Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ascension: Dallas's First Wine & Coffee Bar

          Alright, in keeping with Tom Standage's "A History of the World in Six Glasses" discussing how humans define their drinks, and likewise drinks define their drinkers, I thought I'd report on a certain beverage-related revolution going down in Dallas: the emergence of a hybrid Wine and Coffee Bar. The first of its kind, in Texas, at least. Honestly, how has this never been done before? Why are humans so desperate to segregate their beverages--designate them separate sections on the menu, different aisles in the grocery store...
           Because, the truth is wine and coffee appeal to similar people, for the most part. Both are considered socially acceptable addictions--caffeine and alcohol, who gives. Both are classy, and attract snooty pretentious douche bags and wasted, recently laid-off, (but by no means recently laid) alcoholics alike, so why not combine them? Although this particular place will most likely appeal to the snootier end of the wine-and-coffee-enthusiast spectrum.
          The owner, Russell Hayward discusses the marriage between wine and coffee with Pegasus News, stating that "Anyone who appreciates coffee can appreciate wine... They belong together." Perhaps this sparked  John Gaberino, the owner of Topeca Coffee roastery, to open a coffee, wine and cocktail bar in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. Seems like the South is taking off on this whole "convertible spaces" idea, breaking that invisible beverage barrier. Tom Standage would be proud.
          Although, as you can see, coffee seems to dominate Ascension's counter space. It will also be the focus of my post, since I'm no wine connoisseur. I'm twenty... I'm just a Barista.

          Ascension offers customers choice of five different brewing methods, made to order (and listed below). This place means serious business. I mean, this is no hour-and-a-half-old Mr. Coffee crap--"Free Refills... if you dare..." Except I highly doubt Ascension does free refills.

  • French Press:
Classy. Elegant. Simple. Ironically there is some debate as to whether this contraption is actually French, or if in fact the press pot, a.k.a. cafetiere was first conceived in Italy. But Italy already gets the credit for espresso, so we'll just give this one to the French, I guess. It's only fair.
  • Siphon:
It's okay, if you haven't heard of this one, don't worry, you're not alone. It's some insane chemistry-set-looking coffee extraction method involving an actual Bunson burner and some fancy flask and everything. I'll get back to you on the specifics in my next post, cause I'm curious to know myself...
  • Chemex:
This one's easier, you just stick a filter in the top, then add some freshly ground coffee and pour hot water over. When its finished dripping, you simply remove the filter and you've got a perfect carafe of coffee.

  • V60 Pour Over:
Essentially the same idea as the Chemex, except the top is not attached, making this one ideal for baristas brewing multiple cups all at once. Drippers come individually or in couples, or sometimes in a stand of up to six.
  • Espresso:
via the Synesso Hydra machine, complete with a manual pedal press, goes for over $20,000.

          The place sports a sort of rustic, modern elegance. It incorporates the scientific nuances of coffee-making, mastered by their head barista, this guy--Mike Mettendorf, the city's seemingly most experienced coffee nerd--slinging smiles and "hand-crafted caffeine" across Dallas.
          According to his interview with, Mettendorf started drinking "coffee" when he was fifteen, except he'd get it from this nasty gas station cappuccino machine--you know, the kind that dispenses some scalding hot milk into a styrofoam cup, to which he proceeded to add seven or eight French Vanilla crème packets to. For a long time, "that's what [he] thought coffee was," and to many Americans, it still is.
          Except, since his first job at Caribou Coffee sparked an un-extinguishable passion for the stuff, Mettendorf considers making coffee an art, but equally a science. There are hundreds of variables to consider--from temperature, moisture, pressure and speed to consistency of ground coffee particles (which I'll elaborate on in a later post). But the beauty of it is no two cups will ever come out exactly the same.
          To be honest, this guy's understanding of coffee puts me to shame. He goes on to explain about different extraction methods, which he categorizes into three types:
  • Decoction:
A.k.a. "Cowboy Coffee," also true of Turkish coffee, decoction equates to over-extraction. Cowboys used to boil down and reduce vats of black coffee into a bitter, intensely strong extract. (Although that's over-extraction at its extremest.)
  • Percolation:
Percolation refers to passing hot water through coffee grounds, and applies to the Chemex and V60 pour over. The only difference between the two methods is the thickness of the filters. The thicker density of the Chemex filter makes for a crisper cup of coffee, while the V60 filter is thinner, resulting in a richer, more robust body.
  • Emulsion:
Unlike percolation, emulsion means fully submersing your coffee grounds in hot water for an extended amount of time, as opposed to simply passing through. This extraction method is used in the Siphon and French Press, in which coffee grounds spend more time in contact with the water, allowing an ultimately richer and more robust cup of coffee. Plus, the drinker can let the coffee get as strong as he or she pleases.

           Ironically, despite his extensive coffee-extracting expertise, Mettendorf only drinks one cup a day. Although, to be fair, he has to taste every cup he makes to make sure it's correct--Can you imagine? Damn. And I thought I was over-caffeinated. All I took were a few mistake/test shots throughout the day, and I'd be shaking so bad I could barely hand customers their drinks. They oughta make a barista-proof anti-perspirant, because that much caffeine-intake is atrocious.
          Mettendorf understands not everyone has the time to learn all "the science behind how to brew their coffee well, so that's why we're here." Hell yeah, we're heroes. Where would this world be without its baristas? Seriously. We're here to keep our communities happy and caffeinated. And tipsy, now, thanks to Ascension! So be sure to check it out if you're ever in Dallas...

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