In the past few decades, Americans have had no choice but to live with a limited selection of coffee. There isn't much to choose from outside the good old double-D's or Starbucks. And it's that much more evident here in South Florida, where specialty coffee shops are few and far between.
But thanks to Subculture Coffee opening in West Palm Beach on Monday, March 3rd, all that will change. As one of the area's first microroasters, Subculture will be brewing coffee craft-style in small batches, with specialty-sourced beans, and using precision roasting and brewing equipment.
Just as the rest of the beverage world has moved away from mainstream, high-volume production to embrace the local craft scene, coffee is just starting to evolve in a similar fashion. Like wine and beer before it, specialty coffee microroasters are proving beans can be just as complex and varied. Likewise, the sorry old coffee pot is no longer the best way to brew that morning cup, as fancy pour-overs offer a way to unveil more flavor and a smoother finish. The only problem: you'd never know there was life beyond your vanilla latte in Palm Beach and Broward County.
Luckily restaurateur Rodney Mayo and Habatat Coffee founder Sean Scott are hoping to change that. The two have partnered to develop the area's only microroasting facility outside of Oceana Coffee in Tequesta and Panther Coffee in Miami. Their vision: to open your eyes to coffee beyond that gas station sludge and fancy ordering system with their new venture known as Subculture Coffee located off Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach.
"People tell me all the time I've ruined them," said Scott, who has over a decade of roasting under his belt and was well-known for slinging a fine cup of Joe at Habatat Coffee, now closed. "Once they've tasted what coffee is really supposed to be like, they can't go back."
Mayo and Scott don't subscribe to the "bigger is better" mantra. Scott, who recently sat down with Clean Plate Charlie to discuss Subculture, is a true artisan. He has painstakingly sourced beans from various regions across the globe, from Central and South America, to Africa and the South Pacific. For him, roasting is a passion that involves more study, knowledge, practice and skill than any other beverage-making process. Just a tick too high on the thermometer can mean the difference between a bitter, acidic cup or a sweet, smooth finish. At Subculture, he'll roast no more than three days -- and produce up to 25 pounds of small-batch picks -- each week.
"This is truly a craft. When you're roasting, it comes down to seconds. A few seconds too long at too high a temperature can mean the difference between finding the sweet spot [with that particular bean] or losing its unique characteristics altogether," said Scott. "It's a challenge, but it's also what makes [roasting] fun."
The idea to bring Subculture Coffee to West Palm Beach has been a longtime dream for Mayo, who told us he envisioned opening his own micoroasting facility since Starbucks came on the coffee scene in the early 70s. When Mayo heard Scott was planning on moving Habatat Coffee to a new location off Clematis, the two met and decided to combine ideas. Today, the plan is to provide each of the Subculture restaurants -- and even the surrounding area establishments -- with their own brand of Subculture coffee, with the hopes of expanding to open more coffee shops both regionally and nationally.
Step inside Subculture and you'll first be greeted by Scott's American-made, industrial Diedrich roaster, a gleaming hunk of machinery that is capable of producing anywhere from one to 25-pounds of coffee. That versatility will allow Mayo and Scott to do what they love -- share remarkably distinct, small-batch roasts with their patrons.
Move beyond the roaster and the cafe itself is dark and cavernous, walls littered with black and white photos of coffee drinkers, with a few famous faces from the Mona Lisa, to Bob Marley and Sarah Jessica Parker. The coffee bar is hand-carved wood, compliments of Mayo himself, who crafted the entire bar area by hand. There you'll find a top-of-the-line Italian La Marzocco espresso machine, as well as pour over and standard brewers.
The coffee menu will offer traditional drinks served "in the correct proportions," said Scott. That means simple stuff like an espresso, latte or caffè Americano, served with just two shots each. You'll also be able to find seasonal roasts rotated every few months, and can purchase fresh-roasted coffee to brew at home. Subculture will offer a selection of pastries, baked goods, gelato and ice cream all made fresh and on-premise. For the late night crowd, expect craft beer and wine, too. Need a healthy pick-me-up? Mayo plans to have a menu of fresh-pressed vegetable and fruit juices.
What if you just want a cup of coffee, plain and simple? They will serve that, too.
"We aren't trying to be the coffee elite here," said Scott, who wants the craft experience to expand into educational events with regular roasting classes that will help introduce people to the complexities of coffee. "A lot of craft places can become so adamant about what is right versus wrong, that they become inaccessible to the mainstream consumer. That's not what we're about. We want to show you what your Starbucks drink is supposed to taste like, but if you want it with some extra milk, syrup or sugar, we won't stop you."
Subculture is located at 509 Clematis Street in West Palm Beach and will be celebrating its grand opening next Monday, March 3rd. For more information visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/subculturecoffee.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.