Shortwave Coffee finds niche in Columbia specialty coffee community

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:28 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Dale Bassham and his wife, Laura, have opened Shortwave Coffee, located in Alley A in Columbia. Dale Bassham focuses on educating customers on hand-brewing techniques.

Video by Jennifer Beatty and Veronike Collazo

Downtown coffeehouses


915 Alley A

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday

Opened: February 2014 

Get their beans at: Shortwave, Lucky's Market, Clover's Natural Market, The Candy Factory, Columbia Farmers Market, Peggy Jean's Pies

Shortwave focuses on educating customers on hand-brewing techniques. Owner Dale Bassham heats the water to an optimal temperature, then carefully pours it over the beans in either a v60 hand dripper, a Chemex glass coffeemaker for larger brews, or an AeroPress coffeemaker for 3-4 ounce cups. Bassham often talks customers through each hand brew, explaining the differences in  techniques and their results. Hand-brews range from $3 to $3.50, but customers can opt for a quicker, cheaper batch brew for $2.25. Shortwave’s 1940’s era art deco decor and radio-inspired theme pay tribute to Bassham’s father and grandfather, who were radiomen for the Missouri Highway Patrol. 


1013 E. Walnut St.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

Opened: November 2013

Get their beans at: Fretboard, Lucky's Market, Root Cellar, Clover's Natural Market, Columbia Farmers Market, Schnucks, Hy-Vee

Fretboard Coffee is the garage band of coffee shops. The shop, in fact, is housed in a garage, with panel-sized windows facing the Wabash bus station. Inside, an acoustic guitar lampshade illuminates the “set list” — a chart explaining the coffees and hand-brewing methods available to the customer. Fretboard matches Shortwave in its variety of hand brews, but owner Dave Elman also likes to focus on supporting the Columbia art community with his musically themed watering hole. The shop donates coffee to the Little Dixie House concerts, a community of folk music enthusiasts who host touring musicians over food and drinks in the home of Columbia residents Will and Laura Scherer.  


24 S. Ninth St.

Hours: 6 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Saturday; 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Sunday

Opened: 1992

Get their beans at: Lakota, Lucky's Market, Hy-Vee, Schnucks, Cafe Berlin

Lakota Coffee Company and Roasters was the first roasting company in Columbia to dabble in the dark side. Trained in the roasting tradition of West Coast chain Pete's Coffee, Roastmaster Lee Eckel roasts his beans at the back of the shop until a charred aroma fills the room.  The shop sympathizes with the cream-and-sugar crowd, though, and will refund or replace any drink that is not satisfactory. Thanks to the long hours, college students and townies can be found populating the shop at night when others head to the nearby bars. 


29 S. Ninth St.

Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

Opened: 2007

Get their beans at: Kaldi's, Lucky's Market, Schnucks, Hy-Vee

Kaldi's name comes from the legend of Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder who brought energy and attentiveness to the world after discovering that his goats became more energetic after chewing the fruit of a coffee plant. General Manager Brandon Summit said he believes that Kaldi's brings energy to the Columbia community. 

Patrons can sit at the bar and take in the colorful view of downtown, or retreat to the back of the shop in an elevated seating lounge complete with couches and a fireplace. The "relationship coffee" is light and perhaps a bit fruity. It comes directly from farms in Africa and Latin America, and Kaldi's pays them more each year to ensure the quality of the coffee and the fairness of the trade. 


11 N. Ninth St.

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday

Opened: 1994

Get their beans at: Coffee Zone, by phone: 573-449-8215

Coffee Zone imported a taste of the Mediterranean when owner Osama Yanis opened his version of the original San Francisco shop in 1994. Manager and Brother Issam Yanis said he offers a specialty menu year round, including pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint mochas.  The shop pairs over 20 different varieties of coffee with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes — gyros, baklavas, hummus and more. Coffee Zone takes its signature blend, Rocket Fuel, very seriously — it comes with a disclaimer warning customers about its potency. 

COLUMBIA — Shortwave Coffee has joined the downtown specialty coffee community, the fifth shop within a five-block radius.

Shortwave, Fretboard Coffee, Lakota Coffee Company, Kaldi’s Coffee, and Coffee Zone all roast their own beans, but each has its own method of making coffee and retaining a customer base.

Dale Bassham and his wife, Laura, opened Shortwave Coffee in mid-February to coincide with the True/False Film Fest, when the space for the now-defunct Frequency Coffee became available in Alley A.

Bassham said he finds and roasts beans in small batches to ensure they are brewed at the height of freshness. 

“We like to celebrate the taste of place,” he said. “We buy it looking for qualities inherent in the places themselves.”

Bassham said he makes a point of educating customers about his coffee and holds "cupping events" where customers can taste a selection of smaller “profiles” before each full batch is roasted.

“I feel like the more you know about something, the greater the experience is,” he said.

Lee N. Eckel from Lakota Coffee has seen Columbia’s specialty coffee community multiply from his post on Ninth Street.

“Twenty-one years ago, there was one other coffee shop,” he said. 

Eckel roasts the beans that embody Lakota’s signature dark flavor, which he says is on the darker side of most medium roasts. Even the typically lighter French roast is comparable to espresso.

“You don’t have to follow the rules of purists to enjoy coffee,” he said.

Across the street at Kaldi’s, lighter roasts and transparency in business attract a customer base that makes specialty coffee more approachable, according to the general manager Brandon Summit.

“People want to know where their coffee is coming from,” he said. “We have people with very specific questions about region and country of origin.”

Dave Elman of Fretboard Coffee is also deeply invested in the origin of his beans.

“We try to focus on fair trade organic," he said. "No chemicals are used in the production of our coffee.”

Elman has been selling the Fretboard brand of coffee at the farmers market since 2012, but he didn’t open the shop at 1013 E. Walnut St. until last November. His dark roast gained a following at the market, where he developed relationships with customers who now frequent the shop.

“I think people really like to have a relationship with the people that create the product they love,” Elman said.

At Coffee Zone, manager Issam Yanis matches Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine with his signature dark roast, “Rocket Fuel.” Consistency is key for the shop’s regulars, he said.

“Our local, loyal customers know what they’re getting,” Yanis said. “If you buy a pound of coffee today, it tastes the same way it did 10 years ago.”

Yanis gets his beans from the original Coffee Zone in San Francisco, where they are roasted daily. He is moving toward selling his beans on the Coffee Zone website; customers frequently call the shop to order coffee by the pound, he said.

“I think that tells you something about loyalty and the type of coffee we have,” Yanis said.

Most of them note that the downtown competition helps grow the customer base for everyone.

“Twenty-one years later, you can throw a rock and hit a coffee house, so how is competition bad?" Eckel said.

Shortwave Coffee opened in February. There are now five coffeehouses within a five-block radius in downtown Columbia. Click on the red icons to learn more about each coffeehouse. Map by Zhao Hong/Missourian.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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