The Art of Coffee

Sea green walls, worn wood floors, granite table tops, and ruby red chairs surround the counter. It looks and feels like any other coffee house, but what happens behind the bar only happens at Kopplin’s Coffee.

A barista, bent at the waist stares intensely into the patterns of the espresso that drips from the Synesso espresso machine. Lifting the demitasse to his nostrils he smells the shot and evokes a grimace. Dissatisfied, the barista flings it down the drain knowing that it was not worthy of his palate. He begins his craft once again, adjusting the grind a fraction, measuring to the exact gram, tamping and spinning the porta-filter quickly to remove any excess grounds resting upon the surface of the perfectly polished pod. His work is beyond a job, it is an art form. Satisfied with his next shot, he lifts his pitcher of steamed organic milk. Peering deep into the cup, he angles the glass, slowly rotating it while swaying the hand with the pitcher back and forth. The milk fans out across the crema, staining it white in the elegant pattern of a rosetta, a beautiful fern-like leaf that signifies to the customer that the velvety froth has been steamed to perfection.

Next to the barista, owner Andrew Kopplin stands in concentration above one of his two Clover machines. He stirs a Kenya AA Wagamuga, a coffee that has received the highest score ever given by Coffee Review. The Clover, one of only a few hundred in the world, is an $11,000 coffee brewer that offers complete control over every element of the brew. This is the only Clover in Minnesota available to the public. The machine allows Kopplin to find the ideal way to extract body and flavor from of each coffee. He peers into the coffee knowing that his stirring technique will affect the quality of the cup. His regulars are like fans at a baseball game. At a nearby table a regular watches while sipping on the silky froth of a cappuccino. He sports a dark blue t-shirt with the word Clover printed across it.

On Fridays at noon, Kopplin steps out from behind the bar to engage in the smelling and slurping of a coffee cupping. Shallow glass dishes are filled with coffee and steeped for four minutes. Kopplin breaks the crust of the first coffee, inhaling with short quick sniffs. He stirs the coffee, searching for more aroma as he explains the act of cupping to the participants. The crowd includes regulars, coffee nerds, and the curious. Kopplin fills his spoon with coffee, raises it to his lips, and sucks loudly at the liquid. He throws it to the back of his mouth and swirls it around his palate. As others mimic his actions he describes what they taste in the coffee: hints of honey, black currant, pineapple, tobacco, green pepper, citrus, and sweet tomato. He educates his customers while also developing himself as he explores new coffees he has not yet experienced from various roasters and origins.

Kopplin also changes the multiple espressos that he has available. He offers single origin espressos from specific farms and blended espressos from roasters from around the world. The most expensive espresso that Kopplin’s has offered was $30 a shot. This espresso was the first coffee ever offered from the coffee company R. Miguel, a new local company that offers coffee so exceptional that you have to be invited to purchase it. This espresso was from one of the rarest Gesha varietals in the world, grown at the extremely small Mama Cata farm in Boquete Panama. It was offered for one day only, and the roast master, R. Miguel Meza, was present at the event to discuss the coffee with customers. Kopplin also offered 8 oz glasses brewed on the Clover for $25. Customers tasted the coffee and learned about the farmer who grew the coffee, where it was grown, and how it was processed, roasted, and brewed.

In May, Kopplin will be joining coffee enthusiasts from around the country at the Minneapolis Convention Center for the Specialty Coffee Association of America Conference and United States Barista Competition. Classes and exhibits from companies and professionals from around the country will be offered. Baristas from cafés all over the nation will come together for a competition to determine who will represent the United States in the World Barista Championship. Kopplin will be one among many who have a vision for coffee as an evolving art. His café on the corner of Randolph and Hamline in St. Paul will be a hot spot for many coffee professionals with a similar vision of the barista as an artist and coffee as a medium.