The Rialta Coffee Tour Comes to a Close: The Best Of An Epic Tour

The Ultimate Coffee Road Trip Across the United States.

This week: Greenfield, and the End of the Road

Editor’s note:  We began publishing reports from Don Niemyer about the cafes he visited on his cross-country coffee tour back in the summer of 2013, and we’ve loved following his journey, learning about amazing coffeehouses out there in the United States, ever since. We’ll be publishing reports from Don about his recent journey around the Central and Northern states every Saturday until ”well, until Don makes it to a stopping point. To catch up on Don’s earlier posts about his explorations of coffee culture throughout the Western United States, click  HERE. Following are links to Don’s posts from  this current Saturday Series:

Part 1: Oregon to Amarillo, Texas
Part 2: Oklahoma to South Dakota
Part 3: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Part 4: Wisconsin to Michigan
Part 5: Chicago, Illinois
Part 6: Indiana to Washington, D.C.
Part 7: Virginia to Florida
Special Edition: The Big Central Coffee Competitions in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Part 8: Maryland to Pennsylvania
Part 9: Delaware to Rhode Island
Part 10: Massachusetts to Maine
Part 11: Vermont
Part 12: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Part 13: Ohio to Tennessee
Part 14: Atlanta
Part 15: Alabama and Tennessee
Part 16: Springfield, Missouri

We hope you will read and  enjoy  Don’s reports  if you’ve missed any. They’re a wealth of information!

By Don Niemyer
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

œSince we’re driving from Portland to Colorado anyway, why don’t we get an RV and go visit a bunch of coffee shops along the way? 

It’s been almost four years since that idea popped into my head. And 20,000 miles and over 200 coffee shops later, we’re still trying to wrap our minds around the fact that it is over. We did it. The most epic national coffee tour that we could imagine. We did the whole thing in our VW Rialta, stealth camping on the streets, home schooling our two daughters, judging a few competitions here and there, and reporting our findings here on the BMAG blog. Now, we’re getting ready to settle down along the front range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on our next coffee adventure, capitalizing on all the amazing things we experienced in some of the nation’s finest coffee shops.

The epic journey: The Rialta Coffee Tour.
The epic journey: The Rialta Coffee Tour.

By far, the most frequent question we get asked is what shops were our favorites. And though I always give it a go, it’s a pretty tough nut to crack. You like one shop because the drinks were so good, the next because of the barista you met, and another because of their gorgeous café. There’s just so much to love! But as we wrap up our adventure together, it seems appropriate to share some of the highlights. So here it is, my œBest Of  list for The Rialta Coffee Tour. Enjoy!

Best Consistency: BARISTA.  What Billy Wilson has accomplished at Barista in Portland, Ore., is kind of astonishing. I have been there many times and I have NEVER had any drink short of fantastic. Always with the most impeccable hospitality. BARISTA wins.
Best Consistency: BARISTA. What Billy Wilson has accomplished at Barista in Portland, Ore., is kind of astonishing. I have been there many times and I have NEVER had any drink short of fantastic. Always with the most impeccable hospitality. BARISTA wins.
Best Passion: Onyx. Jon and Andrea Allen run Onyx in Fayetteville on rocket-fuel like passion, which showed up in every part of our experience:  Kindness, quality, aesthetic and every last drop of everything we drank.
Best Passion: Onyx. Jon and Andrea Allen run Onyx in Fayetteville on rocket-fuel like passion, which showed up in every part of our experience: Kindness, quality, aesthetic and every last drop of everything we drank.
Best Service Innovation: Brash. Truly one of my favorite finds of the trip.  Matt Ludwikowski's vision for gathering around the table at Brash in Chatanooga is a service model that needs to catch on.
Best Service Innovation: Brash. Truly one of my favorite finds of the trip. Matt Ludwikowski’s vision for gathering around the table at Brash in Chatanooga is a service model that needs to catch on.
Best Cappuccino: Stone Creek. Stone Creek in Milwaukee could be a favorite for a number of reasons ”bar layout, hospitality, branding, and just an overall great visit.  But my oh my, that cappuccino from T. Ben Fischer ¦
Best Cappuccino: Stone Creek. Stone Creek in Milwaukee could be a favorite for a number of reasons ”bar layout, hospitality, branding, and just an overall great visit. But my oh my, that cappuccino from T. Ben Fischer ¦
Best Minimalist Roastery: Tandem. Tandem in Portland, Maine, had a tiny building with a tiny roastery and a tiny café in the corner. Their quality and general goodness, however, was massive.
Best Minimalist Roastery: Tandem. Tandem in Portland, Maine, had a tiny building with a tiny roastery and a tiny café in the corner. Their quality and general goodness, however, was massive.
Best Processing Comparison: Coffea. This thoughtful and beautiful little package from Coffea Roasterie in Sioux Falls has a special place in my fickle little heart to this very day.
Best Processing Comparison: Coffea. This thoughtful and beautiful little package from Coffea Roasterie in Sioux Falls has a special place in my fickle little heart to this very day.
Best Simplicity: Coava. As a pretty hard core minimalist I'm just in love with Coava in Portland. Everything they do is simple and elegant.  They were one of the industry's first to take this extreme approach including a menu with five items, minimal equipment, a sleek counter, and a small variety of pastries. Besides roasting some of the best coffee available, that's all they do. And they still do it with unsurpassed excellence.
Best Simplicity: Coava. As a pretty hard core minimalist I’m just in love with Coava in Portland. Everything they do is simple and elegant. They were one of the industry’s first to take this extreme approach including a menu with five items, minimal equipment, a sleek counter, and a small variety of pastries. Besides roasting some of the best coffee available, that’s all they do. And they still do it with unsurpassed excellence.
Best Enthusiasm: Palace. I asked the barista at Palace in Amarillo about the two different espresso options, and that guy launched like the Space Shuttle. Later, owner Patrick Burns gave me a tour of the whole place and I saw where that barista gets it. Excellent, beautiful operation.
Best Enthusiasm: Palace. I asked the barista at Palace in Amarillo about the two different espresso options, and that guy launched like the Space Shuttle. Later, owner Patrick Burns gave me a tour of the whole place and I saw where that barista gets it. Excellent, beautiful operation.
Best Vegan Shop: Timeless. We didn't know what we were getting into when we ordered a machiatto at Timeless in Oakland, which is 100% vegan. The barista asked,  œWould you prefer soy or almond milk?  We got the almond.  It was stellar.
Best Vegan Shop: Timeless. We didn’t know what we were getting into when we ordered a machiatto at Timeless in Oakland, which is 100% vegan. The barista asked, œWould you prefer soy or almond milk?  We got the almond. It was stellar.
Best Grand Spectacle Shop: Sightglass. And I mean that in a good way. Sightglass in San Francisco was just ¦ wow. This is their  œTop Bar , which is the extra bar they have in the mezzanine for tastings and what not. You know, just in case you need an extra bar.
Best Grand Spectacle Shop: Sightglass. And I mean that in a good way. Sightglass in San Francisco was just ¦ wow. This is their œTop Bar , which is the extra bar they have in the mezzanine for tastings and what not. You know, just in case you need an extra bar.
Best Clarity: Rowster. As shops wrestle with how to present the options available for a variety of brewing methods, things usually get a little muddled.  Not at Rowster in Grand Rapids. Their entire backdrop is a chalkboard dedicated to making the options crystal clear. I do love me some clarity!
Best Clarity: Rowster. As shops wrestle with how to present the options available for a variety of brewing methods, things usually get a little muddled. Not at Rowster in Grand Rapids. Their entire backdrop is a chalkboard dedicated to making the options crystal clear. I do love me some clarity!
Best DIY remodel: The Shop. At The Shop in Providence, Rhode Island, owners J.P. and Dianna Murton took over this space and made it their own on sheer creativity and elbow grease. The result?  Stunning.
Best DIY remodel: The Shop. At The Shop in Providence, Rhode Island, owners J.P. and Dianna Murton took over this space and made it their own on sheer creativity and elbow grease. The result? Stunning.
Best Coffee Stand in a Market: Not Just Coffee.  Not Just Coffee in Charlotte isn't just  œPretty good, for a stand in a market.  Please.  What they accomplish in about 100 square feet is practically magic.
Best Coffee Stand in a Market: Not Just Coffee. Not Just Coffee in Charlotte isn’t just œPretty good, for a stand in a market.  Please. What they accomplish in about 100 square feet is practically magic.
Best Old School Coffee: The Principal's Office. No, I mean literally. The Principal's Office in Colorado Springs is part of a renovation of an old school. And with their gorgeous space and excellent work, trust me, you WANT to get sent to the Principal's Office.
Best Old School Coffee: The Principal’s Office. No, I mean literally. The Principal’s Office in Colorado Springs is part of a renovation of an old school. And with their gorgeous space and excellent work, trust me, you WANT to get sent to the Principal’s Office.
Best Happy Accident: Brio. We called Brio in Burlington, Vermont, thinking we were getting a coffee shop. Turns out they were  œjust  a roastery, but became one of our favorite connections, with great coffees, tons of info on the local scene, and a secret weapon in the form of owner Magda Van Dusen, who made us some tasty cappuccinos on our visit, gave us the grand tour, and sent us off with some great coffees.
Best Happy Accident: Brio. We called Brio in Burlington, Vermont, thinking we were getting a coffee shop. Turns out they were œjust  a roastery, but became one of our favorite connections, with great coffees, tons of info on the local scene, and a secret weapon in the form of owner Magda Van Dusen, who made us some tasty cappuccinos on our visit, gave us the grand tour, and sent us off with some great coffees.
Best Surprise: Old Town. We literally discovered Old Town in Lander, Wyoming, accidentally as we were coming out of Yellowstone, headed towards Colorado.  Best surprise we had on the whole tour.
Best Surprise: Old Town. We literally discovered Old Town in Lander, Wyoming, accidentally as we were coming out of Yellowstone, headed towards Colorado. Best surprise we had on the whole tour.
Best Signature Drink: Five Watt. Five Watt in Minneapolis is probably having more fun than you are right now. They're also probably serving a better Sig Bev than you're gonna have this whole year.
Best Signature Drink: Five Watt. Five Watt in Minneapolis is probably having more fun than you are right now. They’re also probably serving a better Sig Bev than you’re gonna have this whole year.
Best Flight Presentation: Dichotomy. I'm a sucker for a great flight presentation, and this  œOne and One  on a reclaimed slab of lumber from Dichotomy in Waco was the greatest I found.
Best Flight Presentation: Dichotomy. I’m a sucker for a great flight presentation, and this œOne and One  on a reclaimed slab of lumber from Dichotomy in Waco was the greatest I found.
Best Barista Candy: Barista Parlor. From the Slayers to the vintage motorcycles to the exquisite woodwork and that fabulous ship (if you've been there you know), I had to wipe more drool off my chin at Barista Parlor in Nashville than any other stop on the tour.
Best Barista Candy: Barista Parlor. From the Slayers to the vintage motorcycles to the exquisite woodwork and that fabulous ship (if you’ve been there you know), I had to wipe more drool off my chin at Barista Parlor in Nashville than any other stop on the tour.

But after all that, you wanna know what my absolute favorite was? The answer might surprise you, but it does highlight something we’ve talked about here in this series over and over. You see, after running my scrawny tail all over this glorious nation looking for great coffee, I concluded my excellent adventure by drinking coffee with a bunch of old farmers at the grain elevator in Greenfield, Oklahoma. This is the town closest to where my parents live, and I use the word œtown  loosely. The old school is boarded up. The post office opens when the mailman feels like it. And about the only thing they got going for ˜em is the huge grain elevator where all the farmers get their supplies. They offer free coffee, and every morning my dad goes down there to hang out, drink coffee, and check in with everybody. The coffee isn’t the best, but the day we were there it wasn’t too bad, honestly. I’m told it varies by whether the old cuss that runs the elevator is on the first batch or if he has just re-brewed the same filter pack again. Awesome.

That's my dad. He can't get enough of that Prairie Fire coffee!
That’s my dad. He can’t get enough of that Prairie Fire coffee!

But you know what is awesome about drinking cowboy coffee at the grain elevator? It’s simply that the best thing about coffee is the people that gather around it. Sitting there that chilly January morning, when I looked around that table, I saw some salt-of-the-earth good ol’ boys, sharing life, being there to support one another in the tough times, and celebrating together when things go well. Like ol’ Monty who is 82 and still everybody’s first call when it’s time to saddle the horses and go on a round up (yes, I’m serious. That old man can ride most people half his age right into the ground). Or Smoky down there who, at the age of 71, decided to build a new house for his wife by tearing down an old one made of rocks, and reassembling it piece by piece, board by board. It took him seven years, but now that place is truly beautiful and his wife just beams when she gives the tour. And on around the table it goes. Good people, sharing life, gathering around a cup of coffee. That’s why we do this.

These guys call this The Coffee Shop. What they mean is a table in the corner of the grain elevator where old farmers sit around and drink free coffee. Works for me.
These guys call this The Coffee Shop. What they mean is a table in the corner of the grain elevator where old farmers sit around and drink free coffee. Works for me.

And speaking of the œthis  that we do, you might be wondering what’s next for us. The answer to that is both a very exciting and fascinating new venture, as well as a big secret. But I can promise you this: When the time comes I’ll be reporting about it right here on the Barista Magazine Blog. In the meantime, you can keep up with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or at www.DonNiemyer.com. It’s been a real pleasure. Thanks for coming along on our adventure, and happy trails.

 

 

 

 

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