Mercantile Coffee House Brings Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee To Downtown

It's funny how fast word travels around town when a new coffee shop opens its doors.
No sooner had Roasted heard about Mercantile Coffee House than people were telling us -- or asking us -- about it left and right.

The coffee shop, located downtown a stone's throw from Main Street Garden Park, just celebrated its "soft opening" about three weeks back, and word is traveling at buzz-worthy speeds weeks before the spot's grand opening.

It's no wonder that word about the new coffee and frozen yogurt shop is spreading so fast, after all, it's the first coffee house in Dallas to be brewing up beans from the popular Chicago-based specialty coffee roaster and retailer Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea -- the company's winged logo is stamped all over the place.

We called Intelligentsia this morning just to make sure that Mercantile was the first, and we were told that the "only other place in Dallas" is the specialty-cookie joint in Snider Plaza Crème De La Cookie.

Intelligentsia's award winning beans are the stuff of legend among many folks from the Windy City, but Roasted wondered if the hype surrounding the beans and coffee house's brew was nothing more than hot air.

Mercantile Coffee House is located downtown on the ground floor of The Element complex at 1800 Man Street. So, naturally, if you drive there then you'd better bring some pocket change to feed the meters, and when we headed downtown yesterday morning we wondered how easy it would be to find a close parking spot. But Roasted lucked out and found a spot right out front with 30 minutes still left on the meter.

The first thing Roasted noticed when walking into Mercantile wasn't the smell of coffee, though, it was the dance music that blared from a speaker just above the entrance and one of the main seating areas. Forget focusing on a book or holding a quiet conversation in that little seating nook; it was NorthPark-Center-on-Black-Friday loud. Though, thankfully, the rest of the cafe wasn't as loud.

Inside, the place is decorated in soft earth tones with mostly muted greens, browns and greys. As for seating, in the back there are two high-back comfy booths, up against the front windows -- facing the street -- they have a half dozen bar stools. There's also a conference room with a door, presumably to help shut out the club music.

When we walked up to the counter we already knew we wanted to try a cup of traditional coffee brewed with Intelligensia's beans. Roasted had to choose between Tanzanian or Costa Rican beans, but we just asked for the bolder of the two, which the barista said was the Costa Rican.

The shop brews one cup at a time, ensuring that each cup is as hot and fresh as possible. The baristas use two of Tru Bru's trademarked brewing set ups, so they can brew up to eight cups of coffee at once. After each order is placed they grind the beans, pour the grounds into a filter and then pour 210-degree water over the top.

Each cup takes about two minutes to brew, but the time passes extremely fast when the barista's filling you in on the process and explaining things like the "plum flavor notes" of a particular coffee or how important it is to allow the coffee to "bloom" before pouring all the hot water over the grounds. He also pointed out the special conical swirls of the brewing apparatus, which, apparently, allows for better "flow" of the brew and prevents the water and coffee grounds from pooling. That means, he insisted, a better cup of coffee.

And, from the first sip to the last, the cup of coffee was as good as Roasted had been lead to believe -- no doubt helped by the freshness of the brew itself. We decided to try a shot of Intelligensia's Black Cat espresso before we hit the road as well. The espresso was smooth but a bit tart. We'll stick with Mercantile's uber-fresh cups of coffee. 

The coffee shop's open until 10 p.m., and we hear that it's filling a late-night void left by the nearby Starbucks, which closes earlier in the evening. We're not sure about every barista working at the shop, but the two on duty yesterday for Roasted's first visit were top-notch and we are looking forward to many return visits to try their other Intelligensia offerings.

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Daniel Rodrigue
Contact: Daniel Rodrigue