Columbia's new Frequency Coffee seeks to tap single-brew trend

Friday, May 10, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Ryker Duncan stands behind the counter at Frequency Coffee on Alley A between Ninth and Tenth streets. "I am the happiest I've ever been, seeing this come to fruition," Duncan said.

COLUMBIA — The National Coffee Association is calling it the biggest change in coffee brewing since the invention of Mr. Coffee in the 1970s.

Single-cup brewing has become the second-most-popular way to make coffee, second only to the automatic drip pot, according to the National Coffee Association.

Frequency Coffee

Opening: Early June

Address: 915 Alley A between Ninth and Tenth streets

Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Website: Frequency Coffee page on Facebook

Menu: Four brewed coffees and two different espressos every two weeks; cold brew available in the summer; assorted pastries.

Coffee pricing: $2 to $10 depending on the quality and initial price of the beans

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“Ownership of single-cup brewers has grown 900 percent since we started tracking it in 2005,” Joseph DeRupo, a spokesman for the association, said.

The single-cup brewing method continues to see steady growth: 13 percent of the U.S. population drinks coffee made in a single-cup brewer, according to a March report from the National Coffee Association, up from 4 percent in 2010. In contrast,  consumption of coffee from a drip maker dropped during the same period from 43 percent to 37 percent, the association reported.

Preparing coffee one cup at a time, however, is not only a trend for personal use.

Kaldi’s Coffee on Ninth Street offers a variety of hand-brew options, including Trifecta, Chemex and Beehouse, according to its menu.

Lakota Coffee Co. on Ninth Street can brew any of its coffees — up to three individual cups at one time — using a single-brew drip method. 

While these standbys offer the option for a single-cup brew, a new coffeehouse opening downtown plans to brew each and every cup of coffee by hand.

Frequency Coffee, on Alley A between Ninth and Tenth streets, is set to open in early June, owner Ryker Duncan said.

Duncan plans to hand-brew every cup using one of his nine brewing methods, with the specific coffee determining the method used. A wait time will be provided with each order, as it will vary by coffee and brew method.

“I pay attention to a lot of details with the way I make my coffee, so each coffee is complemented by a certain brew method,” he said. “A lot of specialty coffee shops don’t even do this because it’s more expensive.”

Duncan said there are five variables for making a good cup of coffee: the measure of the coffee in grams and water in milliliters — a specific ratio between the two is the gold standard; length of extraction time; adjusting the grind size for the particular coffee and brew method; and correct water temperature.

“I think that 99 percent of the world hasn’t had a good cup of coffee,” he said. “I just want people to have the best possible coffee experience I can give them.”

Duncan’s obsession with coffee began during his 3 1/2 year stint delivering art around the country. Usually driving for 20 to 30 hours in one trip, he stopped at coffeehouses and developed a taste for different varieties. Fascinated with the beverage, Duncan began researching the subject.

“You have to be obsessed with coffee to do what I do,” he said. “You’d be able to tell the difference. It’s all very precise. Everyone that I hire will be as geeky as I am. They’ll have to be.”

He also began collecting high-end coffee equipment to use at home.

“I’ve spent a lot of time acquiring pretty much the best equipment in the industry, so that I can be really precise and make sure that the quality is there,” he said. "I started just because I liked it at first, and then I realized, why do I not own a shop?”

Skip DuCharme, owner of Lakota Coffee Co., opened his shop on Ninth Street in 1992, also turning his passion for coffee into a business.

“I had to either leave it as a hobby, or turn it into a business,” DuCharme said. “I was done with corporate life. After a long discussion with my wife, we decided to get into it.”

Having been open for 21 years, DuCharme is used to seeing trends come and go within the industry.

“When the movie 'Chocolat' came out, the trend was to put cayenne pepper in mochas; you don’t see that as much anymore,” he said. “Individual brewing by the cup? We’ll see how long it lasts. It’s just another way of many ways to serve coffee.”

Duncan wants people to feel comfortable and relaxed when they come into Frequency.

“I want them to feel like they walked into my home and I’m making them a cup of coffee,” he said. “I want people to come in and see the work and thought put into every cup.”

He decided to build much of the furniture for the shop himself. To provide for more legroom, most tables do not have outside legs. Duncan also tried to have a power outlet for every table.

“It all boils down to wanting to create a good experience for everyone who comes in and a good space for people to work,” Duncan said.

DeRupo believes there are two factors driving the popularity of single-cup brewing.

“It’s convenience but also the ability for consumers to partake in the wide variety of coffees out there,” he said. “People are becoming more aware of the distinct flavor profiles of different coffees. Single-cup brewing enables them to sample and enjoy more.”

DuCharme, who offers 35 varieties of coffee at Lakota, likes when his customers branch out to experience these distinct flavors.

“For me, it’s fun to watch the education process of trying different coffees and not just sticking with one or two,” he said.

Duncan plans to hold weekly "cuppings" similar to wine tastings. Having different brews side-by-side makes it easier to taste the distinctions, he said. People will also welcome to bring in their own coffee to compare, he said.

“I want people to learn something, so they can make their own coffee at home, too,” he said. “I don’t want people to feel like they have to come in every time to get it.”

The coffee industry actually shares a lot of terminology with the wine industry, DuCharme said.

“There is a difference in how they taste and roll across the palate,” he said. “Coffee can be full or light bodied, some are dry, and some have a fruitiness.”

As with wine, there are varietals of coffee. Coffees from different regions have distinct flavors, which can be affected by altitude, soil, microclimate — even the variety of trees in the region, DeRupo said.

“Most people consume their coffee and don’t actively think about it,” Duncan said. “I want people appreciating it for its taste, not just going after it for its effect.”

Duncan said the integrity of the coffee is important to him, so he will not be offering any creamer or sugar to the customers directly. All beverage additions, such as creamer, will be kept behind the bar and will be available upon request. 

“I want to push people to drink more black coffee,” Duncan said. “It’s healthier, and it lets you appreciate the taste more.”

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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