If you've been paying attention to the surging coffee scene here in Indianapolis lately, you know the standard for exceptional coffee has risen sharply in the past year. One of the biggest factors contributing to the growth of the specialty coffee industry in Indianapolis is the rise of highly talented individuals that take the preparation of coffee extremely seriously. One of the most influential and talented people in the coffee scene is Neal Warner, who we've gotten to know very well over the past year.
Neal, along with his brother Paul and Paul's wife Audreyalice have been working tirelessly over the past several months to launch their brand new shop in Indy's historic Athenaeum: Coat Check Coffee. To give you a bit of insight into Neal's background and just how he plans on elevating the coffee game here in town, we sat down for a little chat that we're excited to share with you here.
Tell me a bit about your coffee background. Where did you discover your passion, where have you worked?
I had my first 'eureka' coffee experience at Johnson Public House in Madison, WI where I was living in 2010. It was a Madcap coffee (from Honduras maybe?), prepared carefully, and it was juicy and complex. I remember thinking what the heck? I had no idea this was a thing.
That cup set me on the home barista path - various drippers, aeropress, hand grinders, etc. Making morning cups with friends at the archive where I worked in Athens, GA 2012-2013 remains my fondest coffee memory. From there I started sample roasting on weekends for a roaster in town called 1000 Faces. In 2014 we won a Good Food Award for a single-farm Ethiopian coffee called Suke Quto, and I took the leap and began roasting full time, as well as learning espresso, equipment maintenance, etc. One of my favorite parts of the job was visiting cafes that were serving our coffee, helping the staff however I could, taking their feedback and responding to it. These QC visits were my first real foray into cafe and barista life.
In 2015 my wife and I decided to move back to Indiana to be close to family and old friends. I signed on with Open Society here in Indy and helped get their coffee and beer programs off the ground. After we got the place open I worked there as lead barista/coffee director for 6 months while planning Coat Check on the side.
What made you want to venture out on your own and start CCC?
I love coffee, my family, friends and Indianapolis and I wanted to bring those things together. I've seen the coffee industry and cafe startups from a few different angles now, and it felt like the right time to put some chips on the table and give it a go. Talk to me in a few months I'll let you know if I still feel that way :)
How would you describe your approach to coffee?
By extracting coffees with care, the barista joins the many hands that worked so hard to bring a high quality coffee to a guest - from the picker who felt each cherry for ripeness, to the roaster pacing between the machine and the cupping table. I like to think of our work at the bar as the final link in this chain, representing the interests and skills of everyone else involved.
Coffee offerings at Coat Check will include Filter coffee and Espresso, a single coffee will be featured on each or both preparations at any given time. The espresso menu will be rounded out with familiar milk drinks and a few flavored lattes with all components made in house, such as Butterscotch and Spice.
We'll also occasionally present a signature drink, called 'Fancy' on the menu - inspired by the flavor profile of the coffee on espresso. These drinks will feature cocktail techniques, ingredients and glassware. The offering will be available as long as the coffee is on espresso. Occasionally we will feature certain limited release coffees and teas in a 'slow bar' format. Mostly on weekends and at market prices. We're excited to be partnering with Tinker Coffee exclusively for our coffee offerings.
For teas, we're happy to be partnering with Spirit Tea from Chicago to bring teas of exceptional quality to the bar. Look for tastings and events featuring these teas.
What makes CCC unique?
We've tried to make the space and menu reflect our interpretation of hoosier hospitality - easygoing, inclusive, and thoughtful. Serving a coffee is a simple, elegant expression of hospitality, and even though we've got good equipment and we're putting in the time and effort to make it taste its best, my goal is to make it feel effortless to the guest. Heads up, interactive service and conversation is what I like most about my favorite cafes. For this reason we've tried to eliminate distractions and extra steps from the bar as much as possible.
What kind of equipment will you be using to make coffee?
We're excited to be using tools and equipment from La Marzocco, Curtis, Mahlkonig, Acaia, Clockwork Espresso, Titus Grinding, Saint Anthony Industries and Culligan Commercial to make the coffees.
Everybody loves food. What does your food program look like?
One of my favorite things about coffee is having some tasty food with it. We'll be baking croissants and other pastry in house, as well as pies that will feature a traditional lard and butter crust, with local leaf lard from Smoking Goose. On the savory side, think quiches and savory hand pies - for sweet pies, think traditional apple and Hoosier sugar cream, these will change seasonally. We'll be rolling out food offerings gradually and we're having fun exploring different directions to take it.