As some obscure playwright once wrote, “What is in a name?” When it comes to Second Best Coffee, the latest addition to Kansas City's coffee shop community, the name speaks volumes. In the words of co-owner Nathan Anderson, “If we made the best cup of coffee today, would there be any reason to come in tomorrow?”
Walk in to Second Best for the first time, and you'll be greeted by a beautiful build-out from local KC craftsmen Utilitarian Workshop. The walls are reclaimed midwestern barn-wood, and the shelves are adorned with cycling trophies, coffee wares, and succulents potted in an array of former espresso grinder hoppers. The seating is ample, consisting of shop stools and beautiful brushed granite tables and countertops. These materials are textured, but comfortable to the touch, not cold like many stone surfaces tend to be.
For the cyclists there are several bike hooks just inside the front door for parking, with sidewalk bike racks to be added soon. This plays heavily into the mutual passion of owners Nathan and Leia Anderson who have shared a long history in the KC cycling community. Part of the beauty of the shop's locale is that it resides along the Trolley Trail cycling path that serves as a north-south artery from Midtown KCMO to the city's Waldo neighborhood. This place is bike culture through and through, and to drive the point home, there is even a beautiful Vilano bicycle hanging on the bathroom wall.
Second Best Coffee is operating as a dedicated multi-roaster shop, opening with coffees by PT's, Dogwood, Bow Truss, and Madcap. The cafe is home to the very first Slayer Espresso machine in Kansas City, fully kitted out with a sleek orange and white custom paint job. Second Best chose the Slayer, Nathan Anderson told me, because “out of all the different machines I found and looked at, the Slayer had the most consistent and exciting results with single origins.” Alongside the Slayer are four Mazzer grinders–two Mazzer Majors and two Mazzer Super Jollys–part of a careful program that devotes individual grinders to blends, single origin coffees, and decaf.
Brewed coffee at Second Best happens primarily via the Abid Clever dripper, but the Andersons plan to expand the roster of available brew methods to pair individually with various rotating coffees. Further down the line, Second Best intends to offer introductory sessions and designated times where customers can bring in their own equipment, in a series of public demos to help Second Best patrons make great coffee at home.
Food-wise, allow me to highly recommend the breakfast burritos at Second Best. They had two options to choose from during my visit, and I opted for the Local Pig chorizo verde sausage, egg, cheese, and potato burrito. It came out freshly toasted in a panini press, wrapped in butcher paper and tied off with string–truly, it's all about the little touches. Local Pig, it should be noted, is an excellent Kansas City butcher shop, in tune with this city's proud, meaty history, and you can find their fine products at some of the best restaurants and bars in Kansas City.
Every service item at Second Best, from the espressos and brewed coffees to the aforementioned burrito, is presented on toaster-oven size baking sheets, further reinforcing the reclaimed nature of the space. The motto here is ‘Midwestern Modesty', and these trays achieve that ethos with an endearingly blue-collar twist. On the merchandise front, guests can pick up chocolates from Askinosie, carabiner clip aluminum mugs, T-shirts, and Pocky biscuit sticks, the much-loved Japanese import. Teas here are by Hugo Tea Company, a local purveyor.
There's something ineffably “right” about Second Best Coffee, visible by the amount of both Waldo-neighborhood locals and industry insiders I saw frequenting the shop in the span of my own visit. A little “Midwestern Modesty” never hurts, but allow me a dash of hubris on their behalf: Second Best Coffee is an excellent new cafe, and a welcome addition to Kansas City's world-class coffee scene.
Charlie Burt is a graphic designer based in Kansas City, and has collaborated with Sprudge extensively as a barista competition photographer throughout the 2013 and 2014 seasons. This is his first original feature for Sprudge.com.