Wednesday, December 12, 2012 , Updated 12:00 a.m., December 14, 2012
Design District’s first indie coffee shop Ascension boasts $20,000 machine
It's a coffee shop by day, wine bar by night.
DALLAS On Friday, December 14, Dallas restaurateur Russell Hayward will debut a concept he has been cooking up for five years – a place where people congregate in the morning over coffee and at night over a bottle of wine. It is based on the use of “convertible spaces” and a marriage between two quality beverages.
“Anyone who appreciates coffee can appreciate wine,” Hayward said on a sunny afternoon less than a week before the opening of Ascension coffee house, which is located on Oak Lawn Avenue in the Design District. “They belong together.”
Ascension is not trying to reinvent the coffee shop, but more so improve on its functionality as an all-hours establishment. That’s why Ascension will offer a variety of appetizer-like meals prepared in house throughout typical lunch and dinner hours.
The restaurant setup will also change between the morning and evening crowds. Hayward purchased a lane from a bowling alley, which he split into four pieces and repurposed as tables. He was sure to install wheels on the bottom so that the coffee condiment station is easily transformed into a dining room table during wine bar hours. The same technique applies to the cabinets behind the countertop and other pieces of furniture so as to improve feng shui.
While logic plays a big role in the Ascension business model, at the end of the day it is about coffee – good coffee. Hayward grew up in Australia a hard core espresso man, and when he started his journey to own a coffee house, he thought he had a decent handle on the scene -- until that journey took him around the world.
“I went to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda all right next to each other, and in every place, the same bean tasted completely different,” he said.
Ascension aims to create its own unique flavor by utilizing five methods of brewing. The day we went to visit, the building looked more like a science lab than coffee house, as a team of employees were trying out their own original blends, weighed precisely by the gram. They start with a specific base flavor, Hayward explained, then add “an excellent topper” and a final taste to fill the palate.
Clay Eiland of Coffee Eiland bean roaster, which is partnered with Ascension, explained that the optimal taste is round and full-bodied so as not to leave the sides of the tongue with a stinging aftertaste. I tried a recipe that was, according to the employees, “almost there.” A latte drinker myself, I was impressed by how flavorful the blend was without being overwhelming, even without the aid of sugar or milk. Eiland looked pleased. You should never have to add sugar to good coffee, he said.
Once Ascension is running full force, customers will have the choice of coffee brewed five ways: by French press; siphon (an old method done atop a Bunsen burner); Chemex (a scientific technique using a beaker and thick filter); V60 pour over (another filtered approach normally for lighter coffees); or cold brew. Espresso will also be a specialty by way of the Synesso Hydra Hybrid machine, which has a manual paddle press as well as two automatic or volumetric group heads. This shiny piece costs a pretty penny – more than $20,000, actually – and is the only one of its kind in Texas, according to Hayward.
Ascension had somewhat of a soft opening last weekend when marathon gawkers filled the Design District. Official hours and breakfast service begin Friday, though dinner service will be integrated by January 2. We'll let you know when a menu is released.
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