by Amy Moore // photos by bonnie lynn thomas
Open since December of 2011, Bold Bean Coffee Roasters’ Riverside coffee shop has a cast of interesting regulars to match any of the well-worn bars that populate the district. There’s the jovial magician, the friendly techie who can get anyone onto Bold Bean’s Wi-Fi (and who considers his daily coffee a small price for that precious Internet access), the serene yogis on their way to and from the nearby studio, and various and sundry local professionals, academics, creative types, and dogs…(yes, there are canine regulars too) who can be found in the space any given day of the week. The difference is that these regulars aren’t pickled in alcohol but are instead hopped up on artisan-roasted, hand-crafted coffee or mellowed out on carefully infused loose-leaf tea.
Of course, there is also beer to be had- and really good beer at that (one recent selection was the coffee infused “L Stout,” created as a collaboration between Bold Bean and Bold City)- but what you may notice upon entering the coffee shop is that while everyone has a cup or glass of something, the prevailing atmosphere is that of a warm space in which to gather and connect rather than simply a place to swill beer and coffee. People linger over empty cups, caught up in animated conversation with, for example, a rescue dog owner sitting at an adjacent table or a sustainable farm group working on strategy across the room. What you’ll find upon entering Bold Bean is that it feels more like a neighborhood center than a coffee shop. As Zack, Bold Bean’s chief owner-operator puts it, “there’s a lot of good energy in here, and that makes it a place people want to be.” Though he says they started the shop “for the love of coffee,” he has grown into a feeling that “the people who come here are more important than the coffee we’re serving.”
The space itself is minimal and industrial in design, with wide glass windows, gleaming steel, and tidy wood panels inspired by Zack’s favorite West Coast coffee shops. This minimalism, though, rather than feeling cold, allows people to fill the space with their own warmth in a way that doesn’t so much happen at impersonal chains. Part of the space’s warmth, too, comes from its carefully curated art selections (Photographer Dennis Ho is curator Staci Bushea’s latest pick) and focus on great music, which will soon turn into a regular schedule of live selections, including jazz on Tuesdays, open-mic on Wednesdays, DJ sets on Thursdays, and full bands on Saturdays.
All this focus on the space and its patrons is not to say the coffee itself is any less a focus. Zack and his crew are very clearly passionate about their product, meticulously selecting only the highest quality green coffee beans to roast and cup. As he explains, “everything that comes in here is a green, raw coffee bean. We work with our importers closely on finding coffee from all over the world that fits flavor profiles we’re looking for,” which include African, Central American, and Indonesian, each of which he describes in detail. He goes on, “my roasting has progressed more in the last six months than it had in the previous five years before we got the shop open, just because we’re working with it every single day. We get feedback and we see how it reacts in the roaster and the espresso machine.”
Asked what he would recommend a brand-new Bold Bean patron try first, Zack responds earnestly, “I think the biggest thing is just to try the coffee black. Before you do anything, try it straight up, the way we all drink it.” According to him, they’ve “converted a lot of people,” with the simple encouragement to “try it the way we brew it first, and if you don’t like it, then add something to it.” It may seem foreign to many to try coffee with no adulteration, but to aid in the process, Zack is coming up with a regular schedule of cuppings, as well as classes on “how to brew real good coffee at home.” He and his staff are currently working to build a schedule that will include a couple of classes every Saturday, each with a different theme that will include demonstrations and tastings. Starting out, he plans to limit classes to ten people in order to provide individual attention to participants. Patrons can sign up first-come, first-serve in the shop or by calling 855-1181.
While it’s probably true that Bold Bean could find some level of success with any one of its constituent parts- superb coffee, friendly service, warm atmosphere, interesting art and music, fascinating regulars- its success so far looks to be a result of the sum of those parts creating some indefinable spirit that grabs patrons and keeps them coming back for more. Maybe the question is not so much “what makes Bold Bean so great?” but rather “Is it possible not to become a regular?”
HAVE A CUP
by Amy Moore // photos by bonnie lynn thomas