Since 6AM, lead roaster and quality manager Chris Ayers has been in Barista Parlor's roasting space at Golden Sound in Nashville. Quality-control tastings for his previous roasts have been completed. The large windows flood the roasting space with sunlight, reflecting off the old tiles in the former recording studio. Ayers is now in the swing of roasting fresh batches for the masses, with tubs of green coffee lined up before their ascent into the Diedrich CR-25 roaster. Around 8:30 a.m., operations manager Tom Eisenbraun strolls in after making himself a Chemex over at the brew bar. Stirred to life, he begins bagging roasted batches of the Golden Sound blend for Barista Parlor's three locations.
Since its inception in 2012, Barista Parlor's artfully designed multi-roaster cafes have spotlighted coffees from Four Barrel, Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and Verve—a set-up we called “poly-roaster Americana maximalism” back in 2014. But over the past year, BP's in-house roasting program has shifted to a focus on the brand's own coffees. Outsider roasters are still featured—but now it's only one or two at a time, and only when there's on that Ayers & Co. really like.
“I think Nashville was ripe for the multi-roaster thing, getting [our customers] exposed,” Ayers says, remarking on the transition. “And once that relationship was established, it gave us an opportunity to try presenting our own interpretation.”
So how does a company known for offering a plethora of choice transition into roasting their own? While Ayers handles roasting and quality control, Eisenbraun tackles everything else, including logistics, buying, and accounts. Barista Parlor has started partnering with importers such as Cafe Imports, Tiger Orchid Coffee Company, Gold Mountain Coffee Growers, and Onyx Coffee to bring in green coffee. Achieving a balance of flavors and varieties is an emphasis of the new roasting program, as well as building up partnerships. For example, the crew took a recent origin trip to Guatemala coffee farm El Cadejo, which is now one one of two components in the Golden Sound blend.
The transition from multi-roaster to roaster-retailer can be an intuitive one. Barista Parlor's established relationships with several roasters has opened new doors with their importing partners. “We've found a lot more either direct or nearly direct sourcing opportunities from having our name out there,” Eisenbraun says. “We're only going to be growing that over the next year.”
This focus on roasting feeds Barista Parlor's three cafes, the newest of which opened in December 2015 in Nashville's Germantown neighborhood. While the first took a nautical theme, and Golden Sound embraced a 1960s Space Age vibe, Germantown takes its design cues from 1970s dragster race cars, with bursts of bright orange among the warm green and wood tones across the cafe. Checkered flags mark orders, and some tables have a small tire engrained into the wood.
Work areas anchor the middle of the new space, with customer seating in the round. The register floats on an island with an array of craft chocolate, including Nathan Miller and general manager Dominick Granda's personal favorite, Dandelion.
“I love our chocolate program,” he says, which maintains the spirit of the shops old poly-roaster days. “We have the opportunity to taste some awesome things people are doing, and to be able to pair it with our coffees is just another step in that conversation with the customer.”
Another sweet choice is pastries from Five Daughters Bakery in Franklin, Tennessee. Selections include the 100 Layer Doughnut, made with croissant dough and including flavors like a decadent chocolate and cherry. A breakfast menu features Southern staples like biscuit sandwiches made with “locally and intentionally sourced” ingredients, according to Granda.
The shop has two Mahlkönig Peak grinders and dual matte-black Slayer Espresso machines. The brew bar operates with an under-counter Marco Uber boiler, six Baratza Forté grinders, Hario V60s, and Ginos with six Kyoto towers for cold-brew coffee. Since there are no walls, watching your drink get prepared is easy anywhere in the cafe.
As Germantown is the kid sister in the Barista Parlor family, Granda is looking forward to carrying on the standard established by the other two cafes.
“Keep up the reputation, keep up the quality, give great customer service,” he says. “And trying to push the quality of our own coffees now, and inviting customers in to talk about what we are doing [with our roasting].”
“The advantage of being a multi-roaster shop is, obviously, you get to hand select the best that each roaster has,” he says. “There were times I would get giddy at the coffees that we were carrying. Our menu was stacked. But being able to serve our own coffee [means] being able to connect more with the customer about it. That's definitely the best part.”
Evan C. Jones is a Sprudge.com contributor based in St. Louis. Read more Evan C. Jones on Sprudge.