Brian Franklin, head roaster, DoubleShot Coffee Company. Photo by Kelly Brown
BRIAN FRANKLIN HAS FORCED THE LOOK OF COFFEE ROASTER UPON HIMSELF. In boots, beaded choker and tight t-shirts (sleeveless on Mondays, when he roasts), he’s like some refugee of a Navajo rite of passage. All that’s missing is the Billy Jack hat. The other baristas at Double- Shot look like the skinny, witty baristas everywhere. Franklin looks like the personal trainer he once was, before he realized that the trainees who hired him were more interested in being seen than being lean. A muscle, like a coffee bean, has a secret energy waiting to be unlocked. But the secret remains close to the bone and must be broken down to be realized.
In fact, Franklin is a walking contradiction, a nonconformist retailer who apologizes for nothing and to nobody. Flavor in your latte? Go fish. Venti caramel breve? Get out. Cream in your coffee? The dairy at DoubleShot is relegated to a narrow shelf all-but hidden behind the counter. It’s a reluctant concession earned through a nasty battle of attrition.
“Even though he’s actually a really nice guy on most days, sometimes he can be a total asshole,” said Amy Ferraris, who got a grant to make a documentary about coffee but ended up making one about Franklin. The Perfect Cappuccino came out in 2009, not long after DoubleShot’s fairly infamous battle with Starbucks over trademarks. Frustrated in her ef- forts to find a memorable coffee outside Italy, Ferraris finds a friend in Franklin, whose cappuccino lends her film a kind of good-cup, bad-cup motif.
“Specifically, his unique personality and his total disregard for the idea that the custom- er is always right. If you go in there every day, sooner or later you’ll see it happen. Someone will push his buttons by saying something ignorant or asking for something Brian hates, and he will stop being polite. And oddly enough, I think there’s something very reassuring in that. Because you know that Brian is a real person. If he’s being nice to you, it’s not because he’s ‘supposed’ to. He’s just being a real person, instead of a customer-service robot, which is what we’re used to dealing with in literally every other part of our lives.”
Last Christmas, waiting for Santa to come back from his break, I dragged my kid into Starbucks, where we waited half an hour for my Americano. The small Americano—what Starbucks calls a “tall”—is a little over two dollars. But the bulk of the drinks I saw ordered were seasonal things like Peppermint, Dark Cherry and Toffee Nut lattes, which are more in the $4.50 range. Anywhere else, these might be labeled coffee-flavored drinks, as the espresso in them takes a very deep back seat. (A sign near the dairy bar at another Tulsa Starbucks—a kind of coffee shop serenity prayer—reads, “I like a little coffee with my cream and sugar.”)
DoubleShot does not top its drinks with whipped cream and chocolate swirls, nor does it employ Italian-sounding sizes. In addition to espressos, lattes and Americanos, it offers two brewed coffees of the day. If you were to want “just a regular coffee,” you’d have to pick one of these, the names of which are posted near the pastry case. Sometimes, the languages are trickier than even the Starbucks Italianate—Ethiopia Natural Sidamo Korate or Tanzania Ruvama AAA or Kenya Riakiberu Peaberry or Rwanda Epiphanie Mukashyaka. A cup of one of those is $2 and includes one free refill.
None of these would I call a “regular coffee,” but I can appreciate the confusion our relatively young café culture creates. You can’t go from Executive Coffee Service and Folgers Crystals and Maxwell House International Coffees—the so-called “first wave”4—to 300-calorie venti caramel macchiatos without a few growing pains. To seek and find a “regular” coffee these days would take some doing. With its .9-ounce “vacket” packs of Folgers Classic Roast (regular and decaf) brewed on a Bunn CW Series coffee maker and cooking in one of three Bloomfield glass bowls, the office where I work comes pretty close. (In Ethiopia, coffee is kaffa bunn, a missing link of etymology that I am willing to grant the makers of Bunn burners even as I flinch at the irony.)
We should not confuse “coffee”—the morning mainstay the world over, with as much variety in it as the world that drinks it—with coffee, the beverage of the fruit of the coffee plant. It would be tempting to consider them one and the same. But, like the “burgundy” you sometimes still find on pizzeria menus versus the vintages of the great houses of Bourgogne, they are not. Not only is an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe not a Brazilian Bourbon or a Tanzania Peaberry, it’s not even an Ethiopian Sidamo.
DoubleShot’s Ambergris espresso blend makes a sweet Americano, and a storied cappuccino. But it’s in the varietals where the roaster’s tenacity is most manifest, lurking in piles of jute bags that Franklin sources like lost children. He seems to have an affinity for African beans but has found, lately, a treasure in Colombia—a coffee called Maduro, a dry-process bean from a mountain farm called Hacienda El Boton. “Dry” is the surprise here, as it bucks the longstanding trend in Colombia (the country that crafted “Juan Valdez”) of wet-processing beans, meaning, sun-cured versus water-soaked. Whatever the science, it works: Maduro explodes in the mouth like a fruit bomb. Franklin thinks enough of it to have commissioned a chocolate bar made with Maduro ground into it.
In 2004, when DoubleShot opened, you could pick your seat, camp out and listen for crickets. Most of the time, there were as many staffers as drinkers. The cafe then occupied a single shotgun space, with roasting, drinking and merchandise under one tarred roof. But when his next-door neighbor moved out, Franklin doubled his space. Now, the old room is for baking, roasting and customer runoff. The main café is a whitewashed, well-lit room that seemed at first spacious and now can get downright raucous in the morning rush. It took nine years to get here, but it appears, at least on some days, that roasting the best coffee in town by if not a long shot then a noticeable one has counted for something. But what?
“The fact is,” Franklin said, “I’m just trying to provide something pure, something I discovered in my kitchen 15 years ago, something mind-blowingly delicious, to the public, to individuals, for their enjoyment. But people deface it and shit on it and me. And I’m treated like a criminal for trying to show them something better.
“I cringe at the prospect of being called a coffee Nazi. I guess if that’s really who I am, it wouldn’t bother me.”
Excerpted from “Double or Nothing,” the story of Brian Franklin and the DoubleShot Coffee Company. Available in the newest installment of Argentfork, available at Amazon.