"So you really brew every cup by hand?" I asked the petite barista wrapping up her shift at Mercantile Coffee House. She told me it was the only way they could do it, so I pointed to the two massive drip machines perched on the counter, prompting her honesty. "Gotta have some reason to keep people from going to Starbucks," she clarified.
I thought the place smelled like Starbucks: a saccharin scent, redolent of toasted almonds, hazelnuts and chocolate. Soft and upbeat jazz played on the sound system as the barista worked. Her voice reminded me of Wanda Sykes, and I liked her.
As she poured a thin stream of water into a porcelain funnel holding freshly ground coffee I tried to wrap my head around why this method of brewing could possible be superior to regular drip coffee. She's essentially doing the same thing that Mr. Coffee does at home, right? It's just that her arms are more tired when she's done. Coffee aficionados, however, swear by nuanced flavors of fruit and flowers produced by the long, slow, hand-controlled pour.
You're supposed to deliver a measured amount of water over a period of several minutes, but my barista rushed the process. Still, the Starbucks down the street probably served nine coffee beverages in the same amount of time it took for this single cup of coffee.
The resultant brew was light and bitter with chocolate tones and very low acidity. It was weak by some standards, but full of character, subtle and refined. It wasn't the best cup of coffee I've ever had, but it was a very good cup of coffee.
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The Mercantile Coffee house has been open downtown for two year this month. That the people down the street at Starbucks have passed the cavernous shop by for this long is a shame. They don't know what they're missing.