Thursday, July 5, 2012

Downbeat Coffee + Tea is looking for the perfect note in the West Plaza

Posted By on Thu, Jul 5, 2012 at 12:05 PM

Downbeat Coffee is tucked in the ground floor of a Holly Street residence.
  • Downbeat Coffee is tucked in the ground floor of a Holly Street residence.
I'm standing on the front step of Downbeat Coffee + Tea, unsure whether to enter the space, despite the plethora of signs telling me that iced coffee is just on the other side of the door at 4706 Holly. Then owner, Emily Madison, cracks the door, flashes her golden dreadlocks and big open smile, and waves me inside.

"That happens a lot," Madison says, noticing my indecision. "Come on in, please."

Madison has been slowly building a community around coffee, as her neighbors wind their way down to her West Plaza shop that opened in April.

"I live in this neighborhood and I felt like a coffee place would be such a nice fit," Madison says. "Now we've got these little magical moments when we get discovered and people ask, 'What is this place?'"

The piccolo cappuccino at Downbeat.
  • The piccolo cappuccino at Downbeat.
When Madison, a graphic designer by trade, considered opening Downbeat, she turned to someone she collaborated with before, albeit in a very different arena. Todd Burd, her partner on the independent label Rougher Records, is working as a barista and helping to manage the cafe space. The pair's connections to the local music scene (roots reggae fans may know Madison better as "Goldie," the bassist in RC Dub) means that impromptu caffeine-fueled sessions are as likely as the University of Missouri-Kansas City medical students who camp out over piles of paper.

"In today's economy, you've got to be a little bit of everything," Madison says.

When it came time to pick a coffee for the shop, she reached back a bit further to her roots in Lincoln, Nebraska. Having worked as a barista at the Mill - a 37-year-old small-batch roaster in Lincoln that is akin to the Broadway Roasting Co. here - she turned to them in the hopes ofintroducing something new to Kansas City.

"My plate is just tuned differently. I like my coffee to be smooth, not bitter," Madison says.

She uses the Mill's beans for the shop's drinks and also sells bagged whole beans (they can grind it on-site if you don't have a grinder) as well as espresso beans. Right now, she's steering people to the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

"It's such a beautiful coffee for iced coffee in the summer. It's mellow and flowery with this good rich spark of flavor," Madison says.

Madison (left) and Burd are finding the right blend.
  • Madison (left) and Burd are finding the right blend.
The two most popular drinks on the coffee menu are the Cuban espresso shots (Downbeat puts raw sugar in the filter and a little cinnamon on top to infuse the shot with those flavors) and the piccolo cappuccino (a single-shot cappuccino). But Burd and Madison are still looking to perfect the menu.

"We're music nerds. We're used to tweaking things to the nth degree before releasing it to the public," Burd says.

Downbeat has fresh fruit and coffeecake at the counter, as well as a cooler filled with ice-cream treats. Madison is in the process of looking for a new local bakery to provide baked goods. In the coming months, she is hoping to host Second Saturday afternoon celebrations at the coffee shop.

"I just hope it continues to grow and bring people together," Madison says.

Downbeat is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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