There are a ton of places around town to get a good cup of coffee, a few to get a great cup, and fewer still to get a cup made with beans that were responsibly and ecologically sourced, lovingly roasted in tiny batches and brewed using a laundry list of different techniques. If a coffee shop is where you go to slurp down mocha-caramel-frappe-whatevers or cup after cup of bulk-roasted sludge without giving too much thought to what you’re drinking, head to your nearest mass-market coffeehouse. Otherwise, Angry Catfish Bicycle Shop and Coffee Bar in South Minneapolis fits the bill: it’s part of a small, but growing, cadre of third-wave establishments whose mission is to elevate coffee to a level worthy of deep appreciation, discussion, and connoisseurship. This is a place to geek out about boutique microroasters, maybe name-drop a small, family-owned Guatemalan coffee farm you recently visited, or simply gather after a group bike ride for a restorative caffeine jolt, all while comparing detailed tasting notes with like-minded folks.
The coffee bar is on the small side, but it’s bright and inviting. A long bar with high-top seating runs the length of the front of the house, with east-facing windows that fill the space with natural light, which can be a little intense in the morning (especially with a hot beverage), but still nice. Aside from the coffee menu, there’s an afterthought of a pastry case that doesn’t come close to inspiring the same level of curiosity and interest as the newfangled, mad-scientist brewing equipment arrayed on a shelf behind the counter – beakers, scales, hand-blown glass siphons. If you like coffee, this is why you come to Angry Catfish.
Like other third-wave coffee houses, including Quixotic in St. Paul and Bull Run at Lyn-Lake, the coffee program at Angry Catfish puts quality first; their small, but carefully considered seasonal selection of single origin coffees from Intelligentsia rotates monthly. On this morning, we order a pour-over cup of the Matalpa El Salvador. And then we wait.
From start to finish a pour-over coffee takes about five minutes, a tiny eternity by any standard. And a bona fide eternity if it’s your first cup of the day.
The performance starts with a series of weights and measurements: Coffee is ground and precisely weighed to 26 grams; water is heated to a single degree below boiling; the filter is pre-wetted; the eventual cup heated.
The brew process itself begins with 30 seconds of pre-infusion, where just enough water is poured over the grounds to saturate them, allowing them to bloom. This, we’re told, is the key to unlocking the flavor, and what separates a pour-over from the impatient drip maker sitting on your kitchen counter at home. After 30 seconds the grounds have blossomed, and seem to beg for more water. The barista obliges, slowly pouring hot water over the grounds a little bit at a time. From here, the process should take no longer than 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Any longer would result in the extraction of extra-bitter notes, which would tip the coffee’s balance toward acrid.
Watching the barista work is rather like watching Pip Hanson whip up a sazerac at Marvel Bar. The craft of brewing is in plain sight, not hidden within the stainless steel walls of a commercial drip maker or Mr. Coffee’s cheap plastic contours. And it’s the skill of the craftsman, above his or her ability to operate a piece of kitchen equipment, that dictates the final product. Which is all to say that watching a barista brew your pour-over is more than mildly interesting and, right or wrong, helps to inflate your appreciation for the coffee that’s been set before you. That the seemingly eternal wait time flew by is testament to this.
So is it worth the fuss and all this damn waiting around? Yes and no. The first sip is bright, full, and assertive, but with no bitterness at all. Literally none. The acidity is still there, but it’s perfectly balanced by the beans’ native sweetness, resulting in an almost silky mouthfeel that’s rich and luxurious. The last sip even went down with the same smooth finish as the first. After finishing the pour-over, we ordered a second cup from the drip maker, and surprisingly it tasted just as good, went down just as easy, and was just as delicious — at two-thirds the price. Sure, there was no performance, but maybe high-quality beans like these don’t need much to shine.
If you’re new to this exalted coffee scene, all the fuss over the brewing process along with the exorbitant price tags dangling from the prim English cycling jerseys in the bike shop could be a little off-putting — the place does emit a slight air of snobbery. They ride better bikes than you, wear better commuter jeans, and obviously drink much better coffee. But somehow all this ostensible pretentiousness never manages to cross the line into elitism. Elitists want to exclude you and keep you out of the club. Angry Catfish, on the other hand, wants to invite you into their fold, educate you, and make you a believer. They’re not angry at all, just intensely passionate about serving the best damn coffee possible. As long as you don’t ask for mint crumble or let them catch you stirring half and half into your pour-over, you’ll fit in just fine.
Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Bar, 4208 28th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55406; 612.722.1538