“Coffee-growing is a long job,” Isak Dineson said of her coffee plantation 1,000 feet above Nairobi in the highlands of Kenya in the early 1900s. “It does not all come out as you imagine, when, yourself young and hopeful, in the streaming rain, you carry the boxes of your shining young coffee-plants from the nurseries… [to the] regular rows of holes in the wet ground where they are to grow… It is four or five years until the trees come into bearing…” (Out of Africa. Isak Dineson. Vintage International Edition. Pg. 9. Oct. 1989.)
Half way around the world, and a century later young entrepreneurs Carlos and Susan Palacio, of Mexico City and Fort Lauderdale respectively, acted on their love affair with coffee beverages. Abandoning careers at General Electric and the University of North Texas, the young marrieds opened the Trio Craft Coffee shop on Long Prairie Road near their Flower Mound home.
“We’ve talked about a business venture since we met,” Susan said, “The question was what venture.”
The conversational twist on the old boy-meets-girl story began shortly after they laid eyes on each other during a pair of two-year missions consulting at a Guatemalan sister congregation of their Dallas church.
The dream-come-true opened its doors near the Wells Fargo bank on the east side of FM 2499 in Flower Mound. If you know where Anita Robbins’s Art House is, you’re only several shops south of a tasty cup of coffee.
The 21st century ambiance begins with spit-shine clean hardwood floors, kilim beige walls, granite countertops, intimate café tables and sleek black metal chairs. Several upholstered chairs occupy a reading corner and behind the bar state-of-the-art equipment sparkles. Locally baked pastries sweeten the morning menu and, if you show up at lunchtime or later, the baristas can serve up a variety of fresh panini sandwiches.
Want to work away from the office? Wi-Fi workstations dot one wall, a step higher than the main restaurant. There’s no television, but Friday evenings a D.J. comes in for Trio’s “Beat and Brew” entertainment.
The staff is young, dress is informal and the atmosphere buzzes with quiet energy. Around 10 a.m. small groups drift in, push tables together and sip, talk and plan while someone takes notes.
“We want to be a community-oriented business,” Carlos said.
The inviting setting with its all-glass storefront behind a few sidewalk café tables and chairs is succeeding in that department. “We approach coffee-making as a culinary art,” he continued. “The first time we drank coffee made with fresh beans from the same crop was a taste revelation.”
“There’s no comparison,” Susan said.
The letter ‘O’ in the Trio logo contains Braille dots and line. “Braille’s work is to disrupt blindness,” she said, “and ours is to dispel blindness about coffee.”
Her husband explained large corporations buy and professionally mix the produce from many plantations. They roast the beans and grind the blends for later sale to retail consumers. “There’s no way to know how long those blends have been warehoused,” Susan said.
The husband and wife business partners enthusiastically finish each other’s sentences. “Just like honey from a single bee yard is called artisanal,” Carlos added. “Single origin coffee brewed from one plantation’s annual crop is called a craft product. We at Trio Craft Coffee know our roasters. They sell us beans from the same crop. We do our own grinding.”
In short, the new coffee shop is the place for a guaranteed fresh cuppa.
With the exception of coffea Arabica grown in and around Kona, Hawaii, the modern U.S. imports its “beans”– called cherries by the planters who handpick the bright red fruits – mostly from equatorial Africa and Central America. In the 1970s a fungus decimated South American coffee plants, forcing farmers to use pesticides or relocate in the cooler, drier hills of the Andes Mountains. The Indonesian home to Java and Sri Lankan coffees also struggled with plant diseases.
“We’re proud to offer organic products,” Susan said.
Buying from roasters who know their planters makes that possible. Coffee plants come in four major categories: mild, high quality plants named coffea Arabica; their more intense and aromatic Brazilian cousins; sharper Andean varieties; and the essentially neutral, disease-resisting coffea robusta born in east Africa and Madagascar. This last is the preferred ingredient for commercial instant coffee.
Food historians suspect from its name that coffea Arabica got its start in the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East, but a second school of thought places the wild originals in nearby east African Ethiopia. The first plants’ descendants grow today mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Cameroon, Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, southeast Asian islands, India and Hawaii. Trace the equator on your desk globe and you can pinpoint coffee growing regions.
Planters grow, dry, grade and pack the two big seeds inside every coffee bean. Roasting companies worldwide buy, process and sell the crops to retailers large and small. In the coffee house world commercially ground and packed coffee is called comfort food. Individually ground products are called 3rd wave coffees.
“We buy beans from several sources,” Susan said, “the closest being right here in Oak Cliff. We also buy from roasters in Santa Cruz, California and Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
A cup of craft coffee requires three things about which the Palacios are passionate: good water, good beans and good baristas. Trio’s owners and employees are trained in the barista arts and sciences at the Texas Coffee School in Arlington.
Professional baristas learn to produce pure black Italian espresso, thick French coffee, thin caffé Americano and their mocha (chocolate), latte (milk/cream) and cappuccino (foamy) variations all of which are determined mainly by the fineness of the bean grind.
For espresso the beans are ground almost to a dust then water is forced through the powder at high pressure. The black coffee base sits between thick French and thin Americano drinks and is served in one ounce “shots” or half-size cups. Mocha is espresso with dark chocolate and milk. Latte is espresso with steamed (not boiling) milk. Americano is the watered down espresso preferred by New World coffee drinkers.
If you don’t want to fall asleep any time soon, order a cappuccino which is a double dose of espresso with hot milk topped by a foam head of steamed milk. The drink is named for its color which reminded some long ago Italian barista of the color in Capuchin monks’ habits.
Trio Craft Coffee uses several types of equipment to produce their unique hot and cold drinks: the seasonal drip, the chemex pour-over and the French press which fully immerses the grinds. The familiar office coffee maker drips hot water one time through ground beans. A glass chemex device looks like a big beaker with a transparent funnel affixed to the go-between screen that holds the ground product. The French press is a single glass pot with a wire plunger that crushes the grinds in hot water to free their meat, color and flavor.
Trio staff explains coffee’s fine points using a Taster’s Flavor Wheel that looks similar to a painter’s color wheel. Weather, temperature, soil type and conditions and neighboring produce all affect growing coffee beans that produce the ultimate drink’s “body,” “flavor” and “intensity.”
Body is how the liquid feels in the drinker’s mouth. Do you want to sip a light product? How about velvet on the tongue? Let’s see, how about taste? Maybe you like the full flavored tease of espresso that hints of cranberries or cinnamon, o
r honey? Do you like coffee mild, strong, sharp or delicate?
Coffee doesn’t have to all taste the same. The beans release flavors according to the amount and quality of the grind. A skilled grind and brew affects the drink’s body, flavor and intensity.
Ask a Trio barista for the wheel while you think about it. “Be imaginative,” Carlos said, “and a world of taste will open its doors to you.” The sky’s the limit. “And we have a tea menu if you prefer that,” Susan said.
Drop by the café at 2628 Long Prairie Road or Google its name to check out tempting photos.
Noelle M. Hood can be contacted at [email protected]