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

Thursday, May 16, 2013


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.


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


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.


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

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.


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.