Alchemy Coffee Owner breaks down the world of (and within) coffee via The Lab

by | Mar 5, 2015 | POLITICS

Macchiato, Cappuccino, Cold Brew, Pour Over… do you really know what these are? Many of us go into our local cafés daily (or every once in a while) for a cup of coffee or a latte.

Macchiato, Cappuccino, Cold Brew, Pour Over… do you really know what these are? Many of us go into our local cafés daily (or every once in a while) for a cup of coffee or a latte.

There are tons of options, most of them with little to no description. We might want to try something new, but we aren’t sure what most of the drinks actually are. Some of us lack the courage to ask what a certain drink consists of, and we may be at the counter and don’t want to hold up the line.

Or we’re just afraid of the embarrassment associated with asking the “hip” barista.

Eric Spivack, owner and chief coffee peddler at Alchemy Coffee wants to educate Richmond about coffee, and make people feel comfortable about asking these kinds of questions.

He does so with his approachable environment at his lab, the appropriately named “The Lab by Alchemy Coffee.”

Cue music:

There are no fancy names for coffee drinks at the lab–they are laid out bare bones. For example, there is no list of different lattes; if you want a latte they will simply ask you what kind of syrup you want.

“We have a lot of interactions with people that don’t even understand the structure of a latte. So [we’re] trying to continuously reinforce that it’s really simple, it’s just espresso with milk,” says Spivack of his customers.

Spivack is from the Northwest, and having lived in Portland and Seattle, the coffee capitals of the country, he’s got java in his veins.

Alchemy started as a “coffee hut,” a trailer set-up at VCU selling coffee, lattes, and food for on-the-go VCU students. He had been looking for a space to open up a shop and was approached by the Dean of the VCU Art School. The Alchemy Lab opened up next to the new Fine Arts Building at 814 W. Broad St.

Spivack explained how he does things at the Alchemy Lab and gives a complete science breakdown of the world of coffee.

So what exactly is a Cappuccino, or the difference between Drip Coffee and a Pour Over?

Latte= espresso with milk, add your flavor (caramel, vanilla, mocha, etc.)

Macchiato= two shots of espresso, tiny amount of milk, results in a 4 oz. drink (that caramel macchiato you’re getting at Starbucks, FYI… it’s not a real macchiato).

Cappuccino= two shots of espresso, separated layers of milk–one is a dryer base, one is a wet base. 4 oz. as well.

At Alchemy, they have a double shot espresso standard when it comes to drinks. No more, no less.

“We have the double standard for a couple of reasons. It maintains a strong coffee profile within the drink, so if you get milk in it, it doesn’t get overly diluted,” said Spivack. “If you get an 8 oz. latte, you’ll immediately notice the coffee more because you’ve got more ratio of coffee than milk.”

Drip Coffee = a batch brew of coffee made in a large thermal, held up to 45 minutes, pre-made to order.

Pour-Over = A single cup brewed by hand, takes about 3-4 minutes.

If you prefer milk in your coffee and want your coffee right away, then Drip Coffee is the way to go. Alchemy’s house Drip Coffee generally never changes.

The reserve coffees for the Pour-Overs are changed about once a month. They have four reserve coffees for the Pour-Overs. If you like your coffee black and have a couple minutes to wait for it then go for a Pour-Over.

“When we do [Pour-Overs] we can use a higher grade of coffee, [which is] not to say that the regular coffee we use isn’t phenomenal,” said Spivack. “But we can step it up to a higher level with our Pour-Overs and serve even more delicious Single-Origin coffees.”

Single-Origin coffee?

Single-Origin means one type of coffee, traced back to a single region from either an individual farmer or a co-op of similar farmers in one area. At Alchemy, they generally source Single-Origin coffees because they are more distinct in flavor.

“As opposed to blends, where you’re taking coffee from all over the world in different regions, each coffee individually has its own note,” said Spivack. “You generally wind up erasing those single notes, in favor of producing a more homogenous combination.”

Basically, mass-produced coffee is able to sell blends of different coffee beans from all over the world. Many are able to use bad ones because when they are blended as Spivack said the notes erase themselves, so it doesn’t taste bad, just average.

When sourcing Single-Origins, they tend to be higher grade.

If you prefer Iced Coffee, Alchemy does it three different ways.

Regular Iced Coffee= done with a French press but in a cold environment.

Japanese Iced Coffee= in the Japanese ice method, the coffee brewed is hot, it drips one drop at a time onto ice so it doesn’t spend as much time going from hot to cold preventing oxidation. They use their reserve coffees and treat it like a Pour-Over.

Yama Tower= it is all done cold and drip-brewed through a chamber of grounds. The water moves through the chamber of grounds down to the receptacle below. It’s a slow drip extraction, taking 12 hours for the water to pass through the grounds. (pictured below)

So what are some differences between the different regions that coffee comes from?

In Africa, they use sun or natural processing. The coffee dries in beds for two weeks, which permits some fermentation to happen on the outside of the bean, creating more tart notes.

In Latin America, they use the wash-process because of the amount of rain they get (as opposed to Africa’s lack thereof). The wash-process is less wasteful as opposed to sun and natural processing, because it has to constantly be raked to stop the beans from getting moldy.

Coffee itself is a science. Alchemy’s differentiation, or “branding,” from other coffee shops is the science, understanding, and beauty of coffee.

“Alchemy was one of the original sciences, but there was an element of sorcery to it. It was two things. One was taking ordinary objects and turning them into precious metals. So to some degree coffee is like that; it’s an ordinary fruit and there’s something great that comes out of it,” said Spivack. “It was [also] a search for the elixir of life and I argue that more than any other beverage outside of water, coffee is easily the most discernible as the elixir of life. From long-term health benefits to short term [feelings] about it as you’re drinking it.”

The Lab by Alchemy Coffee also hosts tasting events when they bring in new coffees. They test out grind settings and brewing methods for the coffees and it is open to the public to test out. People get to see how it’s done and the folks at Alchemy are open to teaching people about home brewing techniques as well.

Alchemy is located at 814 W. Broad St.

To learn more about the shop, and find out about upcoming events, check out their Facebook or Website:

In addition to coffee, the Lab offers tea, sandwiches, pastries, and other food items.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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