Extreme Caffeine: Patika, Caffe Medici, Halcyon

Coffee is a dish best served hot. Or cold. One of each from 3 downtown shops.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.22.11
Patika Coffee
A cart at 215 Congress Ave. 535-3955, www.patikacoffee.com.
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
Andy Wigginton (above) and Nick Krupa started Patika a year and a half ago. Wigginton said he discovered good coffee in San Francisco five or six years ago, and there was no going back. For him, it was the realization that coffee didn’t have to taste, as he put it, “burnt, oily, over-roasted, ashy.” This guy should be doing my job. He bought more and more expensive equipment to brew at home, and it dawned on him that he still couldn’t re-create what you can get at a good coffeeshop. So he started one of his own, on wheels. “We’re making coffee that we’re spoiled to drink every day,” he says.
The irony of Andy Wigginton’s foray into expensive equipment? He’s making top-shelf coffee from a pour-over cone, a piece of equipment that costs about as much as a pound of premium coffee.
Hot: An 8-ounce pour-over made from small-batch Cuvee coffee from El Salvador ($2). The word for this cup is balance. Heat without anger, depth without descent. It’s an easy cup to drink over a New York Times held down with a brick. I like to read the Times and the Statesman side by side, letting my ADD move me from one paper to another, drawn by whatever grabs me. In the Statesman it’s a story on food allergies at school. In the Times it’s a revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at a Shakespeare festival in Canada.
Cold: An overnight cold-brew of Cuvee Coffee from El Salvador and Brazil ($2.75). Served simply over crushed ice, it conveys the same easy balance as the pour-over. Patika sits about where my daughter and I used to have lunch when Las Manitas was here, and my consolation is that Patika stands among the best Austin trailers for customer service and the drive to make a solid product no matter how fleeting the platform.
Caffe Medici
200 Congress Ave. No. 2B at the Austonian. 827-2770, www.caffemedici.com.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Hot: This two-story, glass-front showplace draws a certain class of downtown power drinker.  A man on a self-consciously loud business call assures his customer he’s “a million percent sure” about the latest development. I want to feel important, too, so I order the most expensive black coffee on that day’s rotating menu: a Red Bourbon Reserva from Cuvee Coffee ($3.49). Made fresh from a blend of beans done with three processes — washed, honeyed and pulped natural — it’s a journey into the world of coffee sourcing, sorting, selecting and roasting. It’s prepared in a French press, and the barista encouraged me to come back when they were pulling it as an espresso for another level of flavor experience.
The coffee oils form a marblescape of tiny, uniform beads. When it first comes up, it's almost a clouded brown, like natural forces are forming thunderheads in the cup. It’s precise coffee, neither round nor sharp, but prowling the roasted latitudes in-between.
Cold: Medici’s Twitter feed says this drink — called a Freddo ($3.88) — will be around only through the end of September. Shaken like a cocktail into a rocks glass, it’s an indulgence with a frothy head of cream over a satin sable base with the taste of coffee candy if coffee candy tasted the way we wished it did. It’s a frilly little thing, by itself not a choice of the self-conscious luxury coffee driver. But with that hot custom cup of Reserva at the wheel, it’s a stone-cold honey blonde in the passenger seat.
218 W. Fourth St. 472-9637, www.halcyonaustin.com.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, until 3 a.m. Friday. 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday. 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday.
Hot: Halcyon is the place I go for a nightcap after almost any downtown dinner. A quick jolt of espresso ($1.79) is all I need, in a mismatched cup and saucer with animal crackers. It’s well-executed, not quite the big bloom of bitter expression more specialized shops pour, but I’m usually on the patio with a cigar anyway, and I want the froth and the slam as much as I want the artisan bean-slinging. Halcyon is freighted with nostalgia for me, perched where my beloved Ruta Maya started, the place where I used to light up in Scott Campbell’s cigar shop, where I used to admire a coffee-roasting machine as alive with kinetic possibility as the enforcer drone in “Robocop” (Step away from the latte. You have 10 seconds to comply.) A long sofa sits in that spot now, plush with pillows of electric tangerine and lime. You have the rest of the afternoon to comply.
Cold: I subscribe completely to the Halcyon T-shirt creed. “Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol: All of your legal vices under one roof.” And so, yes, I’m drinking an $8 martini made with Stoli Vanil, Godiva chocolate liqueur and a shot of espresso, with a rim of melted chocolate. The background music sounds like a wheezing teakettle about now, and I need something to calm my nerves. Let’s call this cocktail the Equalizer, an afternoon counterbalance against the day’s caffeine.  It tastes about like one of those Bailey’s shots with a name that suggests body parts or terragraphic afflictions. But there’s a real coffee presence here, giving it just enough of a foundation to forgive the Joker’s smile of chocolate the fudge-dipped rim leaves behind.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)