Coffee culture and innovation in the southeastern United States can often be overlooked, but there is a surprisingly vibrant community growing in these major and mid-sized cities. One such burgeoning coffee town is Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently famous for its publicly owned tech innovations, providing some of the fastest internet in the world. The team at Velo Coffee Roasters sees itself providing similar innovations, and also, a communal education that has contributed to a city with a coffee sophistication unusual for its size.
“Education was maybe the one aspect in the beginning that set Velo apart from a lot of the other roasters in town,” said Andrew Bettis, Velo’s lead barista. “I’ve always felt that when you heighten a person’s awareness of the coffee, you heighten their experience and how much they enjoy it as well.”
Part roastery, part coffee bar, and all coffee experimentation lab all the time, Velo is nestled in the back of a brick building at 509 East Main Street, where founders Andrew and Jessica Gage and their partners and employees have all but donned lab coats in their methodical coffee approach.
After walking through the door and seeing the mounted bicycles and a proudly hung Tennessee state flag, a visitor will then notice the Modbar, mounted on a clean, glossy wooden bar top to their right. Behind the bar, Bettis can often be found tweaking settings, experimenting with new techniques, perfecting existing ones, and always offering a smile while he shares his deep well of knowledge about anything espresso or brew-science-related.
Bettis’ labor in coffee is meticulous, constantly attenuating the wide range of controls and presets available on their recently installed Modbar modules. The bar top holds a pour-over station, an espresso group head, and a steam station, each with heating tanks and controls tucked away beneath the bar. Modbar’s many features—flow rate, temperature, pressure, and much more—are all easily adjustable from the machine’s menu screen, and also free the bar of traditionally bulky overcounter obstacles to customer interaction.
Velo, the French word for “bicycle,” named its primary espresso blend Boneshaker after the front-wheel-pedaled bicycle that was an integral part of the cycling craze of the 1860’s. Currently, the blend contains coffees from Sumatra, Brazil, and Kenya.
“The Kenyan gives it some of the sweet brown sugar and tomato flavors, while the Brazilian provides some of the body and nutty flavors. The Sumatran rounds it out and also provides some body,” said Bettis.
Cappuccinos, lattes, and other traditional espresso drinks are all available at the bar, along with drip coffee brewed by a range of methods. Knoxville, Tennessee-based Cruze Dairy Farm whole milk is used in all the milk-based beverages.
Innovation is present wherever you look. Bettis prepares an Americano at the bar in a non-traditional way, serving it in a 4-ounce Gibraltar glass, and filtering the double shot of espresso through an AeroPress to remove all insolubles before adding hot water. The result is a clean Americano void of the drink’s signature bitterness. On the cooler side is Velo’s Niterider Nitro, a nitrogenated cold brew primarily developed by staff member Cody Baldwin, whose official job title is Minister of Tasty Coffee.
While most nitrogenated beverages, like beer, contain a mixture of roughly 70 percent nitrogen and 30 percent carbon dioxide, Baldwin came up with something different through a process he wasn’t quite ready to disclose.
“I was reading a lot of stuff saying that you had to use a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide because it is impossible to use 100 percent nitrogen gas,” said Baldwin. “But we found a way to do it with 100 percent nitrogen.”
Whether it’s nitrogenating the heck out of a cold-brew coffee, tweaking a Modbar module to perfection, or selecting coffees from their green importers while the team slowly builds out their sourcing program, Velo is already proving to be one of the finest examples of coffee’s high speed potential in the Southeast.
Ross Stansberry is a writer living in Knoxville, Tennesee. This is his first feature for Sprudge.