It’s an exciting time to be a coffee drinker in Dallas. From the opening of Houndstooth to the wide array of shops bringing in solid guest roasters from around the country, the horizons have broadened exponentially from where they were just a few short years ago. More than just guesting a lively cross-section of American roasters, Dallas is now home to coffees that can’t be found anywhere else in the United States. This is thanks to Ascension Coffee, who this week becomes the first shop in North America to offer Namusairo Coffee from Seoul, South Korea.
Since January, when they officially switched to a multi-roaster model, owner Russell Hayward and Ascension have gone about creating the most robust guest program in the city, with many of the roasters they feature making their first appearance in Dallas. Big name roasters like Intelligentsia, Ritual, and Café Grumpy have all graced the shelves, as well as smaller outfits like Linea Caffe (San Francisco, CA), Populace (Bay City, MI), Forty Weight (Ithaca, NY), and HalfWit (Chicago, IL). Ascension isn’t new to offering international coffees, either. They were the first American shop to bring over Toronto’s Pilot Coffee Roasters, Roast Magazine’s 2014 Micro Roaster of the Year. “It’s been such a great way for our team to learn and keep up with what's happening in coffee around the world,” Hayward explained. “To us, coffee is a shareable experience, and the multi-roaster program is just one way we can share the world of coffee with our customers.”
Now, Ascension is taking their international outlook a step further by importing Seoul’s Namusairo Coffee. But the Korean roaster isn’t entirely unfamiliar on US soil. Though only now making its first official retail appearance as a guest roaster, Namusairo has previously landed in America as part of the 2014 Coffee Collection, designcoffee‘s box set of coffees from eight of Korea’s premiere roasters, previously covered by Sprudge here. Namusairo owner Junsun Bae’s addition to the collection was the much talked about Love Letter blend, a 50/50 mixture of a caffeinated Kenya Gachombe and a decaffeinated Colombia.
In most European and North American coffee markets, the quality focus tends to be almost exclusively on single origin coffees, not blends, especially for filter coffee. Korean coffee people certainly love their single origins, but an appreciation of fine blends is definitely a part of the Korean coffee zeitgeist–in the 2014 Coffee Collection, six of the eight coffees were blends! On his approach to blending, Bae states, “For me, blending is harmony and the ultimate finishing touch. A blend should also have a clear lifeline and a good mouthfeel, and I should be able to picture its nuance. We should be able to convince ourselves why we’ve decided to blend the particular coffees and what’s its golden ratio.”
Love Letter returns stateside as one of three Namusairo blends Ascension carries, though it has been slightly modified from what was offered as part of the Coffee Collection; it still has caffeinated Kenya Gachombe in it, but Bae has since switched out the Colombia for a decaffeinated Brazil Rainha. Also offered are the Land of Plenty blend, a mix of Brazil Pocos de Caldas and Colombia Tolima, and the Pina blend, a combination of Colombia Los Naranjos and Ethiopia Tchembe. All three coffees are available on the retail shelves, but Pina is the only offering to have made its way into one of Ascension’s hoppers thus far, currently being served on the slow bar brewed through a Hario V60.
Despite the added headache associated with bringing over international coffees—getting through customs, longer travel times, shipping costs, etc.—Hayward plans to keep at least one non-US roaster on the menu at all times. As a Sydney native who grew up drinking Andronicus Coffee at local milk bars, expect Hayward to bring in some Australian coffees to add a little “local” flair. “We have an international plan in place that started with us bringing in Pilot, and we went through some learning curves getting the export/import thing sorted out, but it was worth it for both of us. We have other roasters set up, and hopefully one, or very many, will be Australian. I have some close ties back home, and it’s really just a logistical thing we are working through now,” Hayward told me.
Ambitious, international guest roaster programs have been rising in popularity in the ever-more-interconnected global coffee scene, but it's still relatively rare to see one that spans different continents, and especially a Western cafe bringing in Eastern coffee roasters. There is probably some degree of fad and hype to the international guest roaster trend, and when done haphazardly it can be deeply disappointing. But when done right, it can be a fascinating chance for consumers to try something way outside their everyday, and for pros to broaden their horizons and question assumptions.
Getting to try a Korean-roasted coffee in Dallas, not to mention trying a very intentional, well-executed blend in a specialty coffee shop, is not a chance you get every day. But as more and more international coffee influences take hold stateside, and as the coffee world shares ever more ideas and news across borders, Ascension Coffee wants to make this globe-spanning interplay something you can experience in your cup more often. The cup of the Love Letter blend I had at Ascension was quite tasty, and when I found out it was half-caffeinated Kenya, half-decaffeinated Brazil, well, I felt like I needed to sit down and take a few minutes to myself to question what I knew about decaf, and about blends.
If you want to experience Namusairo for yourself, Ascension plans to offer their coffee for another six-odd weeks before rotating to a new international guest, and they hope to bring the Korean roaster back again in January.
Zac Cadwalader is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
Photos by Desiree Espada.