El Salvador’s Alejandro Mendez ”the 2011 World Barista Champion ”set to open 5th Element Coffee in Madison and focus exclusively 0n Salvadoran coffees
Alejandro Mendez, 2011 World Barista Champion, has chosen Madison, Wisconsin to launch his first venture in the United States. The neighborhood concept coffee bar, 5th Element Coffee, will be located at 2510 University Avenue and focus on direct relationship coffee from El Salvador.
Alejandro Mendez has traveled the world sharing his knowledge and experience in coffee with would-be and developing baristas. He has trained baristas ”specifically his friends William Hernandez and Daniel Mendez, both Salvadoran barista champions and field WBC competitors ”to great success. And he opened a specialty roaster, 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasting, and San Salvador late last year.
Regardless of his great success at such a young age ”he’ll turn 28 this summer ”Alejandro hasn’t realized what has always been one of his biggest dreams: Openings a coffee business in the United States. And not only has he always wanted to have a presence in the U.S., he’s been eager to educate American coffee drinkers on the specificities of Salvadoran coffees in particular.
With the opening of 5th Element Coffee in Madison, Wisc., in June, Alejandro and his friends and business partners will see that dream finally come to life. The neighborhood concept coffee bar will be located at 2510 University Ave., and will focus on direct-relationship coffee from El Salvador.
Joining Alejandro as a co-owner is Todd Allbaugh, a native of Richland Center who’s lived and worked in Madison for the better part of the last 20 years mostly in state government with stints in the food and coffee industry. However, coffee and El Salvador are long held passions.
œWhen I was a student at UW-Richland, I was a mentor in the Central American Scholarship Program which awarded two-year scholarships to students in Central American countries who would otherwise never have a chance to earn a college degree, says Todd. œI ended up meeting my best friend Silas through the program, he invited me to go home with him over Christmas in 1992 after we’d transferred to UW-Platteville, and I’ve made over 30 trips since. It’s my second home, and that’s how I learned about coffee ”at origin.
After meeting through mutual friends, Todd invited Alejandro to Madison, and Alejandro fell in love with city. œPeople ask me, ˜why Madison?’ says Alejandro. œIt’s simple ”I love Madison, and I love the people here. So much of coffee is about relationships, and I wanted to do my first project in the United States with someone I enjoy working with and shares my passion for coffee.
œIt’s a pretty cool thing for a guy like Alejandro, who’s literally been around the world as the WBC champ, to say Madison is one of his favorite cities and pick us, says Todd. œIt says a lot about the city. Here’s a guy who could do this anywhere, and he picked Madison.
Alejandro will be in Madison frequently behind the bar and to hold classes on home brewing. Todd and Alejandro also look forward to bringing coffee farmers to Madison to educate customers. œIt’s both really exciting and a little scary because it’s unusual for a coffee bar to focus so much on a single country, Alejandro says. œBut after spending time in Madison, I know it’s the perfect place for 5th Element because Madison is such a foodie town, and I know people are going to appreciate a coffee bar that tells the story of the product from production, to roasting to cup.
Todd, who will serve as the company’s general manager, and Alejandro intend to do a lot more work in El Salvador than just buying the coffee. œAfter the first year or so, we want to go to a village in El Salvador where there’s no running water and put in a fresh water well. Boom ”done, Todd says. œThat’s not a feel-good label. That’s tangible results, so when you come into 5th Element, you look up at the video or photos of the project and you say, ˜Wow, I did my part to make that happen by purchasing my coffee here.’ Now that’s exciting.
5th Element Coffee ( œThe name comes from the fact it takes the root elements of fire, water, air, and earth to produce, process, and roast coffee, says Alejandro. œBut it’s the human element ”the 5th element ”that makes the difference in brining it to the cup”) will focus on espresso-based drinks and pourover coffee using primarily single-origin coffee roasted by 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasters. Bakery products from Madison’s Batch Bakehouse will be delivered daily.
Alejandro and Todd have been really creative with the build-out, too. For example, they’re repurposing wood lanes from a deficit bowling alley for the bar. “The reclaimed bowling alley was a real find,” says Todd. “The bar itself is 27-feet long. Alejandro worked with OPN Architects to design a bar that was totally open and put the barista up front to feature their performance as close to a WBC competition as possible. It’s also designed to foster the greatest communication possible between barista and guest. With the exception of the batch brewer ”which we’ll only have available from opening until 10 a.m. ”the barista should never have to turn their back on the guest from order to pick up.
œWe want the space to reflect our view of coffee ”basic and open,” Alejandro adds. “We don’t want to cover up the hard work already done by the farmers.