Walking into Black Tap Coffee is instantly calming and refreshing - particularly on this sweltering Southern Carolina, summer day.
Light seems to be the all around theme in the small and bright space as a window makes up for the entire primary wall. The other walls are painted a soft white and are met with wooden tables and light gray flooring.
And while it’s bare and minimalistic qualities are like many specialty coffee shops today, Charleston characteristics still stick out: like it’s small entrance and awkward two layer layout calls to a distant memory of a charming home. A paper-like lamp hangs above the steps bringing the two levels together.
The coffee bar is immaculately clean as well. The sun sends a study stream of light through the windows behind the La Marzocco espresso machine. It’s black and steel exterior makes for the entire room’s centerpiece as it sits on top a sleek black countertop. Nothing seems out of place.
But there is no intensity or intimidation emulating from the other side of the bar where a barista begins to pull a shot. He looks up attentively to acknowledge the coffee hungry patrons at the register without hasting his current task.
It’s an air of professionalism without arrogance, and that’s exactly how Ross Jett, owner of Black Tap aims for it to be.
“Black Tap is a shop where you can have a first-class coffee experience without us cramming it down your throat,” says Jett via an e-mail interview. “Everyone that works for us is approachable and relatable. All my guys are very well trained and informed about our coffees, they're all good tasters, and they can answer almost any coffee question one might throw at them, but all of that is under the surface and only becomes apparent if they're prompted. Otherwise, the goal of customer service is to be relatable first and let the product do the talking from there. We don't employ rockstar/ninja baristas. We employ high quality, secure human beings.”
Black Tap’s true story begins on the West Coast in the Bay Area where Jett experienced coffee as a consumer. While living there he discovered a passion for coffee that would lead to a profession in coffee. And so - he dove right in.
“Opening Black Tap and working behind the bar every single day open to close for the first three months we were open was how I really learned coffee,” says Jett. During the beginning, Black Tap was a Counter Culture Coffee establishment. For those who may not know much about Counter Culture, they are one of the largest specialty coffee companies that take their relationships with their wholesale accounts seriously and go beyond the typical “big coffee company.” They aid in providing their baristas with coffee education across a plethora of criteria; from credentials in coffee-making and tasting to understanding origin and well, a whole bunch more.
“I give them [Counter Culture] credit for setting us up for success and providing our initial training. Now that we roast coffee and have our own wholesale accounts, we really try to emulate that model of training and access to information so that our accounts are primed for success.”
For Charleston, the specialty coffee scene has only recently begun on the uptick, and for a while, Black Tap was the only specialty roaster on the map.
“Charleston's specialty scene has come a long ways since we first opened. Awareness of good coffee and access to it on the retail end has increased substantially. Up until this year, we were the only roaster doing specialty coffee in Charleston. We've developed a reputation for quality and integrity, so that has opened doors for us and allowed us to be a source of information for local coffee talent and for food and beverage establishments hoping to raise the bar for their coffee programs.”
The name Black Tap was Jeff’s idea, that spoke to a once-unique method but now is a nation-wide trend.
“The first coffee drink I really enjoyed as a newbie coffee drinker was iced coffee. I always hated going to coffee shops though where iced coffee was an afterthought, pulled out of the refrigerator in a stained pitcher. I had this clever idea that we would put coffee on tap to preserve it longer and to make service more polished and expedient and I wanted the tap to be a central part of the establishment. So I chose Black (evocative of coffee in its purest form) Tap as our name. This was five years ago before everyone started doing nitro coffees and cold brews on tap, so we felt pretty unique back then.”
Aside from nitro coffees, I have came across my fair share of Mint Juleps in espresso form. It was only last year I came acorss the Mint Julep from Houndstooth Coffee in Austin. Maybe it’s something about being in the South and sipping on something sweet, cool and refreshing - but it was a lifesaver for me when I stepped into Black Tap that day. They call their summer beverage, the Black Julep.
So, I had to ask - what’s in the Black Julep?
“We just take 2 oz of espresso, 1 oz of hot water, 1/2 oz of honey, and a couple muddled mint leaves, shake it all with ice, and then strain and pour over crushed ice. The Black Julep is just a fun little drink we serve during the summer months. People love it because it's refreshing, it's a pretty looking drink, and it's delicious.”
Currently, Black Tap is offering several single origin freshly roasted coffees, but Jett’s favorite?
“Gedeb Washed, hands down. It's such a great looking and well-sourced green coffee and Tripp has been nailing the roast profile on it. It's super clean, sweet, and nuanced in all the ways a great Ethiopian coffee should be.”
I may or may not have snagged a Costa Rican selection to bring home with me and have been brewing it lovingly since. I also very much dig their packaging.
This past year has been quite successful for Black Tap and it looks like it’s just the beginning.
“This year our roasting and wholesale operation have really made some great strides. You'll see more and more of our coffees at other establishments and other multi-roaster shops around the country. At some point, becoming more of a regional presence with coffee shops is a goal, so we're exploring those avenues as well right now. We have a lot of irons in the fire, and we try to pick things we can execute in an excellent, well thought out manner.”
I wrapped up my conversation with a barista as we exchanged coffee recommendations along the East Coast, each of us writing on the back of a receipt or business card. I looked up as college students sat cross-legged along the wooden tables, books and backpacks in tow. Another man sat at the window sill with a paper sprawled in front of him.
As I left Black Tap I let out a sigh. It was one of those shops you wished you lived down the road from to make it an everyday stop.
Light and warmness seem to be the all-around theme here at Black Tap Coffee.
Until next time,
The Coffee Nomad
Ps. In case you missed it, Ross provided a promo code for 15% off their website. Just use promo code "blacktapnomad".