanted an island in the middle to allow for drink delivery,” Rovenstine tells us. Service here happens on a custom seafoam green La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine, paired with multiple Mahlkönig grinders in matte white and a Curtis G4 batch brewer. Monarch roasts their own coffee offsite using a Diedrich IR12.
Noticeably missing at Monarch are the regular shouts of, “<insert name>, your latte is ready!” Instead, the Rovenstines' service style allows the customer to place their order at the bar and then immediately make themselves comfortable rather than waiting for their name to be called in the classic cafe stereotype. That's more comfortable for the guests, but it also requires the baristas to address every drink customer in an inviting manner, building one-on-one relationships that feel personal and authentic. Actually knowing the customers becomes part of their daily equation. They cannot simply rinse and repeat.
The staff itself is small and tight-knit, composed of a diverse group of baristas rooted in gender-balanced, inclusive hiring practices. Tyler and Jaime Rovenstine hoped this would encourage both customers and staff from a wide swath of backgrounds and identities to find common ground at the cafe. Goals like this are always a work in progress, but a quick glance around the space reveals one of the most diverse coffee settings in the city, and this weekend Monarch’s lead barista, Gisel Alvarez, will represent the shop and the Kansas City coffee community at the 2019 US Barista Championship, hosted a few miles away at the KC Expo Center.
“This is the cafe I didn’t know I needed,” said Jaime, who headed the overall design approach to the space and vibe at Monarch. That work has led her to spend time training with The Open Table, a local organization dedicated to building a “…community where everyone belongs, a city where all have the power to pursue their dreams and ambitions, and a people who are committed to each other’s liberation…” This training has helped Jaime to co-lead anti-racism workshops on the local level; she'll be hosting a special workshop on the weekend of the US Coffee Champs event in Kansas City (limited space available, sign-up here).
As a further extension to facilitate their outreach opportunities, Monarch Coffee’s nearly 1,500 square-foot private Drawing Room space has played host to several cultural and female-focused events and workshops such as the recent “Galentine’s Day” Pop-up party organized alongside The Homeless Period Project and American Daughters. The event showcased local female artists’ goods and snacks with the goal of raising awareness and donations of feminine hygiene products for women in need. Other public events have included holiday markets and yoga classes.
Kansas City's coffee scene has come so far in the last decade, and it took that building and growth to lead us today to a shop like Monarch. The coffee tastes good. The room feels great. This place represents not just what's possible here in Kansas City, but for the coffee culture at large headed into the next decade. I'm proud to call this my hometown shop, and if you're reading with upcoming time in our city on the horizon, please consider this the strongest possible Sprudge recommendation for the coffee and culture work they're doing at Monarch.
Charlie Burt is the lead photographer for SprudgeLive and contributor based in Kansas City. Read more Charlie Burt on Sprudge.