Thanks to a burgeoning coffee culture, Indianapolis’s reputation of being just a flyover state is changing
BY JOANNA GREVES
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
With so many great coffee roasters and shops distinguishing well-known regions of the United States as coffee meccas, it makes sense that Indianapolis was overlooked by the larger specialty-coffee community for so long. And while coffee culture in this Midwestern city is still very much in its infancy, the success and popularity of a growing number of cafes are proving that Indianapolis is poised to be one of the country’s next big coffee destinations.
Here’s a look at some of the Indianapolis coffeehouses whose dedication to quality and service are putting this city on the specialty map.
335 W. 9th St.
Quills Coffee, originally based in Louisville, Ky., is a relatively recent addition to the Indianapolis coffee community. Quills Coffee roasts in New Albany, Indiana, and is recognized as a leading Midwest roasting company. Though the Indianapolis location is tucked back in a quiet alley off 9th and Senate, Quills’ cafe has established a loyal customer base since opening a year-and-a-half ago.
Along with signature cappuccinos, Quills offer single-origin pour overs that are rotated often. Right now, they are featuring a beautiful Burundi with notes of brown sugar and spices. Along with pourovers, Quills has recently started featuring single-origin espressos, such as the bright and tangy La Papaya from Ecuador.
The Quills cafe space features excellent workspaces with enclosed meeting rooms that can be reserved for groups of students. They have lots of seating and most importantly, plenty of outlets. The dim lighting and the soft wood counters and tables provide a soothing atmosphere to work in, which is why it’s often packed with students from the local universities. The team at Quills has worked hard to train baristas in the art of customer service, and in creating a welcoming environment. It is no surprise that their customer base continues to grow.
TINKER COFFEE COMPANY
212 E 16th St.
When Steve Hall and Jeff Johnson made the decision to open a roasting company in November of 2014, they knew very little about the coffee industry. They bought a Probat L12 and started experimenting, and ever since they figured it out, the results have been fantastic. In the last year and a half, Tinker has become a staple in Indianapolis not just at the roastery location, but also grocery stores, restaurants, and in recent collaborations with local breweries.
Although Tinker has no plans to open up a café any time soon, Steve and Jeff are heavily involved in coffee education in the community. Every Sunday, they hold a small cupping class, these classes are often where the public gets their first introduction to the art of cupping to taste flavor profiles in different coffees; these classes are so successful they are currently sold out through July.
œThe coffee community here in Indianapolis is still in its infancy and one of the most important ways to educate customers is through approachability and hospitality,” Steve says.
The approach seems to be working.
BEE COFFEE ROASTERS
5510 Lafayette Rd. & 201 S. Capitol St.
Bee Coffee Roasters was one of the first specialty shops in Indianapolis. Eight years later, Bee continues to drive the growing coffee scene in Indianapolis.
One of the ways in which Bee Coffee is expanding interest in specialty coffee is through events. Andy Gilman, one of the co-owners, has spent the past year and a half coordinating a local latte art throwdown known as The League of Lattes. Bj Davis, the other co-owner, is passionate about educating customers and baristas in the art of specialty coffee and frequents community events such as Yelp’s White Night and Dig-in, a food fair celebrating local food and beverages.
Bee Coffee features many single-origin coffees, the most popular of which is the bright, fruit-forward El Eden. These Mexican naturals are perennial best sellers at the shops.
One of the most unique things about Bee Coffee is the shops’ diverse relationship with local breweries such as Sun King, Triton, Black Acre, and New Day Craft. Through the Bee Barrel Program, Bj and Andy have experimented with green coffee aged in rye, stout, porter, and blackberry mead barrels. The barrel aging adds some intense malt and hoppy flavors that make for interesting coffees. The Breakfast Magpie blackberry mead coffee from New Day, for example, flies off the shelves. The team at Bee loves to play with coffee, and because of this innovative attitude, the reputation of Bee Coffee as one of the best shops in the city continues to grow.
2119 E. 10th St.
Another newcomer to Indianapolis is Rabble Coffee, which is located in the Woodruff Place neighborhood. Owner Josie Hunckler’s goal is to provide her community with a coffee shop to call their own. When she moved to Indianapolis last spring, Josie had no plans to open a cafe. But by August, Rabble was celebrating opening day. Rabble is the kind of shop that anyone can walk into and feel comfortable. The coffee is hot, the pastries are huge, and you can even choose your own mug.
Although Rabble is a young shop, Josie’s goal is to provide the best product possible for her neighbors. To do that, she works closely with local roasters like Bee and Tinker to develop flavors distinctive to Rabble. Tinker roasts a custom blend called Rouser for the shop that is evocative of comforting, old-fashioned diner coffee. Rabble keeps the menu simple with drip coffee and espresso-based drinks, though Josie is considering adding pourovers to the menu now that she feels more comfortable with running a shop.
Rabble stays busy with loads of community events: Game nights draw a crowd, and poetry readings and local art openings are also popular. Josie has made Rabble one of the few really family-friendly coffeehouses in the city. A few Saturdays a month, she brings in Mr. Daniel, a local kids’ musician to entertain the neighborhood children while their parents enjoy a cup of coffee. With this kind of welcoming attitude, Rabble is quickly making a niche for itself in Indianapolis.
CALVIN FLETCHER’S COFFEE COMPANY
647 Virginia Ave.
Calvin Fletcher’s is one of the most eclectic coffee shops in the city. With books everywhere, warm rugs, pops of bright color, and an old fireplace with paintings for sale hanging all around, it is the premier coffee spot for Fletcher Place and Fountain Square residents. Calvin Fletcher’s is owned by father-son duo Doug and Jeff Litsey. Both men embrace the idea of community wholeheartedly. They give away a portion of their profits to various local charity organizations as a part of their operating philosophy.
Calvin Fletcher’s offers a couple of single-origin pourover options from Jameson Coffee Roasters, though Doug has plans to begin roasting in the next few months. They have many of the standard espresso options, including the Calvin Pepper, a cappuccino made with honey and cayenne.
Calvin Fletcher’s has been one of the most popular meeting spots in town for the past few years. In fact, Doug and Jeff had to move to a bigger location to meet the demands of their growing customer base. Even with the growth they have experienced, the baristas at Calvin Fletcher’s know many of their customers by their name. Clearly, Calvin Fletcher’s community-based approach towards coffee has been the root of their success.
534 Virginia Ave.
Everyone in Indianapolis (and beyond) talks about the food at Milktooth, but the coffee program deserves some recognition, too. Milktooth is currently the only multi-roaster style coffee bar in the city. This concept has brought phenomenal coffees from Heart Roasters, Parlor Coffee, Phil & Sebastian, Huckleberry Roasters, and many others Indianapolis. When asked what he looks for when selecting guest coffees, head barista Mitchell Tellstrom says, œI cup blind, and I look for the best, that’s it. Nothing complicated about it.
Jon Brooks, head chef and co-owner of Milktooth, is famous for playing with his food, and the results are delicious, and this freestyle attitude extends to the coffee menu, as well. The standard latte and cappuccino are always available, but there are featured drinks such as the Love Train (espresso, sage, vanilla, coconut, and caramel sticky bun sauce) and the Café Shakerado (espresso and Mexican brown sugar syrup shaken over ice) that the baristas change up often.
THE LEAGUE OF LATTES
One Thursday night every month, all across the country, baristas gather to throwdown against each other, and the coffee community in Indianapolis in no exception. Started in 2014, The League of Lattes brings the Indianapolis coffee community together at a different shop around the city each month for some friendly competition.
This competition allows baristas from different shops to learn from each other, to befriend each other, and talk about their experiences in the coffee community. The establishment of the League has been an important step for the growth of coffee culture in Indianapolis. While the competition mainly boasted locals in the beginning, it now draws baristas from all over the state.
Behind the good-natured jabs, the shaking and the sweating, the ooh’s and ahh’s as three minutes tick by and the competitor sets down a gorgeous pour, is a sense that something bigger than the baristas is happening. After applauding the talents of other coffee professionals in the community, baristas leave the competition inspired to create a better product for the customers, and an even stronger coffee community for themselves.
The coffee scene in Indianapolis has been growing steadily for the past several years, but it is a community still in its infancy, which is good. This lack of saturation allows room for the small shops, the weird shops, and also newcomers to specialty coffee who might be intimidated by the established coffee cultures of Chicago or Portland. Indianapolis’s coffee community still has lots to learn, but it’s growing together. This is an exciting time to be in the coffee industry in the Midwest, and in Indianapolis specifically. Local shop owners, baristas, and roasters are working hard to dispel the notion that Indiana is just a stop somewhere between Los Angeles and New York.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanna Greves is a barista and junior roaster at Bee Coffee Roasters in Indianapolis. She is an English major at Indiana University, so like her boss says, she will probably be working in coffee for the rest of her life. Which is fine with her.