In the specialty coffee world, very few shops have made the jump across state lines. Sure, a ton of roasters serve as the primary coffee source for out-of-state cafes, but only a handful have been able to hang a shingle anywhere outside their home base. And the ones that have are the big names in the industry—Chicago’s Intelligentsia in Los Angeles and New York, Portland’s Stumptown in Seattle, New York, and LA, and the Bay Area’s Blue Bottle going transpacific with two shops in Tokyo. But now, a new name is making the interstate push and is doing so outside of the customary bi-coastal hubs. This ambitious new kid on the block is Revelator Coffee, a company in the throes of a hopeful Southern takeover. With three locations (Birmingham, AL; Chattanooga, TN; and New Orleans, LA) and a 10,000-square-foot roastery already operating, the venture-capital backed Revelator has six more shops actively in the works, coming out of the gate as one of the largest specialty coffee brands in the South.
Revelator’s goal is to bring high-minded cafes to typically underserved cities across the South, a region still fairly nascent in terms of specialty coffee. New Orleans’ Revelator is a shining example. Opened in late June, the build out is meticulous and undeniably gorgeous. Like most structures in the city, the Warehouse District building where Revelator resides is old, built in the late 19th century; the original exposed brick on the northern wall behind the coffee bar alludes to the space’s history. But this glimmer of age is the only aesthetic detail Revelator shares with its NOLA brethren—it’s like no other shop in the city.
The finish-out has completely revitalized the interior: clean lines, an open floor plan, and a light color palette affect a very intentional, modern design. The floors are end-grain hemlock, the base of the coffee bar is poured-in-place concrete, the counter is American white oak. Revelator president Joshua Owen explains the design as a means of delivering a new experience.
“We were really cognizant of this 30-year trend of building these faux-European cafes: dark woods, French cafe tables, Italian drink names. We weren’t interested in selling our customers a European coffee experience, whatever that even means,” said Owen, adding that he wants Revelator to provide “a great American coffee experience.”
“This means going after historic properties where we could. It means focusing on genuinely American building materials—concrete, oak, steel, stoneware. It means a space built around a bar,” he continued.
This idea of an Americanized café experience extends to Revelator’s machinery, where domestically made products are utilized, when possible. Each shop is equipped with a Seattle-built, white two-group Slayer espresso machine, finished with matte black legs and stained American white oak accents in the paddles and handles. They are paired with two white Mazzer Major (Italian, admittedly) grinders to a dramatic visual effect. Each Revelator also contains two custom white Steampunk modules from the Utah-based Alpha Dominche used only for tea. Really, really good tea from Washington’s Flying Bird Botanicals, but never coffee. For that, Revelator sticks with the tried and true Chemex-and-Baratza-Forte combination.
But if the devil is in the details, at Revelator, the devil is from the South. The small touches, like the handmade ceramics from Kentucky’s 200-year-old pottery studio Louisville Stoneware, help root the brand in a more regional tradition. Even the aprons—each customized with the barista’s name hand sewn into them—are made locally by New Orleans denim company Holt McCall. The experience from start to finish is meant to curate something not just American but uniquely Southern.
Beyond this breathtaking build-out, the most astounding fact about the New Orleans Revelator is that there are eight others cut from the same cloth all opening simultaneously (more or less). Revelator will soon be in six different cities across five states, introducing to specialty coffee, particularly in the South, a completely new paradigm. Most coffee brands we’ve come to know began as a single location, a specific place they call home. Revelator doesn’t have that singular origin. Instead, they exist as a Southern phenomenon, as a Platonic ideal seen through the lens of each town’s unique cultural circumstances.
The past few years have shown that specialty coffee scenes can thrive outside major metropolitan cities, and Revelator is putting that idea to the test. Cultivating a single coffee scene is hard enough—will it be possible to jumpstart multiple scenes simultaneously? The company has its work cut out for it, but if the New Orleans Revelator is any indication, these folks are up to the task.
Zac Cadwalader is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Dallas, Texas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.