The signs aren’t up yet, but it’s easy to spot the second café location for French Truck Coffee coming together at the corner of Dryades and Cadiz streets.
Part of a string of cottages along its Uptown block, this one is now painted the same bright, Provencal-yellow as the company’s vintage Citroën work trucks, which inspired its name. It’s slated to open early in 2016, sometime before Mardi Gras.
The high-visibility color scheme also seems appropriate for a brand that, in short order, has managed to stand out in the deeply ingrained local coffee culture. Coffee is big in New Orleans. French Truck Coffee is still very small, and that’s precisely the point.
Geoffrey Meeker started the company in 2012 with a small roaster stowed in his laundry room and a route delivering bags of just-roasted beans to like-minded coffee connoisseurs and cafes. French Truck is a micro roaster, one that approaches coffee as a specialty culinary product rather than a commodity, and one that sources its beans in much the same way a wine maker approaches grapes.
Some beans are ultra fine, and they’re handled, savored and priced like a prestige wine, a drink to build an experience around. Others are better suited for your everyday pot of coffee, though with the benefits of small-batch production and farm-to-cup sourcing.
“We’re like a bakery, but with roasters not ovens,” said Meeker. “We think your coffee should be roasted where you consume it.”
The growing interest in this approach to coffee feels in synch with the return of more local breweries and neighborhood bakeries, that dialing back from globalized brands to a more arms-length connection to what we eat and drink, and it’s been catching on quickly.
“What’s amazing to me is how much we’ve learned,” said Meeker. “It’s just a matter of coming to work and wanting to do one thing better every day. It’s pushed us to a new level.”
Last year, French Truck opened its first café (1200 Magazine St., 504-298-1115), which is essentially a walk-up espresso bar connected to the small, garage-sized roasting facility. The second on Dryades Street will feel like a more complete café, with a menu of salads and sandwiches, and pastries from Gracious Bakery, an early adopter of the French Truck brand. Meeker said he plans to add more French Truck cafes in the future.
Micro roasters are commonplace in some cities, and New Orleans is getting more. For instance, Congregation Coffee was formed earlier this year by Seattle transplant Eliot Guthrie and Ian Barrilleaux, chef de cuisine at Donald Link’s Butcher. They’re starting with wholesale clients, and their brand is beginning to appear in local stores.
It might sound like French Truck competition, but in fact that’s music to Meeker’s ears.
“The more there are, the more it will get people talking about what coffee ought to be, not what it became for years and years,” he said.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.