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Locked & Loaded: Drinking at the Temple

The Siphon Bar at Ma*Velous

I'm still shaking from my trip to Ma*Velous. And not due to caffeine. Phillip Ma's new coffee and wine bar (there's beer too) at Market and Fell Street is gorgeous and delicious, with some of the most interesting ways to appreciate coffee you're going to find anywhere in the world. It is nothing short of a temple of coffee. 

Ma, a barista turned cafe owner, just opened to the public on Friday, and Ma*Velous was still sleepy when we stopped in at mid-morning. A couple of customers trickled in and out, but it was rather slow. Which was great, as it gave me time to talk to Ma and his staff, who are all passionate about providing a great experience and helping customers learn about coffee.

And Ma*Velous does offer one heck of an education, with an unbelieveable variety of options.

Let's start with the beans Ma serves. You can choose from Intelligentsia, Ecco or Tim Wendelboe beans. All are excellent, but the Wendelboe is an incredibly rare treat. The award-winning Norweigan roaster is virtually impossible to find at cafes in the United States, and Ma*Velous is one of the few places in the country (perhaps the only) to have it on offer full-time. (Wendelboe doesn't list any spots in the United States, and Ma says he is the only regular account that he knows of.) Ma says he spends more on shipping from Norway than the beans themselves. How did he manage to score the account? "I wrote a very long email." 

And if you want to experiment with different preparation methods, you can do that too. Ma*Velous offers espresso, V60 and Beehouse pour over, French press, siphon pot, Chemex and even Kyoto iced coffee. (Prepared in an Oji coffee maker that slowly drips 43 times per minute.) The custom-made espresso machine is a four group La Marzocco built up by Espresso Parts. The four groups, each with its own motor, allow Ma*Velous baristas to dial in different pressure and temperature profiles for the coffees they serve. "Right now, I have one for the Ecco, one for the Black Cat, one for the Wendelboe, and one to experiment with," explains Ma. The machine has see-through sides and front, with laser-etched glass that matches panels on the booth and a California Walnut finish made from fallen wood. It's stunning. (As is the entire venue, designed by Adeeni Design Group.)

And then there's the preparation. Baristas were trained by Intelligentsia's Charles Babinski, and it shows. Everyone does things a little differently, and if you've only tried siphon pot coffee from Blue Bottle, or pourover at Four Barrel, you'll find that Ma*Velous does things slightly differently. (The Intelligentsia pour-over technique Ma*Velous employs is the same I use myself at home.) It works. Both the siphon and the espresso from Wendelboe I tried (as well as two Kyotos, both from Ecco) were expertly and lovingly prepared.

Even better, the baristas are eager to explain why they're preparing the coffees as they do. If you're looking to have a long conversation about pressure profiles, this is the place to do it. There is even an option to try a flight of coffees at a "palette tasting bar," where you can either try one coffee prepared several different ways, a variety of coffees, or a combination of both. The attention to detail even extend to the milk Ma*Velous uses, a special Straus Family Creamery "barista milk."  

Overall, the experience is stunning. Expertly crafted boutique coffees in a gorgeous setting. This place deserves to be very, very popular. Go now.