Coffee just got craftier.
It’s always been an artisan drink with nuanced roasts and specialty cocktails, but as Blackeye Roasting Co. opens a new retail store in the skyway at 330 2nd Ave. S., it’s turning the focus toward cocktails and draft pours instead of the traditional steaming hot mugs. The new coffee shop features 10 tap lines and a menu of cocktails, all non-alcoholic.
“The vision is to merge the specialty bar and cocktail concept with third wave coffee,” says founder Matt McGinn. While Blackeye serves espresso and other hot coffees, cold beverages will comprise just as much of the menu, year round, he says. Draft coffee concoctions and the brand’s already in market Nitro Cold Brew are faster than waiting for a specialty drink to be made, he says, and cold coffee is a low calorie drink with its own unique fans.
“It’s going to draw the traditional coffee shop customers,” McGinn says, but the ambience is modeled after the popular taprooms of craft beer. Customers can relax with a laptop or tablet, but also grab a quick drink to-go. The draft lines, high top bar seating, and cocktail snifters give a bar aesthetic but it’s completely alcohol-free.
“It changes the feel of a traditional mom and pop shop to a more youth-focused and streamlined environment,” says McGinn, with that emphasis on efficiency highlighted in the skyway location.
It’s not just a different atmosphere, but a different coffee menu. Blackeye is primarily a beverage company. Their Nitro Cold Brew is already available in cans at local grocers and convenience stores, and can be found on tap at 26 metro locations. It’s nitrogentated, meaning the drink is thick and velvety and, consequently, comes off as more smooth and less bitter than non-nitro coffees. Guinness Irish stout is a popular example of the unique effect nitrogen has on a beverage experience. Fans can purchase the cold press offerings in 64-ounce growlers to bring home.
Blackeye’s skyway café opened July 26, following the July 13 opening of their first retail location at 3740 Chicago Ave. S. in the Powderhorn neighborhood. Both shops share a similar design, with subway tile, minimal but intentional industrial-tinges, and a clean and stainless veneer. While Powderhorn features 30 seats, the skyway is at 18.
“It’s going to cater to those who work in and near the space,” says McGinn. “Then, on the weekends, hopefully those that frequent the skyway location because it’s near work will visit our Chicago Avenue location because it’s near their home.”
Besides Nitro Cold Brew, Blackeye serves a nitro tea on draft and has a variety of cocktails that feature the ingredients. Prohibition Kombucha is available and they’re developing further tea concepts with Verdant. The cocktails cover a range of bitter coffees to sweet and creamy options, with and without lactose, most often with a strong dose of caffeine.
Bad Larry has a White Russian creaminess, made with nitro cold brew, chocolate milk, and a custom vanilla-lavender syrup, while The Lunchador mixes their signature cold brew with a house horchata. Options are alternatively bitter and earthy, creamy, or sweet and distinct. All the cocktails were created by McGinn and Kevin Begazo.
Blackeye is foremost a beverage producer and views the shops as a showcase for their products.
“Our primary focus is our packaged cold brew and kegged cold brew,” McGinn says. Compared to other coffee companies, Blackeye’s path has been “upside down,” he says, in that they started with the nitro beverage concept at his previous coffee shop, St. Paul’s Quixotic in Highland Park (he has since sold his ownership share). Blackeye then expanded distribution and purchased a roaster in St. Louis Park, all prior to the cafes. “This is usually done in reverse order,” he admits. “But it’s worked well for us.”
Blackeye Skyway Café is another step as the company eyes larger markets and their canned products reach more stores. With industry giant Starbucks investing heavily in a canned nitro line this summer, McGinn says, consumer awareness will increase and help their own locally-made brand. Originally Skyway Café was planned to be the first retail location, but delays in buildout led to the Chicago Avenue store opening first.
At a glance: Blackeye Roasting Co.
Where: Skyway café, 30 2nd Ave. S.; and Powderhorn location, 3740 Chicago Ave. S.
What: A specialty coffee cocktail bar