Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters has been delivering freshly roasted coffee to wholesale clients and porches since 2008, but have never had a place to call their own. All that changes Friday when owner Shannon Neffendorf opens his own coffee shop in Oak Cliff. And it is about time, because Oak Cliff coffee drinkers have been waiting for forever. Or a year and a half. Whatever.
Neffendorf's journey to coffee shop ownership began about seven years ago when he visited Milan for a work trip. While there, he got into the rhythm of Italian life, which for many people includes copious amounts of espresso. Upon his return to Dallas, he wanted to recreate the experience but found that quality beans and preparation were practically nonexistent. He did what any budding coffee geek would do and began researching brewing methods and eventually began roasting coffee at his home. Not long after, he got engaged and moved to Oak Cliff and all signs pointed towards opening a roasting business. Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters was born.
I sat down with Neffendorf at the shop the other day, to ask him about sourcing, serving, and everything in between.
What made you decide to open up a shop? My original goal when I started OCCR was to open a coffee shop. I saw home roasting and neighborhood delivery as a way to build a client base. But the roasting ended up taking on a life of it's own. Back when the roasting was still based out of my home in 2008, I converted a BBQ gas grill into a 4 lb. rotisserie roaster. I would roast all afternoon and into the evening on Sunday, sometimes until midnight. Then I would wake up at 4 a.m. the next morning and deliver the coffee to everyone's door before I went to work at my corporate job. I did that for nine months until we picked up our first wholesale client, Crooked Tree Coffee. That combined with the birth of my son led to me quitting my day job and focusing on roasting coffee full time. Since then the whole thing has been pulling me more than I have been pushing it.
So then you decided to pick back up with opening a shop? Yeah, so, the shop. It took a little longer to open than planned. I bought this building in December 2010 and spent a year planning and another year building out the space. In a lot of ways this has been a return to our goal, but with more focus than originally planned. First and foremost, this is a showcase for the wholesale side of our business. This is a place where people can come and taste the coffee precisely how we would like it prepared. This is the only shop we are going to open; there are no plans for a chain. Because we aren't under pressure to maximize our returns on the shop, it gives us the freedom to really showcase the coffee and have the shop be what it should be: a place for the community.
Tell me a little bit about the coffee equipment in the new shop. We have obsessed over the equipment. The Bosco is a fully manual lever machine direct from Naples, Italy. Kees van der Westen made our second espresso machine in the Netherlands. Oh, and the Steampunk is from Salt Lake City.
So steampunk isn't just where people dress up in old-timey clothes and pretend to live in an alternate universe that runs on steam power? Think vacuum pot meets espresso machine. It cuts down on the inefficiencies of a vacuum pot while still giving you the taste you would expect from that type of brewing.
Has your approach to roasting coffee changed since you started? Yes and no. The overall goal of roasting the best coffee we can is the same. But what has changed is as we have grown I have gotten better at sourcing the beans. This is partly because our buying power is more than it used to be, but it is also because of the relationships we have developed over time. We buy most of our coffee directly from the farms that grow it. We know how they treat their land and their people, and we pay premium price for that. But with a higher price comes a higher quality bean. Without a good starting product it doesn't matter what I do to it. So the philosophy is the same, but some of our processes have been refined over time.
You have been on several trips to visit your coffee growers. Why is that important to you? Direct trade is an extension of my personal food philosophy. My family and I try to buy local and directly from farmers here in the area. You can't do that with coffee beans really, but you can build relationships with farms around the world that are doing good work. That relationship and commitment establishes trust and helps us ensure a quality product. And that quality includes taste, but goes way beyond that into things like how the farm workers are treated and what the environmental impacts are. Another benefit has been meeting neighboring farms that we would never have had access to without making a personal visit.
Why did you decide to open your shop in Oak Cliff? I guess you would have to go back to why I moved here in the first place. It is an independent-minded neighborhood. And it is diverse. It is a place that supports small businesses. And personally, I love that it has aspects of a small town and that it is beautiful, with more trees and hills than many other parts of the city.
I heard a rumor there was not going to be any Wi-Fi. I am happy/sad about this. What made you decide to go against the grain? No Wi-Fi is part of our goal of having our shop be about the coffee and about the people. We really want it to be a place where people can connect with each other and sometimes I think Wi-Fi can get in the way of that. We really want people to be engaged with each other while they are here.
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One time I watched your son drink a macchiato, which was really impressive because he is 4. How did that start? He actually brewed his first Chemex this morning out of his own tiny kettle. He and I are close, and he wants to be a part of what we are doing. He likes to come up here and scoop the beans. He has a great palate. He can associate flavors when he is tasting coffee, which is one of the hardest parts of cupping.
When can he start working in the shop? I told him when he is tall enough to reach the counter then he can work for me.
What do you order when you go to other coffee shops? Either an espresso or a cortado, mainly because I want to taste as much of the coffee as I can. The cortado gives you a good idea of how they pull their shots and steam their milk so you get the whole picture.
What separates the small coffee roaster from the stuff in the bulk bin at the grocery store? I think care is the biggest thing. I think caring about a product that people end up consuming and the ways that product got to your cup are really important and separate craft coffee from the rest.