As a coffee professional, having a passion for great coffee is part of my job description, but long before that, it was just part of who I was.
There are a great deal of perks (yes, pun) to being in the coffee business - great coffee, great people, vibrant energy, the list goes on - but one of my favorite things is the fact that I get to visit some of the best coffee shops in the world, have expertly roasted and crafted cups of coffee, chat with the talented folks behind it, and, at the end of the day, somehow call that working.
Though I love most things about Richmond, especially the scrappy, up-and-coming coffee scene, we are generally small and pale in the shadow of the big coffee towns like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. Coffee houses like Gasoline Alley Coffee in New York or Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, California create their own tourism industry on the pilgrimage of people who often probably can't really afford their fifty dollar a week craft coffee habit. When you walk into a coffee house like that you know you are in for an incredible experience. Every detail of that experience is designed to communicate to your brain, consciously and subconsciously, that you are going to have an exceptional cup of coffee, and it is going to leave such an impression on you that years later, you'll still recount the eight minutes and twelve dollars you spent there as one of the best coffees you've ever had.
I hadn't really had that experience in Richmond yet. I've had some elements here and some elements there, but I have never walked into a room, made eye contact with a barista and known beyond any doubt that I was getting ready to experience something memorable.
When I opened the door to The Lab by Alchemy Coffee, I saw the coffee experience I had never seen in Richmond. I saw everything I love about my favorite coffee destinations throughout the USA and abroad. I drank a stunningly well crafted coffee, enjoyed conversation about the brewing science used to make it, soaked in clean, sleek design and smiled - a lot.
Eric Spivack, the man behind The Lab, has been peddling coffee out of his two-wheeled, wood-siding coffee trailer for the past few years. Though, as a colleague, a client and a friend, I watched Eric uncompromisingly devote himself to the craft of great coffee, I still always pictured the Alchemy Coffee experience tied to being outside with a paper cup and the steady hum of a Honda generator. I had no doubt Eric had the barista chops to take on anyone in the industry, but I didn't fully expect his venture into opening a brick and mortar shop to be so absolutely perfect. I am so very glad I was wrong.
What makes The Lab by Alchemy Coffee so good?
Great coffee is a good starting point. I'm proud that Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co. shares the Alchemy stage with Counter Culture Coffee. The next thing is knowledge - Eric has devoted himself to coffee knowledge and he thoughtfully sources the best coffees Blanchard's Coffee and Counter Culture have in their repertoire. Knowledge is followed by skill - Eric and his team of baristas are good and will only get better. They have the very best equipment on the market - something many shops pass up as soon as they see the price tag. The room, itself, is simply, sleekly and beautifully designed. The vibe of a room is one of the most overlooked intangibles for any business, especially one as intimate as a coffee house. Eric has enlisted the pastry talent of Drew Thomasson to offer an exceptional selection of edibles. Finally, the Alchemy Coffee team pulls it all together and places a well crafted cup of coffee in your hands, you take a sip and you know you'll be back and you'll share your experience with your friends.
I've said this for a number of years now, but I'm finally beginning to see it come true with The Lab by Alchemy Coffee: Richmond's coffee scene is on the verge of becoming something great. If you haven't had a chance to see the future of great coffee in Richmond, take a morning trip to 814 W. Broad Street and treat yourself to something memorable.