/Natchez coffee shop serves up taste of the unusual

Natchez coffee shop serves up taste of the unusual

This is the weekly ‘Sip of Culture. It’s a partnership between Mississippi Today Magazine and The Sip Magazine. Visit The Sip’s website to see more stories such as this and to subscribe to the magazine. One barista stands in front a large copper machine extracting the finest espresso drops. A second barista pours water into a glass tube-enclosed contraption and uses a Bunson burner to heat it. The sound of coffee beans being ground to order is heard in a back room. This is not your typical coffee shop. Steampunk Coffee Roasters, located near the Mississippi River in Natchez is a popular spot for locals who visit it for their coffee and conversation. International travelers have also found it a popular spot. Many are amazed and delighted to discover that this is the best coffee shop they’ve ever been to. Dub Rogers is the inventor of steampunk. He has lived and worked all over the globe as an architectural and commercial photographer. A few years back, he decided to return to Natchez. He longed for the same coffee he had in Italy with the same precision and attention that the Italian baristas put into every cup. Rogers lived in Natchez for a time before he moved to Natchez. Linda Sheehan was a Minnesotan who lived in Natchez nearly a decade. Rogers stated, “I got to meet her and decided to remain.” They married and decided that if they wanted to remain in Natchez, they would create something they loved. Rogers stated, “We loved coffee and I had been wanting to try something like this for some time, so we decided it was worth the effort.” They spent five years studying coffee and even went to school as baristas. To make sure they were proficient in all aspects of coffee, they practiced for one year. The key to success was finding the right place. The couple settled on the historic house at 114 High Street. The National Register of Historic Places lists the building as a historic structure, which was built between 1864-1886. Rogers explained that it was one of the first homes constructed for newly freed slaves. “This neighborhood was once a vibrant one with many workers who needed to be close to the city and industry. Ours is one the few remaining buildings in that block.” The name of the business comes from the Elektra Belle Epoque. This large copper Italian-style espresso machine also serves as entertainment for customers who visit the coffee shop. Rogers posted a picture of the coffee shop on Facebook shortly after buying it. A friend from New York commented that it was “steampunk”, referring to science fiction that combines technology with 19th-century industrial steam powered machinery. Rogers felt a lightbulb in his head. “We came up with the name of our shop!” Natchez is a real ‘steampunk’ kind of city, so we gave our machine the nickname ‘Punk.'” The interior of the shop has a sort of industrial-meets-history feel, with re-purposed materials used for furniture and accent pieces. Rogers stated that it was important to preserve the building’s historic feel. The espresso bar is made of sinker pecky Cypress and the cabinets within were constructed from materials salvaged from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The Steampunk business opened in September 2013, and has been subject to constant tweaking. The company was founded one year before its actual opening date. Rogers stated that they were roasting coffee beans and selling whole beans. Rogers said that they had plans to create a cupping area where people could sample the coffees. A Ferrari-red coffee roaster was located in the back of the room. This gave the place a strong smokey smell. Rogers stated that the coffee smelled good from outside, just like coffee. But inside, it was overwhelming. The roaster was relocated and the coffee shop was opened. They also offer americanos, cappuccino and lattes. Rogers stated that paninis were popular at lunch so we started to offer them. Rogers said that the shop smelled a lot like a restaurant and was not what they wanted. We tried crepes at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. but this made us more distant from our original idea. We decided to stop cooking in the shop and only bake. The shop now sells Brazilian cheese rolls, quiche, muffins, brownies and biscotti. He said that they do have a food truck, and we also offer hybrid tacos. Steampunk’s coffee is carefully curated and sourced mainly from Africa and South America. Le Loup Garou is the most popular French Roast blend. It features a drawing of a werewolf on the label. This was inspired by the little dog that the couple owned. Sheehan designed the labels. The people who make the coffee are just as meticulously curated. Rogers stated, “We are proud of our Steampunk staff.” The highly skilled staff here is what makes us unique. I invest in their education and encourage them to think differently. They learn that work is a lifestyle and that it is easier to be passionate about your job. It makes people more open and more curious, and it doesn’t get boring.” Customers are the beneficiaries of this knowledge. They enjoy great coffees as well as learning about the process behind making them. Steampunk is a place where we talk about coffee. We are not a sports bar. We don’t even own a television. Rogers explained that coffee is a truly magnificent commodity. There is a certain protocol, culture, and mystique that goes into coffee. Steampunk upholds a tradition of respecting and preserving it. Our espresso is made in a Southern Italian style, using a recipe that has been handed down for four generations. It’s done in a specific way so our customers feel like they’re in Italy.” Rogers & Strahan love when tourists find their way into the shop. Rogers stated that many people visit Natchez, and enjoy stopping to relax and having a cup of coffee. We have exceeded our business expectations with what we have achieved here. It is clear that there was a need for this type shop in Natchez. Another wish has been fulfilled with the new location. The couple opened Smoot’s Grocery in Natchez last year after hearing so many people express their desire to have a place to hear the blues. It is not a bar. Smoot’s serves beer only, but music is the main focus. Blues is the predominant genre, with acts from all over the country. Rogers admitted that renovating the building was difficult. Rogers said, “It was so ran down, but I wanted to do it right.” Rogers’ love for his hometown and love for great coffee have created more opportunities. Sheehan and Rogers have many more business ideas. They envision Natchez with more restaurants and entertainment options, while keeping the historical value of Natchez. For information, visit www.steampunkcoffeeroasters.com.