Kansas City has been hit with the coffee bug. We are lucky to have so many great shops in our city that have been here for years and more recently we have had a surge of new shops coming in and calling Kansas City their home. Some local coffee shops are expanding into different parts of town. With all of these new shops some are putting this phrase “slow bar” in the name of their shop.
I was wondering if people in Kansas City or even around the country know what a “slow bar” is. I have gone to some of Kansas City’s own “slow bars” and asked questions. Below are the results, but before we get to that we should learn where did the slow bar come from? I believe that it came with the Third Wave of coffee. What is the Third Wave? Third wave is just where the coffee culture finds itself in most of the specialty coffee shops that exist. The First Wave is the wave of massed produced coffee from companies such as Maxwell House and Folgers. This coffee was produced for quantity more than quality. The Second Wave of coffee started about 1960’s and brought about by Starbucks out of Seattle and Alfred Peet of Peet’s Coffee out of San Francisco. Alfred was also tired of not getting a tasty cup of coffee, so with inspiration from Starbucks, they focused more on better roasted and better sourced beans. Roasting only smaller batches of coffee. This wave also brought the terms espresso, latte, and americano into the American daily routine. This wave is also how people define they drink coffee even today. Now that we know about the first and second wave of coffee and how we used to look and even look at coffee now.
The third wave of coffee was brought to surface by coffee shops such as Intelligentsia in Chicago, Stumptown Coffee in Portland, and Counter Culture in North Carolina. They brought a culture of sourcing coffee from individual farms and co-ops. Roasting coffee lighter to accentuate the natural flavors already present in the bean. Scales and high tech espresso machines were used. The coffee was now being discussed like expensive bottles of wine. It became more about the quality versus quantity.
Just by the description of the Third Wave it would make sense that this is where slow bar or adding pour overs to a cafe would have started. Here in Kansas City we have a few shops that have a slow bar and shops are just a slow bar. Shops that have a slow bar are the Roasterie, and Parisi. Shops in town that have just a slow bar are Quay Coffee, Oddly Correct, Little Freshie, and Second Best Coffee. Coming soon will be Kaldi’s Coffee, formerly known as Latte Land. What is a slow bar? According to Cory Stipp of Quay Coffee, “It is a freshly ground and brewed cup of coffee.” Your coffee is brewed fresh to order, so it takes about 5 minutes to get your cup of hot coffee. A definition that I found from the Seattle Works Coffee Shop’s website is “the slow bar is a place to explore our passion for coffee and deepen our sense of discovery. We have set out to make coffee tasting an intriguing and dignified experience.” I think this explains well what a slow bar is and why they exist.
At a slow bar the barista has a kettle, scale, and a brewing device such as a clever, chemex, or v60. As a customer you are seeing your coffee get brewed fresh right in front of you. This is a great time and opportunity to talk to your baristas and ask them questions about what they are doing, or even about the coffee. Most of the time they are able to give you information about the coffee such as farm, origin, region in that origin, how that coffee was processed, even the varietal of the coffee, as well as what that coffee should taste like. “Slow bar slows everything down and it is a vehicle to show a relationship and to build a relationship,” explained by Marty Roe, owner of About the Coffee and Service Call LLC. This is also a great way for you, the consumer to learn how to brew great coffee at home. Kyle Evans of Little Freshie said that the process they take at Little Freshie is that they will inform the guest on what coffees they have and might explain the flavor to help the guest decide what coffee to brew. It is a process about the barista, the coffee, and you, the consumer. Slow bar can easily be tailored to what you like in coffee. I personally love the acidity and fruitiness of African coffees, but others might really enjoy the fuller bodied and earthier coffees of Indonesia. It is a journey of coffee where the barista is your tour guide.
Now when you see the phrase, “slow bar” you will now know that it will take about 5 minutes to receive your cup of coffee. So if you wanting a fast trip in and out this may not be the place for you at the time. If you wanting and willing to wait for that cup of coffee, take that extra time while you are waiting to talk your barista. Ask them questions about what they are doing and about the coffee. I am sure it will make them happy and they cannot wait to tell you about it. If a barista tells you that the Ethiopian coffee you are about to drink tastes like blueberries, blood orange, and cocoa powder. Do not be afraid, each and every coffee has a different flavor profile depending on how the coffee was roasted and where it was grown, like wine and beer. Sometimes you will be able to taste it. Sometimes not, but it all comes with practice and expanding your palate. Have fun. A slow bar is meant to be a learning experience. Learn about the coffee, brew method, and your barista.