Downtown Phoenix is experiencing an explosion of development, with thousands of housing units slated to open by next summer, and businesses are expecting — banking on, even — increased foot traffic in the surrounding area.
But are there too many coffee shops? Braden Hammond, operations manager at the new Be: Coffee, Food + Stuff at monOrchid Gallery says there’s no such thing.
“They all have different vibes….When you walk into Cartel, you automatically understand it has a laboratory feel,” Hammond says. “For me, it’s a learning experience to see what they’ve done. Whereas, when I walk into Lola, I’m going in for my drink and maybe breakfast. It’s just a different experience.”
Be Coffee, 214 East Roosevelt Street, opened its doors this summer in the space previously occupied by Songbird Coffee and Tea. Hammond counts nearly a dozen coffee shops within a three-mile radius of Be, but he says the volume of shops doesn’t worry him. Even though the shop is new to the game, Be offers guests a distinct coffee experience.
Hammond started his serious training in coffee at 19 — about two years ago. And within a few months, he moved through the ranks at Royal Coffee, eventually becoming operations manager there. He's also worked at True Food and Postino (Troy Watkins, co-owner of Be, worked with Upward Projects for some time, as well, which is how Hammond became connected with Be).
He initially found his way into coffee circles through social media, specifically though Instagram, where he became connected to Ryan Cordwell, the brains behind creative company Royal & Design Co. Cordwell and friends circulate to many of the Valley’s coffee hot spots, and Hammond says he loves trading knowledge and new ideas with other coffee geeks. And though Hammond's passionate about coffee, he aims to share his knowledge with customers in an understated way.
“The goal is to always bring in new coffees from different roasters that people might not always have a chance to try,” Hammond says.
He hopes to procure select small roast orders for Be and turn them over frequently so there’s always something new. A good way to sample Be's beans-of-the-moment is to try a regular pour-over coffee ($3).
And since you can't survive in Arizona without offering cold brew coffee, Hammond says, he's getting pretty scientific about the science of cold brew at Be. The shop uses the Filtron system, a contraption that looks something like a Culligan water dispenser — only different. Coffee grounds soak in a muslin bag overnight. After the muslin soak, coffee passes through a felt filter pad, not unlike what you’d use in a tropical fish tank. The system then empties into a pitcher for the finished product.
As a result, Be cold brew has none of the nasty bitterness and aggressive acidity one might expect from an amateur iced coffee.
“It comes out as a very crisp, clean cup,” he says. “It’s an investment, but it’s worth it.”
Also critically important to excellent coffee is high-quality water, Hammond explains. “Here we go through a water softener and it does double bypass [filtration],” he says. “A water softener absorbs calcium and other hard minerals. The double-pass will remove any additional impurities.”
One of Hammond’s ambitions is to bring coffee education to Be. He points to the large, open gallery space within monOrchid and explains his idea for a coffee open house during which he would teach coffee fans how to shop for beans and brew at home. He’s also interested in providing a forum for the local competitive coffee circuit. Another education idea he has is instructing baristas in latte foam art ($3, $3.50, $4). The secret is in the quality of the milk, he says.
Eventually, Be Coffee's owners plan to expand the shop into a full restaurant. A dividing wall between the current shop and what used to be The Dressing Room soon will be knocked down and tables and bar installed. Hammond says the plans have actually unfolded in reverse: Initially, Watkins and co-owner Kyu Utsonomiya wanted to open the restaurant first and then add Be. Within the next few months, the expansion will begin and even more seating will be added to an outdoor patio area that is currently serving as monOrchid’s parking lot.Be Coffee is open 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days and 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information check the Be Coffee Facebook.