Cultivar Coffee owners Jonathan Meadows and Nathan Shelton and shop manager Jonathan Aldrich were members of the original crew at White Rock Coffee, all hired within about a month of each other. They trained there and taught themselves the intricacies of roasting and brewing coffee before striking out on their own as roasters. Time spent in Austin exposed them to a better coffee culture than that of just a couple of years ago in Dallas. Mostly self-taught, the Cultivar crew views coffee as an affordable luxury. They have passion. Named “Best Coffee” in D Magazine in 2011, they continue to grow their shop and roasting business.
Micro-Roaster Cultivar Coffee focuses on a small menu of handcrafted espresso drinks and manually brewed single origin coffees. As roasters, Cultivar seeks to “highlight amazing unique character in every coffee.”
Cultivar’s shop menu doesn’t include venti sizes and numerous blends, either. They offer only three flavors: vanilla, chocolate and simple syrup, made in house from scratch. Their preference is coffee without sweeteners, to taste the best version of their espressos and brews.
Cultivar limits options to make their product tastier. They don’t have sizes, only a 6 oz cup. They won’t make a 12 oz cup, or a 20 oz latte. “We just don’t sell that,” Meadows said, “and we find most people really welcoming of that. Our customers trust us to take them on a journey. ”
Shelton equates their menu to that of a boutique restaurant. “Quality control of eight entrees is easier than to have 15, 20 dishes,” he explained. “We’re not able to make all flavors of syrups, so less is more. Our vanilla is my favorite Mexican vanilla added to simple syrup extracts – it holds up better. We tried beans, which were too floral, too delicate, to hold up to coffee.”
“We like the way we make coffee,” Meadows said. “We think it tastes good, though it may be different from what is expected.”
Tagging onto the locavore movement through their association with Good To Go Taco and Goodfriend restaurant, both at the same Peavy Road location, Cultivar is part of the zeitgeist of East Dallas.
“Coffee itself is not local, it is always going to be traveled product, but the consumer can be super local, depending on how deeply they're in coffee,” Aldrich said. “We have customers who drive 30 to 40 minutes on weekends to get our coffee.”
The future for Cultivar Coffee extends beyond the shop on Peavy. Cultivar sells their roasts wholesale and cultivates the coffee culture in Dallas. “As our resources grow, we want to be able to buy larger lots, to continue working toward sustainability for everyone. What farm is the coffee from, who produced it, how were they paid?” Aldrich said. “Ideally, we want to get to know a producer. I want the best a farmer can make.”
The job as a barista isn’t without its hazards. “It’s about the pursuit of better-tasting coffee, which can leave us very over caffeinated,” Meadows joked. “We taste more bad cups than good. We tweak adjustments, remake drinks all the time to get it right. Really excellent coffee can taste awful if you make it badly.”
The crew maintains tight control of not only the origin and roasting of Cultivar’s coffees, but also constantly tests its water for total dissolved solids and pH. Rain can even make a difference in water taste. Aldrich added, “There’s pressure as a barista, to make coffee that good, to avoid breaking trust with the customer.”
The name “cultivar” means a plant selected for desirable characteristics that can be maintained by propagation. The name plays off not only their product, but also the community they encourage through barista jams and customer education.
“In Austin, we saw a coffee community that was open and sharing,” says Meadows, “All striving to better coffee, not a closed competitive community. We would get off work and continue talking about coffee, read coffee blogs, and see other shops doing different prep.”
The burgeoning coffee culture in Dallas is a natural progression of doing what these roasters love. Fostering budding baristas is an integral part of Cultivar’s philosophy. They offer courses in skills such as “Milk Theory," “Drink Building," and latte art for coffee enthusiasts as well as other shops. “The best barista is a chef,” Aldrich explained, “with culinary skills.”
Cultivar Coffee is open from 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily except Mondays at 1146 Peavy Road inside Good To Go