Ascension Coffee Is Training The Design District To Get Caffeinated.
Welcome to Unfiltered, our new weekly feature that explores the Dallas coffee scene — and how it often manages to thrive in the most unusual places. Given that we live in a time when Starbucks locations are about as prevalent as the golden McDonald's arches, when new coffee shops seem to open every other week and when almost everyone uses a ChemEx to brew their coffee, we're here to show you some alternatives — for when your coffee shop routine becomes monotonous or when you're just looking for something different in your caffeine endeavors.
1621 Oak Lawn Avenue.
The way Ascension Coffee conducts its business, you'd think the shop has been in the Design District for years.
Alas, the space only opened up in December 2012. Still, though: The space just has the feel of a neighborhood java joint that's been serving up hot cups of joe for years — and high-quality, connoisseur stuff at that. Truly, everything Ascension does is meant to accommodate the tastes of its diverse customer base.
“The clientele around the Design District is pretty varied,” says head barista Henry Foote. “We get everyone from college medical students to designers and business people. When people come here, you know one thing they're looking for is something new and something different. That's what the Design District is. And we've been lucky that everyone comes in tunes in to what we do.”
What Ascension does is keep things interesting: The shop rotates the coffees used in its espresso and drip brews on a regular basis. Currently, their coffee is provided by Populace Coffee Roasters out of Michigan and Linea Caffe in San Francisco. They're also a multi-roaster shop that features different roasters from around the U.S. and roasts three or four beans at a time. In other words: You have options here. At any given time, Ascension features two different espresso beans — the idea being that they balance each other out. One coffee is exciting, while the other is easy to get along with.
The finished espresso product, made with a Synesso Hydra espresso machine, is simple but packed with flavor. It has the brightness and acidity you’d want in espresso, with hints of chocolate, nuts and floral flavors.
Another balancing act they utilize is using two different types of iced coffee — Kyoto brew and cold brew. The Kyoto brew is a growing trend in Dallas coffee, but the coffee Ascension produces is unique because they use slightly aged coffee that almost mimics an aged whiskey. The cold brew, meanwhile, has an opposing, concentrated taste with a lighter body that makes it a little better suited for adding cream and sugar. The coffee taste remains consistent, even after the ice melts.
To get the best coffee experience here, though, Foote encourages customers to try something from the slow bar. Although it's not uncommon to see slow bars in the Dallas coffee scene, Ascension claims to dedicate a lot more time, resources and know-how to the practice.
“We love it,” Foote says. ” It creates a really intimate experience. You get talk about the coffee with people, start an interaction. We also get to really do the coffee justice.”
A lot of care goes into what Ascension puts out — and the barista's training process reflects that. Here, everyone starts at an entry-level position to get a feel for the customers and to start talking about the coffee. After that, the baristas go through four to five hours of hands-on training at the slow bar before being forced to take a practical exam. If they pass, then they can go through the last level, espresso.
“It’s the heart of the shop,” Foote says of the training process. “We take it very seriously. [The owners] try to keep their training as current as possible — so much so that they plan on opening a training lab.”
But, beyond being a place filled with well-trained baristas making you a great cup of coffee, it's the vibe at Ascension that really comforts. It's the type of place where the adventurous and straightforward coffee drinkers can find common ground alongside one another, all while feeling at home.
“I think people come to a coffee shop to feel safe,” Foote says. “They're not with their friends. They're not with their families. They're not at work. It's a place where people come to speak really freely. We've gotten to know people really well through that.”
All photos by Kathy Tran.