Futuro, a recent addition to Phoenix's growing coffee scene, is located in downtown Phoenix inside the new location of Palabra Collective at 909 N. First Street. The space is open and bright, with crisp white walls, concrete floors, and mid-century furniture in the lounge area. Behind the bar stands barista Bill Kennedy, chatting happily with a group of customers that have managed to squeeze in the doors just before closing.
Kennedy is a champion conversationalist, and the topics of his impassioned speeches run the gamut — making coffee, local events, gentrification, the plight of the bees. It's not hard to see why he's already gained a following. Not only are the coffees of a high, well-executed quality, but Kennedy's affable hospitality makes Futuro a worthy destination coffee shop.
A veteran barista, Kennedy has been a part of the Valley coffee community for more than five years, but he didn't start out with the dedication to the craft of coffee he has now. His first job was at Ground Control in Goodyear. "I got a job there and just didn't give a shit about coffee," Kennedy confesses. He'd spent time in Europe, and thought working at a Euro cafe would be cool. At the time, Kennedy wanted to be a filmmaker, but when his interests shifted, he began to take coffee more seriously.
"I saw some latte art online and realized there was an industry about coffee being cool. I fell in love with the idea of that," he says. He started participating in coffee cuppings and helping out with roasting at Ground Control, and after a trip to Cartel in Tempe, asked his boss "why is Cartel's coffee better than ours?" The question was well-intended: Kennedy really wanted to know what made great coffee so good.
Kenndy moved to downtown Phoenix shortly thereafter and began working at Giant Coffee. "I learned coffee could be sweet, fruity, complex, and interesting," he says. "It's really fascinating. There's a lot of hands that go into it." He trained in San Francisco with Four Barrel Coffee, which provides beans to Giant. "I did a cupping and spent one day on the bar. I got to spend a couple hours making coffee ... they actually invited me back the next day," Kennedy says. It was a moment of pride. He briefly considered moving to San Francisco but stayed here to further pursue his coffee dreams.
Kennedy left Giant to become the manager of the First Street location of Cartel in downtown Phoenix, and later as Director of Education for the entire company. "I was in charge of training new hires. I learned a lot more about coffee that way ... it gave me the freedom to learn about coffee myself," he says. Cartel supported Kennedy in attending Specialty Coffee Association of America events. Networking and meeting others in the national coffee scene was particularly interesting for him. "I got to meet lots of people I'd only read about on the internet!"
The dream of Futuro started while Kennedy was still at Cartel. A longtime client of Palabra owner Jorge Ignacio Torres, Torres would often talk to Kennedy about his dream coffee shop. "Basically for a few years I was telling him what he needed. With the Palabra move, he finally had the resources to do it." Joining the team as Director of Coffee was a no-brainer for Kennedy
At the time of our interview, Futuro had been open for a full month, and things were going well. "It's getting there," says Kennedy. "We have a lot of regulars, a lot of repeat customers. I hope we get a larger group of those." The physical space of Futuro continues to transform as well. Soon there will be even more coffee tables and chairs, a large communal table for people to work at, and long benches to encourage guests to sit and stay. "
Futuro continues to develop its menu as well, which is written in Spanish and features drinks such as espresso negro and blanco, coffee diario and brew frio, and cascara tea. Kennedy has added a tonico, which is made with Fever Tree tonic water and a shot of espresso floated on top. "It's sweet, citrus-y... it's the best soda you've ever had," he says, adding, "I stole it from a place in San Francisco called Saint Frank." There's also a forthcoming mocha made with rancho gordo chocolate. "We're going to melt it down and make $6 mochas. You have your staple stuff that's not so expensive, then you expand," Kennedy explains.
Kennedy is happy to be able to do things at Futuro he couldn't do at other shops. "We have a little more freedom," he says. "And our versions are better. A palancio latte is better than a vanilla latte." Futuro also does not serve pour-over coffees, which is something that pleases Kennedy.
"Coffee brewed 45 minutes ago is not that different than fresh coffee," he says. After 45 minutes the quality starts to change, but he says that coffee simply tastes better when made in larger quantities.
Futuro uses top-of-the-line Volumetrics equipment that enables Kennedy to pull espresso shots with accuracy and consistency. While similar machines have been available for a long time, Kennedy explains "third-wave coffee went away from that due to a sense of artistry and craftsmanship lost when [making coffee] is automated." Kennedy disagrees with that view entirely. "Maybe it is a craft, like making shoes, but what's the mark of a good shoemaker? Making the same shoe every time. Art is messy."
In addition to offering a high-quality product, hospitality is key for Kennedy. He resents the model of a single cashier interacting with customers — often in a brusque tone — and a barista with their head down making coffee. "I've been that way too," he confesses, "trying to dial in when people are asking for the wifi code." But Kennedy hopes baristas at Futuro will be more engaging.
Aside from coffee, Kennedy also studies creative writing at Phoenix College. "I love school," he says, "I don't always get to say 'Let's talk about Hemingway for an hour,' so it's nice to do that in an environment where at least the professor is interested."
So is more coffee in Kennedy's future? "I don't know," he says. "I don't necessarily dream of owning a coffee shop, but doing this makes me want to open up a shop and just nail it." But he's happy at Futuro now. "The amazing thing here is that things I didn't think would go over well have gone great."
Futuro is located inside Palabra at 909 N. First Street.
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