Coffee as an art form

Kopplin’s Coffee presses every bit of flavor from each coffee bean.

Kopplin’s Coffee is a relatively new café in Highland Park, and the owner, Andrew Kopplin, serves coffee that he claims has been “tweaked to the nth degree.”

Kopplin’s Coffee

Where: 490 Hamline Ave S., St. Paul
Price: $2-$10

Tucked in a cozy nook on Hamline Avenue, the coffee house’s cool pistachio green walls enhance the rich tones of the espresso wood shelves and grey granite tables. Bright crimson chairs with gold studding burst from the deep greens and browns of the interior.

The shelves host the regular coffee house necessities: cream and sugar, French presses and Kopplin’s Coffee mugs, as well as a Bose speaker system connected to the owner’s personal iPod. There are also board games that are free for café patrons. Everything about the coffee shop is quaint and charming.

Behind the counter, Kopplin, a blonde explosion of energy with thick-rimmed glasses, bounces from machine to machine. Obviously a barista veteran, Kopplin brews, cleans and chats welcomingly without ever seeming to lift a finger.

To focus on the quality of each cup, the shop doesn’t offer any sizes larger than 12 ounces, what’s usually considered a small in other coffee houses. Kopplin, who also holds citizenship in Norway, bases his theory of “smaller size, higher quality” on European devotion to the artisanship of coffee making.

“When coffee houses are notorious for over-roasted astringent coffee, you’re gonna cover it up with flavor,” Kopplin said, “but extravagance is not the idea.” On this note, Kopplin’s serves only classic espresso drinks in their standard, European sizes. Departing from the trend toward sugary, venti, nonfat caramel almond lattes, Kopplin’s doesn’t need to mask the coffee’s flavor with sugar the way some chains aim to with their fluffy espresso drinks.

How does Kopplin’s cultivate the superior taste of each drink? Well, that question has more than a few answers.

Kopplin’s brews its coffee one cup at a time on a new machine: the Clover 1s, an instrument that allows for precise differences between each roast of coffee. The barista can control the water temperature, steep time and amount of grounds in each cup. This allows for the enhancement of the coffee’s natural undertones and body texture.

Kopplin’s is the first coffee house in Minnesota to adopt the new instrument. The whirring mass of steel protrusions and knobs function like a French Press, so the coffee’s natural oils aren’t filtered out into bleached white paper. Further, this java joint serves only lightly roasted coffee to avoid that all-too-common burnt aftertaste.

In the spirit of freshness, Kopplin’s features four new blends of coffee and two espresso roasts each month. Kopplin says he aims to offer a “tour of what’s available” in North America. In an effort to mimic “cupping,” a term used for observing coffee’s natural harmonic flavors and body strength, Kopplin’s holds tasting nights for next month’s featured coffee grounds.

Each drink is examined carefully and no detail is overlooked. Continuing with that quality theme, Kopplin’s uses organic, non-homogenized milk from grass-fed cows that “tastes like real milk,” Kopplin said.

Great espresso drinks can’t make themselves. Kopplin’s coffee boasts only five full-time employees, and you won’t find any fine arts students here – all are professional baristas. After a few months of training on the cash register, the barista undergoes an extensive two-month barista training program. Kopplin’s focuses on the development of great taste through small advancements like designs in the cappuccino foam that take the skill of professional baristas.

What of the pastries? After a long search, Kopplin found Rustica bakery, a local bread shop that has been receiving awards and praise from City Pages, Mpls/St.Paul Magazine, and Lavender since 2004. Kopplin’s finally decided on Rustica because “they care about baking the way that we care about coffee.”

All in all, Kopplin’s success hinges on its attention to the art of coffee and the European-style attention to the intricacies of its taste and service. It is the perfect caffeinated interruption from your collegiate midterm schedule.