R&R Coffee Café roast master Ryan Wanner recently penned a blog in which he championed "SERIOUS coffee bars enter[ing] the scene," labeling two cohorts in particular as partners in elevation.
One of those is the "cleverly hidden" (as in, you thought Shuga's was off-strip) Urban Steam Coffee Bar and Cafe, operated by Kelly Bubach, formerly of the Acoustic Coffee Lounge. To observe just how serious a bean-blaster Bubach is, look no further than a series of posters mounted across the industrial-chic space, near décor such as welding masks and graffiti-ed locker units.
The posters, actually visual guides distributed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, discuss "The Art of Aroma Perception in Coffee." They explain what's happening when a sampler detects everything from the smell of cucumber or toast in a coffee to "camphoric" and "horsey" notes.
Good to know: "Acids changing chemically" that yield kerosene and ethanol signatures aren't so yummy. And coffee roasted even a second too long loses certain desirable traits.
It's this type of esoteric meticulousness that reigns at Urban Steam, with Bubach pushing the gourmet boundaries of a panini press, waffle maker and microwave next to his pour-over bar. (With Japanese origins, pour-over is a slow, controlled hand pouring that supposedly produces a superior cup of coffee.) Slow food it is, particularly if there's an order or two ahead of you. And that's fine by Bubach, who's described his place as one in which to "slow down" and "chill."
The small-farm-sourced coffee service is bulletproof, with size-appropriate ceramic wear (a potent, two-shot, "flat white"-style cappuccino in a smaller portion than you're used to, for example, $2.95), very restrained and intentional creaming and foaming (see the latte, $3.25), and ready, informed answers for any questions.
I particularly enjoyed my Indian Anokhi Liberica pour-over ($3.25), a rare treat for the price considering that Bubach says he's the only U.S. roaster to have procured one of five 130-pound bags sold last year. A wildness prevails in it, especially when sniffing fresh grounds right out of the grinder basin that Bubach hands across the counter for olfactory inspection; he likens the coffee's flavors to chewing a cigar's tip.
As with certain red wines, there's a discernible barnyard element, where floral and earthy notes play and take new form with the addition of a touch of cream. (Not entirely a faux pas, I learn, whereas a splash of the complimentary agave, honey, cane sugar syrups or powdered stevia would overwhelm those subtle aromas and flavors.)
Bubach has developed a lighter-style food menu, borrowing from the Mediterranean and Europe at large (think: mint, feta and fig-jam crostini on the Meze Plate, $6.95) to avoid overpowering the drinks. The sandwiches ($5.95 to $6.95, with salad, chips or fruit) are simple, filling, fresh and fairly priced, the smoked pork Pig Iron a little bolder than the turkey-bearing Anvil or Grindstone. Belgian waffles ($3.50 to $6.95) are nicely dressed in savory and sweet arrangements, the cornmeal Del Waffle a highlight with piquant pico de gallo, and the Monkey Wrench a no-brainer with Nutella, banana, walnut and caramel.
Locally purveyed baked goods comprise more common coffee companions, but a small-batch California chocolatier's Dominican Republic bar, $8.99 for a mere 2 ounces, commands attention for dessert. Its lengthy tasting descriptions, invoking the "nuances of each bean," are of course right at home at Urban Steam's counter — as should you be, if you're serious about coffee.