Columbia (MO) Coffee

I don’t normally compare coffee shops, preferring to find the uniqueness and redeeming qualities of each shop, independent of comparison. In some instances I have refrained from reviewing a shop because my first impression may not have been complete enough to commit it to words. Regardless of past practice I am posting this comparative blog including one ‘first visit’.

I like Columbia, MO. For the past six years, I have travelled to Columbia to participate in the Show Me State Games. Our family would go for two separate summer weekends where my daughter and I would compete in a variety of sporting events. During these trips, we enjoyed the local food scene as much as possible. Fretboard Coffee was one the first coffee shops I featured in this blog. Last year I stopped by Shortwave Coffee for beans and a brew. It was a quick, but pleasant visit. I felt there was more to discover about the shop before writing. So, I returned this year.

The Show Me State Games Triathlon is an event I like to compete in annually. This year marked my sixth completion of the sprint distance triathlon. Arriving in town Saturday for the Sunday event gave me a chance to check out another coffee shop. I stopped by the Rangeline location of The Grind. It was conveniently located and easy to access. Rangeline is one of three Grind locations in Columbia. The Grind has a lot of positives. Good location, comfortable facilities, consistent branding, and drive through service all line up with the owner’s desire to fill some coffee voids in Columbia. The locations, hours and facilities all support the brand’s mission.

The Rangeline location has a familiar, suburban chain vibe, without blatant copying anything specific. It’s clean, spacious and offers a variety of seating options. There is an abundance of food options from local vendors as well as standard coffee-shop packaged fare. All nice. I came for coffee. A good, fresh cup of coffee. The large urns of brewed coffee didn’t appeal to me. When I asked about a pour over, the reply was a bit puzzling. “We have Vanilla Nut and our Black and Gold blend.” Several single-origin coffees in ‘the Grind’ packaging were displayed for retail, yet none were on the list du jour for a fresh brew.

Without thinking, “Vanilla Nut???” fell out of my mouth. The clerk was very polite and told me it was a flavored bean rather than added syrup. She also explained that Black and Gold was their own blend of dark and lighter roasted beans. With that being the two options, I ordered a Black and Gold pour over and the grinding, weighing and timing began. There was plenty of time for me to check out the shop, which really is quite nice. Asking about the beans, I found out The Grind partners with another roaster.

The first sip of the freshly brewed coffee tasted like disappointment. The char of the dark roast overpowered any other flavors that may have been present. That flavor hitting my taste buds made my mind do one of those television-tunnel-flashbacks to all the things about the Grind that reminded me of Starbucks. I don’t hate Starbucks. The company has done much to elevate the coffee conscious. But I don’t particularly care for over-roasted coffee. So, for those who like Starbucks, the Grind in Columbia, MO really is a nicely appointed, conveniently located, upbeat shop fulfilling a very noble mission.

I brought a travel kit with grinder, ceramic dripper, filters and Dynamite Coffee beans for my pre-race brewing pleasure. Such a snob. But I prefer leaving as little to chance as possible on race day. Plus a positive mind-set really does encourage good performance. I enjoyed the coffee along with oatmeal and yogurt in the hotel while preparing my race gear. Another cup of Dynamite washed down the English muffin with almond butter and jelly I prepared. No excuses for the race. Even though my times were not where I had hoped, they were consistent with my preparation. So it was a good race.

After collecting my medal, I scurried back to the hotel to shower ahead of the 11:00 AM checkout deadline. Then it was off to Shortwave Coffee to get a brew for the road. You have to be deliberate about finding Shortwave as it is tucked neatly in an alley. It is a really nice alley just off Broadway in downtown Columbia with pavement and other retail establishments. To me, the coffee was worth finding Shortwave.

The shop has a definite basement feel to it with exposed supports and architectural elements. The furnishings are tastefully low key, making the space feel very comfortable and natural. Exploring the building while my coffee brewed revealed a great deal of segmented space allowing for small gatherings to coexist with individuals seeking a more private environment. Business appeared steady with a few ‘people on laptops’ as well as those walking in for a coffee to go.

This was my second trip to Shortwave and I was pleased with the service and the freshly-brewed coffee which accompanied me on my journey home. I selected a Brazil pour-over and bought a bag of Organic Peru beans to brew at home. I appreciate the roaster’s sensibilities in bringing out the distinct flavors of both varieties. The Brazil had a crisp, clean taste from beginning to end. I enjoyed the Peru for a couple weeks and it fared well in unscientific taste-tests against a Guatemala roasted by Dynamite. 

Shortwave’s location and space are unique and the business takes great care in controlling the process of making coffee that is satisfying. They appeal to a different clientele than the Grind. It is great that the home of University of Missouri has options to meet the expectations of diverse coffee-drinkers. The caffeinatedathlete had two very different coffee experiences in Columbia, MO. To me, Shortwave is worth a return visit.

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