Sprudge.com co-founder and writer Jordan Michelman spent a week driving across the great state of Texas with the La Marzocco Road Show crew. They visited Houston, Dallas, and now Austin – this is the final dispatch.
After more driving, on what turned out to be a truly memorable and, dare say it, epic road trip with La Marzocco for their Texas Road Show, we’ve finally arrived in Austin, the penultimate destination on our quest. We’re here for the last night of Road Show, to be hosted by the folks at Cuvee Coffee at their roastworks outside of town. We get in on Thursday, the party is on Friday, and well..
Austin is a very difficult city in which to work from one’s hotel room. Some notes from an evening walk around the city: I tried a sweet, short, delicious shot of Verve’s Sermon espresso blend from the Austonian location of Caffe Medici, with a nearby shot of Handsome’s Fisticuffs blend to follow at Frank, just a few block away. You’ve likely heard of both these places, Frank and Medici – more on Medici later, but Frank is particularly interesting because of its multiple identities: beer purveyor, hot dog destination, and a competition-level coffee program serving Handsome Roasters. The space is huge, the food menu is large, and the coffee portion of the experience occupies the front left part of their lengthy, well-stocked service bar. They’re doing v60s into Ball jars, and pulling shots on one of La Marzocco’s 2 group GB5’s, both with pleasing results. But more than that, drinking coffee at Frank is like a glimpse into some dazzling, brave new future, a utopia where of course the high-end hot dog and beer bar serves excellent espresso until close, and Abakundakawa pour-overs with lunch. Get the horseradish slaw dog.
Austinites view taxi cabs with baffling cluelessness and vague distrust; the cluster of bars on Rainey Street is only sort of an acceptable place to work at night; everyone here is still collectively exhausted from SXSW a few weeks back; and eating tacos in Austin is most definitely a thing, to the point that it’s cliche and unhip to point it out.
The Road Show event took place at the next night at Cuvee’s homestead / roasterie (roaststead?), located about an hour northeast of Austin near the city of Spicewood, in a part of Texas Hill Country that looks remarkably like the wine-growing regions of Northern California (albeit with more roadside barbecue). Cuvee roasts on a facility that shares property with founder Mike McKim’s family home, a beautiful parcel of land with offices, a roastworks, and a training area featuring Cuvee’s blue-and-white two-group Strada EP, among other caches of gear.
The party was a mingly, low-key affair on a warm early spring night in Hill Country, featuring live music from Austin guitar legend Dave Grissom, beer from the nearby Jester King Brewery, and Berlin-style Doner Kebaps, of all things, from VERTS. Good coffee, beer and conversation on a beautiful night in Texas.
We had a chance to visit Cafe Medici one more time before leaving town; they’re serving Cuvee there as well as anyone in Austin, along with the previously mentioned Verve, who are Medici’s current guest espresso. I think it’s fair to say, extracting from various conversations, that Medici is really important to Austin’s coffee scene. They’re one of those shops (with three locations) where seemingly every coffee professional in town has put in time, and in ten years people will look back at this time for Medici as a bellwether for the growing Austin specialty coffee culture.
We also had a chance to visit a cafe called Houndstooth Coffee, a multi-roaster on north Lamar (streets like Lamar and 1st stretch forever and ever in Austin, making directional prefixes like “north” essential) currently serving coffees from Counter Culture, Cuvee, and Handsome. Espresso at Houndstooth is served via serial number 46 of La Marzocco’s Mistral line, while brewed coffee is available only by Able Kone or French press. The workflow space is a sight to behold, our coffees were consistently on point, and the customer service was excellent. Houndstooth is a charming, intentional, and professional cafe, one of the very best in Texas.
Thus concludes our week-long look at coffee culture in Texas, embedded in the La Marzocco Texas Road Show. You can’t predict the future, but you can get marked down on your thesis for trying: Several key pieces – excellent roasting, a curious public, professional barsitas, appealing cafe spaces, small business culture, concurrent growth with tasty new bars and restaurants – are already in place to help make places like Austin and Houston become internationally recognized as coffee cities, and soon. People in Texas are competitive. Whatever comes next for Texas coffee will be fun (and delicious) to watch (and slurp).