From the row of chairs overlooking the pourover pit at Slow By Slow Coffee Bar, customers watch baristas as they weigh and grind coffee beans. The chairs are like choice seats at an opera house, giving the impression that preparing coffee is something to be observed.
Slow By Slow opened six weeks ago in BoDo and maintains a rotating menu of coffees from around the world served dripped or as espresso. Slow By Slow promises thoughtfully sourced and prepared coffee.
"When people walk in, we don't want people to think they're in a coffeehouse," said owner Joe Shafer. "We want people to come in for the coffee."
Shafer, who runs the shop with his wife and co-owner, Diana, keeps things simple. The menu, which changes once or twice a week, offers three beans used for drip brews and two for espresso. The Shafers and their employees curate the menu based on their own preferences and samples they receive from roasters across the country. Shafer said he's personally inclined toward lighter roasts that emphasize fruitier flavors of the coffee cherry.
"The taste preferences are me and my employees, essentially," Shafer said. "We're asking people to learn to trust us."
When buying beans, Shafer looks for information about the grower, the elevation at which the beans were grown, harvest and roast dates, and a flavor profile. It's something he can talk about with customers to help them make considered decisions when looking at the menu, and he said some customers will talk shop with him for hours.
To demonstrate, Shafer served up a pourover of Herbazu, a Costa Rican bean from Publik Coffee Roasters in Salt Lake City. Herbazu was the lightest roast on the menu, its description featuring toasted marshmallow, white grape and floral notes. In the mouth, the marshmallow and white grape flavors fell into the "maybe" category, but the floral taste was assertive and real.
Other items on the menu have flavors like milk or dark chocolate, various fruits, spices and butter, and they manifest to varying degrees on the tongue. Some unspool slowly, releasing different flavors with each breath after a sip. Others are punchy or riotous. Each is an alternative to the idea that people drink coffee for no better reason than they need it to get out of bed.
Shafer has spent much of his life working with coffee, developing a feel for coffee as an artisan product. He got his start at Starbucks before moving to Flying M, where he worked for more than a decade, cutting his teeth on roasting. Slow By Slow is his and Diana's headlong jump into serving craft coffees.
"We're meticulous about our target audience," Shafer said. "It's a food-conscious audience: people who are interested in trying new things."
According to Shafer, more than 100 people come to Slow By Slow every day, and more than half of them walk farther than five blocks to get there. They're also willing to pay more: a cup of drip coffee goes for $3-$3.50. The price is driven in part, Shafer said, offering higher pay to his employees—he'd like to be able to pay them enough to make a career out of preparing and serving coffee. If the shop is profitable enough to open another location, he said he'd be amenable, but don't expect Slow By Slow to become the next Starbucks.
"This is a place to support my family and for people to get interesting coffees," he said. "We're not here to conquer the world."