Walking into a coffee shop these days can feel a lot like going to church. There is a hush in the air, a chilly reverence, specially purified water, a holier-than-thou attitude, ceaseless moralizing, a naturally lit space with sweeping architectural gestures and a man in a ceremonial vest standing behind a dais working a complex system that only he understands.
All of which is to say that as fabulous as coffee has become in L.A. — and don’t get it twisted, it is damn good — there isn’t much of a sense of humor or adventure. Coffee is a thing to be analyzed, admired, mindfully sniffed and thoughtfully sipped, and it is not to be trifled with, experimented upon, diluted or transmuted.
But 2nd Craft, a new garagiste roaster and cold-brew company based in Long Beach, is aiming to change that. They’re bringing a new attitude, a willingness to have fun, to play around, to be unusual. Partners Conor Hunter and Adam Burnett both come from a craft beer background, and that’s the vibe they’re cultivating in their beans.
Hunter is the founder of the noted beer club Hop Heads, and Burnett is a long time homebrewer who started roasting his own coffee when he found that buying enough nice beans for his coffee porter was prohibitively expensive.
So it only makes sense that they’re taking techniques and flavor profiles from some of their favorite beer styles and applying them to coffee. Yes, they make an India Pale Coffee — grassy and bright from Mosaic hops and sharply lemony from a super light roast on the beans — but they’re also using other common beer adjuncts like cinnamon and vanilla to make a horchata cold brew. And, perhaps best of all, they’re aging porous, un-roasted green beans in whiskey barrels.
As Hunter pours bowl after bowl of un-treated coffee beans into a whiskey barrel from the tiny Sons of Liberty Spirits Co., he and Burnett explain that green coffee beans can absorb flavor from just about anything. That means that shipping and storing them is a delicate process, and they can’t be left anywhere near cardboard or anything with a distinct aroma. But it also means that letting them rest in a recently used whiskey barrel will give the beans a huge jolt of vanilla, oak, brown sugar and booziness — like many brewers do with their stouts.
That booziness is especially important for Hunter, who no longer drinks alcohol. But a crisp, punchy cold brew that smells like bourbon or hops? To him, it's an outstanding replacement. 2nd Craft is a way for Hunter to stay connected to the craft beer industry and hang out with his beer-chasing friends without actually indulging in a beer himself (he hasn't had a sip in almost two years). To that end, Hunter and Burnett have made a point of engaging the craft beer community, pouring cold brew at events like the L.A. Beer Week Kickoff Festival and also working with breweries like Sanctum in Pomona and San Diego's Manzanita, roasting and aging beans with flavor profiles specifically designed to be integrated into a variety of coffee beers.
Without a store of their own, however, 2 Craft is still difficult to find. For now, the best way to get a taste of their IPC, horchata or graham cracker cold brew is to catch them at an event, though you can also sign up for a coffee subscription to get regular shipments of beans. And if you follow them on Instagram, you'll be the first to know about the rare release of specialty bags.
It’s still very much a small operation — they started roasting in a bread-maker with a modified industrial heat gun and have since graduated to a little Behmor roaster. But lately they’ve been roasting scaled-up batches with the help of friends at Long Beach third-wave roaster Lord Windsor.
They’re in the process of expanding their lineup of cold brew with other beer adjuncts — perhaps a chile cold brew, one inspired by mole or even a tart, fruited version — and they hope to one day be able to both sell beans and distribute bottles of cold brew to the better bottle shops around town. Necessity is the mother of invention, and when Conor had to give up his first craft love he stepped right into his second craft. The L.A.-area coffee scene will be better off for it.