New Orleans has always been a coffee town, but the awkward truth is that it has never really been a particularly high-quality coffee town. And while a lot of the nation’s beans pass through our port, the vast majority are bulk commodity, destined for Folgers or some other inglorious end.
This is changing. Local roasters such as French Truck and specialty stores like Sucré, along with a groundswell of independent coffee shops, have helped this city turn the corner in appreciation of the bean. We will always love our cold drip iced coffee and chicory blends, but there are now single origin options for coffee nerds to obsess over. Just leave the pretense outside please – this isn’t Brooklyn. Yet.
Geoffrey Meeker’s French Truck Coffee has come a long way since he started off roasting in the ground floor of his home in the Carrollton neighborhood. “In a busy week I used to go through about 150 pounds of coffee,” Meeker recalls. “Now we go through, on average, 3,000 pounds.”
His new roasting facility on the corner of Magazine and Erato streets came online in June 2014, with its retail component opening shortly thereafter. It features a coffee bar with a small number of counter seats augmented by a handful of tables on the sidewalk outside. A short, precise menu of coffee drinks has nary a thing to nosh save biscotti from a glass jar. And the rear wall is made of glass, offering a window into the roasting facilities that are the heart of this operation. The compact space is carefully thought out, a reflection of the owner as much as the product, and dovetails nicely with the brand that Meeker has built.
Envisioned originally as an amenity to the company’s primary business, the retail shop has since exceeded expectations. “I knew there was demand in New Orleans for what we were doing when we started,” Meeker says. “But I had no idea of just how strong that demand was.” One perk is that French Truck’s retail outpost allows customers to taste coffees that arrive in such limited quantities that they’ll never make it out onto store shelves; for example, a recent Sulawesi bean that was part of his Grand Cru lineup. “Just 300 pounds came to the U.S. from this one farm and the stuff is just amazing,” Meeker says. “But it’s so limited in supply we can only offer it in here.”
Along with whole beans, Meeker has a booming business in cold-drip concentrate available on shelves at Langenstein’s and Whole Foods, among other outlets. One, a wonderfully infused dark roast with vanilla, includes a split Madagascan vanilla bean in the bottle. A new partnership with Mauthe’s Farm offers Meeker’s concentrate blended with its Progress Milk.
Aficionados would likely most enjoy the straightforward espresso drinks. Locals would likely develop a fast and lasting sweet spot for the New Orleans Iced Coffee, which comes on tap and is pushed with nitrogen out over onto shaved ice. “It is almost like a snowball,” says Meeker. “If you drink it straight, you get a little effervescence just like with Guinness.” Perfect for summer, you’ll need to add the Kahlua yourself.
A strong coffee program has always been a part of Sucré’s business model. Their second store at Lakeside threw down the gauntlet with its Slayer – a famously high-end espresso machine out of Seattle. And with their new shop on Conti Street in French Quarter, they’ve upped the coffee bar with their Mod Bar brewing system.
“It is one of the most amazing machines I’d ever seen in my life. You can set it up so that someone who doesn’t have a lot of ability as a barista can pull a beautiful shot. Or you can make it as manual as you want,” says Jesse Kurvnik, who oversees operations at Sucré’s three locations. “People who are coffee geeks can come in and create different settings and get the most out of the pull.”
The system is fully integrated into the counter to create a seamless design, no doubt part of the appeal for fashion-forward Sucré. In addition to the pair of sleek espresso groupheads, two pour-over wands essentially create a mini-assembly line for quality coffee.
Beans are sourced from Orleans Coffee Exchange, and featured roasts change often. To get the most out of the bean consider a pour-over. “You get a cup that takes in more of the flavor from the beans,” Kurvnik says. “You get a lot of individuality and it’s nice to see people explore that and decide which bean they like the most.”
The restrained coffee menu intentionally avoids the morass of lattes and flavored beverages, though it does happily integrate somewhat at the dessert end of the spectrum with a beverage that’s a blend of gelato, ice and espresso with a bit of milk. Additionally, the Café au Lait Gelato (“That roast has a nice little undercurrent of chocolate, which complements the gelato very well,” Kurvnik says.) is made with their Tchoupitoulas house blend.
Find Your New Fix
Church Alley Coffee Bar reopened at 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. inside the Zeitgeist following a location switcheroo and serves excellent pour-overs as well as a stripped-down lineup up espresso, latte and macchiato. It also steps into the community niche that’s a component that often feels absent from newer independent shops. HiVolt has two locations now as well, in the Lower Garden District near Coliseum Square as well as on Magazine Street by Whole Foods.
French Truck Coffee
1200 Magazine St.
Sucré French Quarter
622 Conti St.
Church Alley Coffee Bar
1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
1829 Sophie Wright Place
Also inside P’s & Q’s
5720 Magazine St.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays