Last week, Erin and Keith Zolner, owners of Southside Village’s Lollicake Queen, opened the doors to Perq Coffee Bar, the first craft coffee shop of its kind in Sarasota. With a focus on single origin, artisan coffee, and with eight distinct and unique brewing methods, Perq introduces Sarasota to what many coffee geeks in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and New York have been drinking for years: Third Wave Coffee.
Third Wave Coffee basically takes the same approach to coffee that xenophiles and winemakers have taken with wine. There’s a focus on direct- and/or fair-trade, single-origin beans; a care for roasting techniques (the beans are roasted much more lightly than most macro-roasts, resulting in more pronounced and nuanced coffee flavor); and artisan methods of preparation.
Perq’s origins can be traced to Keith’s career in agriculture, managing orange groves. A passion for wine and, subsequently, coffee followed.
“Wine and coffee have been personal passions that I’ve really enjoyed geeking out about,” Keith says. “For the longest time, with coffee, it was, you know, ‘So-and-So’s Blend,’ or you only knew what country it came from. But like with a good bottle of wine, I want to know where it came from – where it was grown, what farm made it, how it was processed. The whole farm-to-cup idea.”
Keith began roasting his own coffee at home, ordering green coffee beans from all over the world through a network of fellow coffee enthusiasts.
“Keith would wake up each morning and roast beans in a modified popcorn maker to make us coffee,” Erin says.
After two years of success with The Lollicake Queen, and well aware of the area’s lack of a real, artisan coffee shop, Erin and Keith decided to expand from their 500 sq ft bakery, into the adjacent space. They added almost 2,000 sq ft, making room for a larger baking operation, as well as space Perq.
Their coffee vision became a family affair. Erin’s 19-year-old daughter, Olivia, designed their logo. Erin’s sister, Amy, designed the interior space. Keith and his brother, Mark, did the buildout, a mix of cool, industrial stainless steel and warm, raw wood, with Perq’s signature bright green accents.
“People kept asking why it was taking so long,” Erin says. “The answer is that we did it all ourselves.”
The couple took trips out west to scout roasters and shops they had admired from afar, taking bits and pieces of San Francisco’s Blue Bottle, Oakland’s Sweet Maria’s, and Portland’s Coava and Heart, picking roaster’s brains along the way.
They settled on the Grand Poobah of modern espresso machines, the infamous Slayer (though Keith did also splurge on a gorgeous, vintage Faema as well). Since there were no shops in the south that used Slayers, there were also no mechanics to service them, so Keith underwent full training to be able to service the machine. They decided on Coava and Heart Roasters to provide the beans, though they will bring in guest roasters frequently to mix it up. They settled on six other brewing methods (see sidebar), and worked towards an opening date.
A year after getting the keys, they’ve finally started pulling shots and changing local perceptions of coffee.
They’ve hired almost a dozen new employees, including a new pastry chef, Selena Campbell, who along with Erin will make special daily pastries and treats – from white chocolate crème brulee and organic fruit tarts to mini-scones and what Erin has decided to call “Wheels” (something between a muffin and a donut).
“It’s all small-batch,” Erin says. “After two years of doing 30 different Lollicakes a day, it’s been really fun coming up with a new menu.” They will also offer a number of sandwiches from much-loved Main Street sandwich shop Mozzarella Fella. Perq will be open late Thursday through Saturday, serving a limited selection of craft beers and wines, as well as special desserts, and some very unique coffees.
They’ve brought in an experienced head barista, as well as a number of employees with experience at other craft coffee bars around the country.
But mostly, Perq is about offering unique coffee experiences to interested customers.
“I’ve been trying to save my voice,” Keith said, after the second day of Perq’s soft launch last week. “A lot of what we’ll be doing is educating people.”
“Coffee goes through all these incredible processes – thousands of hours of labor – from growing and harvesting to roasting and packing, and it gets to you and you get to make it as good as it can be, or you can screw it up,” says Keith.
“But really, in the end, it’s supposed to be fun. And it’s supposed to taste good. And so far people have been really excited. They stand at the counter and watch and ask questions. It’s really fun to watch.”
PERQ’S EIGHT BREWING METHODS
Conventional Drip: Yeah, they still offer drip coffee, but only in the morning and only until it’s gone. You can rush in and grab one on the fly, but if you have an extra five minutes, take the time to try out the other options.
Slayer and Faema Espresso Machines: The Slayer is widely considered one of the more magical modern espresso machines on the market. They’re hand-built, and less than 30 of them exist on coffee shops around the country. It offers baristas unique control over water pressure, allowing for low pressure extractions, and longer, slower pulls. The Faema, on the other hand, is an homage to the history of espresso machines, a true analog wonder, requiring great skill and care by the barista to monitor and pull a shot correctly (Keith knows his way around both of these bad boys).
KyotoCold Brew: As we approach the hellish heat of Florida summer, you will be glad that Perq has adopted Blue Bottle’s Kyoto method of cold brewing coffee. This one-drip-at-a-time process is time-intensive and beautiful to watch, yielding intense, caffeine-heavy, smooth, delicious iced coffee.
Aero Press: A full-immersion, single-cup method, similar to a French Press, but run through a paper filter to keep out any of the fines or grit.
Kalita Wave Pour Over: Popularized by Nick Cho at San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball, this method utilizes a glass brewer and a paper filter with a flat bottom, allowing for uniquely even extraction, and yielding what is basically a large cup of really clean, bold coffee – 450 grams, or 16 ounces.
Chem-X: Perq uses an Able Brewing Fine Metal Cone and a reusable, washable filter. The coffee is then decanted into a carafe, then decanted again when poured into each individual mug, making for a very clean, shareable pot of joe.
Siphon: Using a Hario siphon system, the coffee is brewed through a beautiful and ingenious process involving two glass chambers and heat, resulting in vacuum-brewed deliciousness. Places like Blue Bottle in San Francisco and Brooklyn have dedicated “Siphonistas” solely in charge of this method.
Woodneck Hario Flannel Filter: The sipping whiskey of coffees, also known as a “Nell” – short for “flannel.” A coffee elixir made by a radically slow pour-over method, which yields a low-temperature, slow-drip, high concentrate shot of coffee that allows for every tiny flavor variation to present itself.