The java experiment: Downtown resident opens Alchemy Coffee at 19th and Massachusetts

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Coffee funnels through a cold brew drip system as Nathan Russell prepares a cup of hot pour-over coffee on Monday, May 13, 2013, at Alchemy Coffee, 1901 Massachusetts St., Suite B.

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Owner Benjamin Farmer smiles as he discusses his coffee-making process on Monday, May 13, 2013, at Alchemy Coffee, 1901 Massachusetts St., Suite B.

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Alchemy Coffee owner Benjamin Farmer's wife, Jessica Farmer, and son Noah Farmer, water the plants outside the coffee shop at 1901 Massachusetts St., Suite B, on Monday, May 13, 2013.

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A peanut butter and bacon cookie with chocolate chips at Alchemy Coffee, 1901 Massachusetts St., Suite B.

If you go

Alchemy, behind the Iwig Family Dairy Store at 1901 Massachusetts St., is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Find the shop on Facebook at facebook.com/alchemycoffeeKS.

To see Benjamin Farmer at work is to understand why he named his new coffee shop “Alchemy.”

Glass funnels and beaker-like carafes line the wall behind him. Into these, he’s tipping carefully measured streams of beans from tiny jars with silver lids, pouring in a long, slow trickle of steaming-hot water and letting it bubble just enough — eyeing a thermometer dial throughout the process.

What eventually comes out of this experiment and into a mug is, by coffee standards, something close to a cup of liquid gold.

There’s no espresso machine hissing behind the counter at Alchemy Coffee, which opened in late March at 1901 Massachusetts St., behind the Iwig Family Dairy Store. Instead, Farmer’s homegrown shop specializes in pour-over and iced coffee, with Iwig milk and a handful of artisan snacks on the side.

“It really is a lot of science and numbers, but there’s still that kind of feel and art to it,” he said of his coffee-making approach.

Jack-of-all-trades

Farmer studied history, geography and a couple of other subjects for a while at Kansas University. He’s worked as an arborist, a concrete-finisher and a FedEx driver. Feeling “burnt-out” from his job as a diesel mechanic, he was looking for something hands-on but not as physically exhausting as construction work.

A friend and coffee-roaster from St. Louis had recently turned him on to the stuff, and for the first time, Farmer said, he “realized how good coffee could be.” He made coffee a hobby, and it wasn’t long before friends started calling and texting to inquire when they could get their next cup.

As a downtown resident, Farmer said he’d made many treks from his home to Dillons on Massachusetts Street and found the neighborhood surprisingly walkable and bike-able.

“But there was a lot of things missing,” he said, “including a coffee shop.”

Alchemy has been a family affair.

Farmer and his dad did the remodeling, and his brother-in-law built the wooden bar and island. Farmer’s wife, Jessica Farmer, moved her Revival Therapeutic Massage from New Hampshire Street into an adjacent space. On a recent morning, the couple’s 2-year-old son, Noah, toddled through the shop.

Scientific process

A cup of coffee at Alchemy starts with four choices of beans: three from Broadway Cafe and Roasting Co. of Kansas City, Mo., and one from Benetti’s Coffee Experience of Raytown, Mo. Not unlike a sommelier, Farmer will help you choose one with the perfect aromas and flavor profile for your taste.

His pour-over process relies on freshly ground beans, water that's the perfect temperature and a couple of extra steps that help seep out carbon dioxide for a smooth flavor. This all takes about four minutes, he said, long enough for him to engage you in a brief conversation and ring up your purchase.

For quicker options, there’s French press coffee or the “Quick and Dirty” — pre-made French press you can pour and run.

Alchemy’s iced coffee drinks emerge from another mad-scientist-like contraption that stretches from the coffee shop’s countertop nearly to the ceiling. Side-by-side towers hold glass bottles of ice water that drip into cylinders of coffee grounds that drip into spiraled glass coils that drip into giant beakers.

Once again, there’s a reason for all those steps.

“Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it makes an awesome product,” Farmer said. “That’s kind of what I try to do in here — everything has a purpose.”

Sweet tooth

This week, Farmer hopes to start selling pre-bottled versions of his cold brew — one straight, one blended with Iwig chocolate milk and one blended with dark-chocolate almond milk.

For snacks, he sells Mast Brothers “American craft chocolate” bars made in New York City and handmade granola bars, biscotti and giant cookies from Chelsea’s Bakehaus in the River Market neighborhood of Kansas City, Mo. There’s a handful of creative cookie flavors, including Peanut Butter Bacon and Oatmeal Cranberry Rum Raisin Pecan.

Farmer said he wasn’t sure how his new venture would be received. But so far, he said, it’s been well — and, boy, is he glad he hired a second barista that first week.

“It’s going better than I even hoped,” he said.

Comments

Scott Tichenor 1 year, 3 months ago

Hands down the best cup of java in town. The guy is a mad scientist!

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lheck 1 year, 3 months ago

Ohhh, I can't wait to try it!

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Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 3 months ago

Wow! I'm very impressed. May he do very well!

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Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 3 months ago

And I forgot to mention that Nick Krug's photos are also great.

This could become a tourist attraction for Lawrence!

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Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 3 months ago

Sorry, still one more thing. If there are any designs in the glass work which are uniquely his, he ought to patent them, so that big companies couldn't just replicate his work nationwide.

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Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 3 months ago

He needs a whole lot of money to do that, working as a patent attorney is one of the highest paying jobs around. And all it takes is one demonstration of prior art, and your patent is worthless. At that point, the only thing you have accomplished is to publish your plans for the whole world to copy, at enormous expense to yourself. The number of patents that actually earn any money for the inventor is laughably small.

Your best bet is to use your own ideas in your own business, and earn as much money as you possibly can.

It's a very common scam to offer to patent your idea so you can earn some money off of it, and it's legal. The vast majority of companies in that field have never had a single person earn a dime off their "invention", after paying a few thousand dollars for "attorney's fees" and "promotional expenses".

Another thing that many do not seem to be aware of is that a patent does NOT prevent anyone from copying your idea. The only thing a patent gives you is the right to sue someone that you think is infringing your patent. And, to do that, you need to hire a lawyer, again. And if it's a big company you're trying to sue, you could find your single lawyer is facing a legal team of 25 to 50 lawyers poring over thousands of old documents, trying to find something similar to the idea that you are trying to defend. And if one of them finds a single thing that is somewhat similar, you lose.

I heard bits and pieces, accompanied with laughter, about a man who thought he had an invention that would change the world. He had invented a jar opener, and then he found a company that would promote it for him. He borrowed money from family and friends, as I understand it, the total was thousands of dollars. Time passed, and it turned out that he lost all his money, his family's money, and his friend's money. Never got a dime out of it.

And every once in a while I see a jar opener advertised for sale, and I have to laugh. Even if he had been successful, a patent is only good for 17 years anyway.

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