First Avenue Coffee is a coffee house with a clear agenda: spotlight small-lot, shade-grown, organic coffee – and save the world.
Or, at least try to.
“Every coffee we buy is small-lot, hand-picked, hand-sorted and of the highest quality,” said proprietor Deb Di Bernardo. “All are shade-grown, so the ecosystem stays intact. All are certified organic.”
They’re also more expensive. But these kinds of growing practices help safeguard their long-term sustainability.
“The better we support these farmers, the more likely they will stay in this model,” and this model, Di Bernardo said, is better for the environment as well as for the farmers and overall health of the coffee industry. “When importers find these little farms and share their exquisite product, bypassing a co-op which pays the farmers pennies on the dollar, the farmers make dollars per pound.”
Di Bernardo was committed to that philosophy when she launched her award-winning Roast House Coffee roastery in early 2010, specializing in wholesale beans. Over the summer, in partnership with Spokane real estate developer Jerry Dicker, she opened her high-end coffee house in downtown to showcase rare coffees and reach retail customers.
“This is,” she said, “kind of an experiment. Can we operate a 3,000-square-foot coffee shop without syrups and without cup-size choices?”
Customers at First Avenue Coffee don’t get to choose between 12- or 20-ounce Irish cream lattes or mochas. Drinks here come in specific amounts. They don’t include commercial flavored syrups, either.
First Avenue Coffee features one house-made seasonal syrup at a time as well as a chocolate ganache made at chef Adam Hegsted’s Doughlicious baking operation.
Espresso is 2 ounces. A macchiato is 3. A cappuccino is 6. Lattes, mochas and drip coffees are 12.
“There are no choices,” Di Bernardo said. “These (sizes) are specific to how the drink should be. It’s a recipe. These coffees should be perfection, and this is what we’ve deemed is perfection.”
First Avenue Coffee exclusively serves coffee from Roast House, opened nearly nine years ago as part of the “third wave” of the specialty coffee movement. “Third wave” roasters, growers, coffee shop and other business owners aim to foster a culinary appreciation for coffee, similar to wine, chocolate, cheese and tea.
Di Bernardo’s new coffee house is built to showcase exceptional coffees and serve as a training ground and event space as well as a spot to enjoy a cup of coffee. It opened June 1, but construction issues caused the coffee house to close after its soft launch. First Avenue Coffee officially opened on the afternoon of July 12.
Oversize windows face First Avenue, looking north and letting in natural light. Exposed beams lend a rustic accent to an otherwise contemporary space, done in black and white and chrome with dramatic, 20-foot ceilings and clean lines.
A live-edge buddy bar along the west wall and a large, communal walnut table in back add to the ambiance. So does a piano, on “permanent loan” from Music City, a longtime piano store for which the building is named.
First Avenue Coffee is located on the first floor in the old Music City Building, built in 1912. A 450-square-foot mezzanine offers extra seating and a bird’s eye view of the expansive space.
The focal point is a 40-foot, C-shaped coffee bar, outfitted with high-tech, sleek-looking ModBar brewing systems.
The counter features a pour-over station, pastry case, point-of-sale system, espresso station and a “slow bar,” set up like a cocktail bar, where baristas prepare coffee cocktails sans alcohol.
Look for a Nitro Fashioned, which features Roast House’s F-Bomb on nitro, orange and aromatic bitters, simple syrup, orange peel and a Luxardo cherry. The Cold Brew Sour uses house-made chamomile-grapefruit syrup, lemon juice and single-origin Ethiopian coffee. And the Cherry Bomb – shaken, not stirred – combines cold brew concentrate with Luxardo cherry syrup in a classic coupe glass.
F-Bomb is on nitro, along with a rotating single origin coffee and chai. First Avenue Coffee also features a rotating carbonated tea.
The house blend – coffee from a micro lot from Daterra Sustainable Coffee in Brazil and “Sweet Blue” from Ethiopia – is used for espresso as well as batch brew. But most of the offerings here are single origin. And, in general, coffees at First Avenue Coffee tend to be roasted on the lighter end of the spectrum to better highlight their terroir.
The pour-over selection typically includes five options. And, “This,” Di Bernardo said, “is where we truly get to feature those crazy-expensive coffees.”
They range, generally, from $4.50 to $7 for a 12-ounce pour, but can climb up to $15 to $25 for more rare offerings from the prestigious international Cup of Excellence program, which rates the world’s highest-quality coffees.
Di Bernardo fears for their future, citing a report by World Coffee Research that claims “unless major efforts to adapt coffee production for climate change are initiated, global production could be lower in 2050 than it is today.”
Nearly half of the world’s current coffee production comes from countries – including Brazil, India and Nicaragua – that are expected to lose more than 60 percent of their suitable coffee farmland by 2050, according to World Coffee Research.
Meantime, said roaster Aaron Jordan, “The projections for consumption are going up.”
First Avenue Coffee was founded, Di Bernardo said, “to set a standard and affect change. The reason for this (coffee house) is to bring attention to these sustainable coffees and the need to support them so they don’t go away and take the remaining forests with them. We hope,” she added, “that by modeling a cafe focused on sustainable coffees and business practices, other local businesses will be encouraged to do the same.”
In early September, she’s showcasing a highly rated Cup of Excellence coffee from Peru. She only has 22 pounds left of this particular small-lot, certified-organic coffee, produced by Filadelpo Córdova Mejia at Finca Ecologica Agua Colorada in Jaen, Cajamarca. It was grown on 10 acres at 1,850 meters above sea level, and it received a Cup of Excellence score of 89.77 during the first-time Peru competition last fall. It’s described as deep-bodied, balanced, elegant, complex and sweet – with hints of citrus, apricot, peach, strawberry, blackberry, honey, toffee, vanilla, floral notes and more.
Roast House, which won a Good Food Award in 2014, was one of three buyers to purchase beans from the 750-pound lot during an online auction last fall. The roastery bought 60 pounds of the specialty coffee, which arrived in March. Di Bernardo made some available then, but reserved about a third for the grand opening of First Avenue Coffee. It’s slated to be featured on the fresh sheet Sept. 4.
First Avenue Coffee is managed by managed by Kristen Scott-Silver, formerly of Orlison Brewing Co. Kyle Siegel, formerly of Coeur Coffee House, roasts alongside Jordan. The business is in the process of becoming Zero Waste and Green Certified.
The back of the shop features a cupping kiosk with a 2.5-kilo Diedrich roaster and 5-foot-by-5-foot flavor wheel. This space is used for sample roasts as well as classes and coffee tastings.
“People come in expecting their candy in a cup, their diabetes in a cup,” Di Bernardo said. “That’s not what we’re engaged in. We’re showcasing the highest-quality coffees in the world. Belly up to the bar,” she said. “Let me show you what coffee could be, what coffee should be.”