Small business Monday – Focus on Domestique Coffee

Birmingham AL, coffee
Birmingham AL, coffee
Nathan and Michael Pocus, owners of Domestique Coffee. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Do you appreciate a smooth cup of coffee with a great back story?  Of course you do!  Let’s hear all about Domestique Coffee’s mission of “Easy access to high quality coffee” as we focus on the Pocus brothers in this week’s edition of Small Business Monday!

Nathan – (speaking of his brother, Michael)  I steer the ship. He makes it float.  My background is in video production and branding. We kept having ideas for other people’s businesses, then we had an idea for a cycling-themed brand.  I started thinking, “What’s it going to take to do a coffee truck and whose coffee would we want to use?” We had just gotten back from Haiti from that documentary trip in 2014 and that’s when we decided that we wanted to start researching how we could use Haitian coffee.  It was then that we launched Domestique. The founding idea was easy access to high-quality coffee.  Our initial idea was a coffee truck.   Michael was managing the coffee program at Urban Standard at the time. 

Birmingham AL, coffee
Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Michael – The Haiti trip was in 2013.  2014 is when we really started to talk about the brand and research how we wanted to do it the right way and roast our own coffee.. Our nitro cold brew is actually what got us to start this whole business, with our first test of it in January of 2015.  We had a pop up stand at Open Shop in Woodlawn.  People really enjoyed it and liked everything.

Birmingham AL
Michael and Nathan Pocus prepare a coffee delivery for Hero Donuts. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Nathan – On their location at 3017 6th Ave S. in Lakeview: Our great-grandfather helped build the city. He was a mason and helped build the limestone buildings downtown.  The hard part for us was not having the capital to grow. We built out our roasting facility ourselves.  We did all of the construction here by ourselves.  That’s what took us so long to get open.  We did all of the drywall, redid all of the electrical and plumbing.  The roasting room didn’t exist.  Eventually we’ll have this modular retail wall. We painted the floors, built the doors, and treated the wood (walls) with a Japanese wood burning technique.  (The wood on the roasting room is also “roasted.”)

Birmingham AL
Photo via Domestique Coffee

Michael – The nitro brew starts with a cold brew process, is essentially cold submersion of the coffee beans. It decreases the acidity and bitterness in the coffee because you aren’t using heat. You have to let it sit longer to extract the caffeine.  That’s the process of brewing it but the nitrogen is added later.  After you keg it, you add the nitrogen to the keg.  You have to add a certain psi of nitrogen, then agitate the keg and let it rest.  Then when it’s poured, you get the consistency of a Guinness beer.  It adds a new take to an old drink with a nice velvety mouth feel.  It has a lot of caffeine and can get you wired!   It’s a also a healthy alternative to energy drinks because it’s so easy to drink , that people who generally add cream and sugar to their coffee can drink it straight and not have the added calories.

coffee
Nitro cold brew. Photo via Domestique Coffee

Nathan – One of the other benefits of the nitro is that, as opposed to just regular cold brew , it gives you the aromatics, kind of more like a hot beverage.  Once you pour it, the bubbles escape to the surface with the aroma and it’s a more complete experience.

Haiti used to be the world’s third largest coffee exporter, but in over two generations of political unrest and natural disasters, they lost their coffee production infrastructure.   So we start working with a group in Haiti at that point to bring their coffee into the US.  Now we work with other growers around the world, but Haiti is still our primary focus.   That’s what we use on our in our nitro cold brew .  That’s how it all started.

Birmingham AL, coffee
Michael carefully monitors each batch of coffee as it’s roasting. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Our roaster sets us apart (fluid bed roaster) because the beans are encapsulated in hot air and never touch the metal. The chaff is sucked out of the top.  In traditional drum roasting, the chaff stays in and gives the lighter roast coffee a bit of a sour taste when brewed.  As it is roasted darker, it produces a smoky flavor.  In our process, the chaff is removed, so the cup is way cleaner and you’re actually tasting the coffee.

Birmingham AL
Coffee, before it’s roasted. Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Nathan – Coffee is a cultural experience because it’s a global product.  We want to know who is growing it, where it’s coming from. People have spent generations growing coffee and that’s what their whole livelihood is built upon.  Nowadays with talk of building walls that could isolate us, we want to be the opposite of that opening up cultural borders. Coffee is not just a product that’s created in a lab. It’s something that’s grown and changes every year.  There are multiple varieties of coffee plants.  There are so many steps along the way that affect the flavor.  A lot of what you taste comes from the growers.

Michael – It matters what you grown around a coffee plant, as well.  If you plant other crops, like bananas and oranges around it, they help add nitrogen back to the soil so you don’t deplete the soil of its resources.

Birmingham AL, coffee
Photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

Nathan – Birmingham is definitely a food city.  With Food and Wine, Cooking Light moving their headquarters to town, there are worldwide chefs visiting here and demo-ing their stuff.  High end chefs can start businesses here easier than other places.  With people like our new mayor,  Randall Woodfin and our councilor, Darrell O’Quinn,  I feel they’ll be driving the city forward with a good vision of the future.

We focus on the interconnected nature of businesses.  The owners of Tropicaleo are our friends, and serve our coffee.  We go there and talk about Puerto Rico and how we can help the recovery after the hurricane.  It’s all about us growing as a community. We can’t do it by ourselves.  We grow if Birmingham grows.  It’s the circle of life, the ecosystem of everyone rising together.

Birmingham AL
Domestique just opened a cafe in Satellite! Photo via Domestique Coffee

Michael – The other side of Birmingham that’s growing is music.  I’ve been playing in bands all over town since I was sixteen.  Places like Iron City, Avondale Brewery’s big stage and Saturn bring in a lot of shows.  That tends to create more boom and bust traffic, though.  We need to work on ways to have more consistent foot traffic.

Birmingham AL
Photo via Domestique Coffee

Nathan – We want to be here for the long term. We want to do something different and contribute to Birmingham as a city.  We are just trying to understand what it means to be a business.  What is capitalism going forward?  We want to coin the term – conscientious capitalism.   We want to make money but we want to keep a mission is our business.  We want to come up with ideas to help Birmingham grow.  We want Birmingham to be a liveable city. We’re not against the suburbs, but we want people to live, work and play here in Birmingham.

Birmingham AL
Photo via Domestique Coffee

For more info, https://www.facebook.com/domestiquecoffee/

Another recent small business post:

https://bhamnow.com/2017/11/20/small-business-monday-spotlight-jones-valley-teaching-farm-produce-stand/