“Get to New Orleans before summer,” one Louisianan cautioned me when I shared my goal of visiting the city at some point this year. Summer arrives in NOLA early, she warned me—and there’s nothing easy about it.
With that urging, I found myself hurtling across three states in the dead of night via rental car at the end of this April's Specialty Coffee Association of America Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. Waking up in New Orleans early the next morning—the weather notably temperate and not-yet-too-humid—I really needed coffee. It was time to meet the Mammoth.
Mammoth Espresso serves coffee, espresso, tea, and pastries in the Warehouse/Arts district of New Orleans. Jonathan and Darlene Riethmaier moved here in 2014 and opened their cafe in late March of this year. Mammoth is part of a recent coffee explosion in NOLA; it joins the city's established coffee scene alongside fellow newcomers Revelator (opened last June) and Stumptown (opened after Mammoth this April). Jonathan Riethmaier is also one of the founders of the New Orleans Barista Social Club, the organizing force behind latte art throwdowns and other coffee events around town.
The space is a cool mid-century, retro-futuristic dream. The floor and tables are a palette of neutrals, with pops of yellow and black in the seating and wall treatment. Millwork on the wood elements in the shop was done by Nelu Sorocaniuc, and Joseph Lazarri created the custom speaker covers. Above the bar, menu design was done by Jonathan Lopez.
The coffee counter is front and center at the entrance. A two-group La Marzocco Linea Classic is crowned with Acme blue ceramic cups, and two Curtis Seraphim brewers are positioned close by, awaiting orders for coffee brewed in Kalita Waves. Mahlkönig K30 Twin and EK 43 grinders round out the coffee arsenal; Hario Largo globes and Bonavita Variable Temperature Kettles are on the backbar for tea service.
And behind the counter the morning I arrive is Jonathan Riethmaier, longtime coffee fanatic turned coffee professional. His navigation toward a life in coffee from the periphery to dead center included stops in PR, running DC coffee blog District Bean, working behind the counter as a barista (most recently at Washington, DC's The Coffee Bar), and finally, to owning his own coffee shop.
“I was constantly fighting to get more involved at the barista level, but I was working full-time in PR, so it was hard,” Riethmaier told me. “It meant never ever having days off, because I would take barista shifts at The Coffee Bar on the weekend to get hands-on with the things you can’t geek out about and learn at home,” explained the café owner, taking a break at the table outside Mammoth, but still keeping an eye on the shop through the window.
When the Riethmaiers had an opportunity to move from DC down to New Orleans, Jonathan Riethmaier’s transition to working in coffee full-time finally happened right back where he started. “I’m very much from the South; I’ve lived in Arkansas and Texas and Georgia. I was ready to come back down, to the nice food, the nice people, and the great weather. To do something in the culinary field in a town like New Orleans, it’s exciting to take part.” The name “Mammoth” was chosen to evoke the huge potential of flavor, taste, and story in something as small as an espresso.
Mammoth Espresso exclusively retails Madcap Coffee, relying on their Third Coast espresso blend alongside seasonal offerings for single-origin espresso and drip coffees. Exquisite, tiny pastries from Scout Bakery, including canelés and blueberry buckles, a formidable tea menu from JoJo Tea, and chocolate from Acalli Chocolate are also on the menu. Everything is served with intention and care, make no mistake; Jonathan Riethmaier sells teas by the cup that retail for $300 per pound and can speak with as much detail and knowledge on tea as he does on coffee.
Jonathan Riethmaier gets a ton of support from co-owner and wife Darlene Riethmaier (“she’s really the backbone, keeping me grounded and motivated”) and inspiration from their young son Jack. “It’s great to know he’ll continue to grow up around coffee,” he tells me. “Before this started, I had a nine-to-five job, which was never really nine-to-five because I love to work, but then we had this little kid. I wanted to create a space that embraces families, and Jack can come to where I work all the time and watch me in my professional element, doing what I love, instead of me just appearing at home after being gone at work all day.”
As we sit and talk, Jonathan Riethmaier calls out hello and chats with patrons and passersby—he’s already fully immersed in what he calls the “meandering pace” New Orleans sometimes encourages. Our conversation drifts to the weather; he shrugs off that best-intentioned caveat about arriving in town early. “We moved down here in June,” he explains, “and that is when the summers really start to get as bad as they can be. Darlene and I agreed if we could make it through the rest of the summer, we'd be fine down here. And we made it.”
Top photo courtesy Mammoth Espresso. Other photos by Caroline Richter.