“No one likes waiting for coffee, but in downtown Calgary many people are on such a tight timeline that they cannot wait for coffee.”
Ben Put, co-owner of Monogram Coffee, is explaining the motivation for the “Honour Bar” installed in Monogram's new downtown location, which opened at the beginning of February in Calgary, Alberta. The self-serve bar he's describing allows customers to pour FETCO-brewed coffee from a selection of converted beer taps before ringing themselves out through a tablet register system. “Creating a separate stream for people who just want filter coffee or a pastry allows us to have more comfortable interactions on till and hopefully gives our customers more time to relax and enjoy their breaks, rather than wait in a lineup,” Put says. With around six hundred drinks being made every day, the cafe's first few weeks have been busy, and the Honour Bar idea is already catching on.
The downtown store's huge, glass-fronted space on the ground floor of an office tower is open on three sides and oriented around a quadrangular bar which includes the self-serve counter, a traditional point of sale, a food prep counter, manual brewing station where a barista is preparing Kinto– and Espro-brewed coffee, and a pair of three-group La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machines, equipped with “auto brew ratio” technology. Monogram has been using espresso parameters governed by specific ratios of ground coffee to liquid espresso since day one, so these Lineas are a welcome addition to their arsenal. “We love them,” Put raves. “The Linea ratios have increased our consistency and made the dialing-in process much more streamlined. I find that I spend much less time trying to hit my target parameters, which means I can spend more time dialing the coffee or talking with customers,” he says. Monogram has plans to open a roastery in the future, but for now they’re roasting in collaboration with Edmonton's Transcend Coffee.
Bench seating running along two walls, and a communal table right next to the front door offer places for both small groups and loners working on their laptops. Right across from the bar, open-ended booths accommodating two tables each allow customers who want to work or chat in close proximity to retain some personal space. Everything from the tiny coffee plants on the tables to the sporadic yellow tiles on the walls works to create a bright, casual atmosphere that stands in contrast with many Calgary cafes which can be both dim and formidable.
Monogram's food menu is also pretty casual. They offer pastries from Corbeaux Bakehouse and Al Forno Bakery, as well as toast—topped with everything from plain old butter and jam to smoked trout (if you're feeling fancy). I devour a piece of sourdough covered in apple butter and cheddar cheese alongside my cappuccino—though I'm also intrigued by the vanilla-cardamom latte, the current seasonal drink. Frankly, I'm surprised to find a flavored latte on Monogram's menu.
“The seasonal drink is our attempt to capture some of the care and creativity of competition signature drinks in a cafe setting and to create sweet drinks that we want to drink too,” Put tells me. “We want the whole menu to be curated and dialed—not just the filter offerings and straight espresso.” Once warmer weather hits, the seasonal drink will switch to an infused cold brew on tap.
Monogram Coffee is a collaboration between Put, reigning Canadian barista champion, 2012 Canadian champion Jeremy Ho, and green buyer Justin Eyford, who all worked together at Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters before leaving to start their own company. They opened their first cafe in a strip mall in the Altadore neighborhood in March 2015, six months after launching Monogram with a series of pop-ups. Put says, “We had actually planned for our first cafe to be downtown, which means that it would have been over a year before we opened anything if we hadn’t opened Altadore first! Altadore presented itself as an opportunity while we were looking for downtown locations.”
Though there are many similarities between the two locations, it's clear that with the downtown cafe, more of Monogram's vision is finally being realized. With more space to work with, and lessons learned from the Altadore cafe, customer flow and interaction has improved along with speedier order fulfillment. A crew made up almost entirely of rookies, trained over two months prior to opening, is able to engage easily with customers throughout the ordering, drink-making, and serving process. And back at Altadore, Put tells me a custom tasting bar program is in the works for late spring.
As one of a new generation of coffee companies started by professional baristas-turned-business-owners, Monogram's approach combines expertise and sophistication with pragmatism and an awareness of the many roles that coffee plays in everyday life. Monogram's aim is to combine warmth and wonder—read: comfort and science, or familiarity and technicality—as well as to combine their crew's talents with Put's, Ho's, and Eyford's experience and insight.
In Put's words: “A monogram is a combination of letters that create a unique identity. Each member of our team has specific strengths and interests and we believe that everyone’s unique skill set contributes to a greater whole. We want Monogram to be an expression of the cumulative efforts of our team and become more than just the three owners—I think this is already happening.”