Bar Nine: Re-Imagined

What a journey we’ve all been through since 2020! There were times over the last 2.5 - 3 years where I wasn’t sure if Bar Nine would have to re-locate, dramatically alter our operations, or close entirely. It has simultaneously presented the greatest challenges I’ve faced professionally while also by far the most opportunities for growth as a human being and coffee professional in my career so far. It’s hard to quantify what that journey has been like, from the heart ache of having to furlough the majority of our team, the uncertainty of opening a 2nd location during pandemic times, the financial losses I couldn’t have ever foreseen.

Despite these challenges, these last few years have presented an opportunity to dive in, to really think about how we do business, and what the future of coffee looks like on both micro and macro scales. About a year before the pandemic started, I had an intuition that there may be another way to achieve an incredible espresso experience. I saw 2 steam wands emanating from a counter, nary a grinder or espresso machine in sight. I wondered, if I could find a way to apply batch methodology, could we pull off a beautiful espresso experience without the need of an an espresso machine?

I started thinking more and more about the myriad of waste and inconsistency present in the preparation of espresso. Like many people in the coffee industry, the beauty, mystique, and romance of a great espresso experience is what really drew me in. I love being behind a bar, the balance of the craft of preparation with the art of hospitality. I’m a creative who got into coffee which got me into science, and espresso has really represented the most elusive way to express the joy of this trade, which has always made it the most interesting. There is hardly anything more exhilarating as everything coming together in just the right way for that perfect shot. It doesn’t come easy and is nearly impossible to repeat, let alone train for. The mechanics are complex enough, but you’re also applying knowledge of extraction and working to present the best holistic experience of a coffee. All of this is easier said than done, as any seasoned coffee professional will tell you.

On a deeper level and something that’s always been troubling to me is the extraordinary amount of waste required in the pursuit of a great (and consistent) extraction. Our dial-ins at Bar Nine were always an adventure, one I was only too happy to go down in the pursuit of craft. Having so many variables at our disposal was both liberating and at-times debilitating, as there were an endless number of roads to a theoretically even extraction. Even when trying to reduce variables, there were still inevitably 5-6 shots before we were ready for service, each necessitating purging 2+ shots from the grinder each time to stay calibrated. Beyond these normal processes, the amount of times grind had to be adjusted, shots had to be purged, or shots were not served due to not being to spec began to eat at me over the years. This craft that fueled an obsession was quickly becoming a representation of the extraordinary amount of waste businesses like coffee shops can create.

All of this to say, I really love espresso. Its indelible aroma, the sticky tactile sensation, the brilliance of a cappuccino (to me, the perfect harmony of coffee and milk). But my love for it is no match for the inconsistency, water waste, energy consumption, and discarded coffee that pairs with its preparation. That dissonance in appreciation has been brewing for some time, with the divide only growing as the years progress. For years I would alter my approach in an effort to get more consistent extractions, or circumvent traditional service models by doing hot and cold tasting flights for events instead of mobile espresso set ups, or automating where possible.

And then one day the answer came as clear as day, somewhere out of the depths of the unconscious. Just make it in batches. The idea was so simple, and seemingly so obvious, but if it could work...

I tested an idea in this direction at a tasting for what would eventually become Ten, our 2nd location, back in 2019. The response was overwhelmingly positive and only fed into the looping thoughts of another way to get from Point A to B. I started visiting other shops more regularly, watching their bar flow closely, or noticing errant workflows such as not cleaning portafilters or leaving them on top of the machine, instead of clean and locked in group heads. I’d see uneven tamping, channeling everywhere, and a mixed bag of quality. I knew if I could get something that could be brought up to temp with steam that we could completely upend the bar design and workflow of a coffee shop, not to mention re-focusing our team education not just on what makes a great extraction, but the stories, varieties and fermentation techniques used in every individual coffee, all the types of things that would be more applicable to education a Sommelier would receive than the traditional training parameters of a barista.

These were always my goals in training and education, and this batch espresso idea could really help see it to light. Over the next year and a half I dove headfirst into the project, and even after releasing it and opening Ten in September 2020, as well as learning first-hand how intensive writing a patent actually is, I’m still diving deeper in our extractions, trying to understand elements that are outside the grasp today that will hopefully gain clarity as time moves forward. And yet, the results are now preferred for me than with a traditional workflow. As we have demonstrated through Bar Nine and Ten, espresso can be produced in batches and done so beautifully. Released in bottle form in 2022, Pure Espresso is the culmination of a decade and a half of coffee experience, close work with amazing coffee professionals, and a relentless drive to improve and build a more sustainable future.

On the sustainability front, we are known for our Glass Jar takeaway program, which we have excitedly watch become a movement around the country. Lesser known but also important to us is that the electrical we do use at Bar Nine is all run by solar panels. We also focus only on compostable or well recyclable items for food to-go and other packaging needs. As wonderful as these all are, it’s the energy, water, and coffee waste savings through Pure Espresso that represent the biggest leap forward we’ve ever taken in a more Sustainable system for coffee.

Between Ten and the newly re-opened Bar Nine, we have cut our coffee waste to zero. We have cut water consumption by over 100%, and we have cut power consumption by 20-30%. These are extraordinary figures only possible through the development of Pure Espresso. At our bar in Culver, the entire bar experience now is like a tasting room, a wine bar but for espresso. We’re serving 4 espresso offerings a day, including our Decaf, and serving things like espresso flights that would have been challenging to consider before. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had serving coffee, and it’s the most sustainable way I’ve ever done it.

We’re going to continue to tinker, explore, refine, push boundaries and of course have a ton of fun in the process. I’m really proud of where we are and even more excited about where we’re going. As climate change ravages coffee growing land, we need solutions to help reduce the footprint of our daily consumption of coffee. I don’t want to sacrifice taste or experience to get there, and it’s our sincere goal that Pure Espresso aids in that pursuit of progress.

Here’s to continue pushing forward.

Bar Nine: Re-Imagined