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Roasted: Our Take On Dallas Coffee Culture, Starting With Drip Coffee's Fine Morning Brew

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Wake up Dallas and smell the coffee. Oh, that hot, cup of pluck--it's just what we need to get the heart racing and the morning going in one wired adrenal-pumping shot. Though, honestly, today Roasted may need a triple.

But where to turn, so many choices and so little time to get our fix before work. It's 7:30 and caffeine's addiction calls, Roasted needs to get its buzz on. Heard from a local barista that Drip Coffee Company won nbcdfw.com's Golden Local Award for best coffee shop. Hard to believe that some independent Park Cities coffee confab patronized by a bunch of stockbrokers and soccer moms would have the serious grinds it takes to win a smackdown with the likes of other neighborhood shot shacks. But we prejudge--which is something we promised our caffeinated cohorts at the local Starbucks we would never do. Again.

Opened in 2005, Drip's fire-engine red storefront and black awning help the coffee house stand out from the otherwise beige shops in the glorified, heavily trafficked string of strip-malls once commonly known as Miracle Mile (4343 Lovers Lane, at the Dallas North Tollway). So, don't be surprised to find an awkward dance of SUVs and foreign automobiles vying for parking spots during morning and lunch rushes. There's no night rush, because Drip closes at 6 p.m. So, all the night owls will have to recharge elsewhere.

It opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, and this Tuesday morning at the Drip: President Obama's on the small flat-screen above its espresso bar looking dour and talkin' "jobs"; customers power-swagger through the door--the men keeping it coffee and simple, the women doing their non-fat latte shout outs; the baristas look like the bright tattoo-covered and pierced kids who used to work the area Starbucks back in the early '90s. Remember?

Drip's stark, minimalist, almost Zen-like motif--neutral colors, form follows function feel-- is the conducive to the grab-and-go concept, not exactly a comfy invite for squatters to plug in and/or sit and schmooze for a while. This is not a knock to industrial design, modernity has its fans, but Roasted likes more comfortable, less plastic seating for extended tush-time. (For those insisting on the long sit, better nab one of the plushier red-leather chairs.)

But who gives a bean about décor when the coffee's the thing. And Drip's coffee more than makes up for its sterile environs. The shop's drip coffee and espresso were served hot and fresh and tasted better than we've come to expect from area brew houses. A caveat: Drip's baristas craft the espresso-based drinks on automatic machines, as opposed to manual, which could put off Joe Purist who wants a manual's perfectly timed shot. To be fair, the espresso smelled, looked and tasted right, with an appropriate amount of bitterness to balance out the bean's fruitiness.

The Drip's whole bean coffee menu is nothing short of impressive for an independent shop, boasting 18 different coffees to choose from. The choices range from a light-roasted Costa Rican to The Drip's own Espresso Blend, a full-bodied blend of beans which the baristas, friendly and otherwise forthcoming, say is a secret recipe developed by the shops owner and roaster Steve Thatcher, who's spent over 15 years in the coffee biz. The shop hand roasts its coffees in small batches and tosses out the fresh-roasted beans after 10 days. Which means that The Drip's coffee is considered "stale" long before most major chains even receive their "fresh-roasted" beans from large out-of-state roasting plants.

If you're craving baked goods to pair with your coffee, then arrive early because the shop only seems to carry a scant selection of muffins, scones and croissants. Thankfully though, Yummy Donut's, um, yummy donuts are only a few paces away.

And, according to one of The Drip's tenured baristas, the clientele is pretty easy to predict by time of day. After the early morning rush of suits, customer traffic turns decidedly more female and considerably more customized: "Skinny." "No-foam." "Extra-hot." "Sugar-free." Slower moving people using WiFi may drop in. Afternoons are reserved for students (like in many shops) and those in need of a quick caffeine boost to get them through the remains of the day.

Now, with the customer flow reduced to a slow trickle and smooth jazz underscoring the scene we partake of the last few drops of Drip's nutty, full-bodied Guatemalan, the coffee of the day, before finally heading out to the job. But then we hear the good news: only 54 cents for a refill. And we decide its worth a tardy slip for one more round.

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