When walking into Alchemy Coffee on the corner of 19th and Massachusetts Street, there is the immediate smell of rich, exotic coffee in the small, intimate space. Along one wall there are two large, medieval looking devices that slowly cold brew coffee, and along the other is a counter where the magic happens.
Behind the counter is Ben Farmer, owner and self-proclaimed coffee aficionado, with a taste for specialty coffees that can’t be found anywhere else in Lawrence.
“Basically I saw a niche that wasn’t being filled here in town,” Farmer said when asked why he opened the shop. “There was no one doing the kind of coffee we are doing. I thought the pour-overs we are doing is something that is very special and unique to Lawrence.”
Farmer, who grew up in the small town of Spring Hill, Kan., took a long and laborious path to finding a way to mix his passion of coffee and community with his livelihood.
Previously, he had spent years working concrete, tree-trimming and contracting jobs. Along with working, he dabbled in five different majors at both KU and Central Missouri State University.
“In the meantime, I started getting really into home brewing, doing my own pour-overs at home,” Farmer said. “It was a hobby at first.”
After spending time in Spain with his brother, he had a changed perspective on what he wanted to do and how he wanted to live. When he returned to the United States, he was searching for a European atmosphere, and Lawrence was the closet he could find to that in the Midwest.
When the opportunity to open a coffee shop presented itself, Farmer seized it with all the gusto and confidence he had gotten through his previous entrepreneur experiences.
“I had always gone places and checked out coffee shops,” Farmer said. “It’s what I’ve always done. I’d think, oh God, if I had a coffee shop that’s what I’d do. And then finally, I came across the brew method.”
As Farmer makes a cup of coffee behind the counter, it looks like he is the midst of a science experiment mixed with an artistic flair. This isn’t your ordinary cup of Joe. This is a labor of love that is poured out in each and every individual cup.
“We pay grave attention to details,” he said.
This process of brewing is precise. Each time a customer orders a cup, the beans have been pre-measured in a streamlined process.
The customer’s chosen blend is then ground, placed in a fancy cup with a hole in the bottom and brewed slowly by hand. There is no baffled baristas here, only scientific precision and deft hands.
This brewing method happens to be the inspiration behind the name, Alchemy Coffee.
“I decided that I wanted to capture it all,” Farmer said. “There are a lot of numbers, all the temperatures, you know there is that science to it. But at the end of the day if you don’t have the touch, and aren’t paying attention, you’re going to mess it up. There is definitely that melding of art and science.”
Farmer’s most recent adventure leaves behind the hot steam usually associated with coffee, and instead infuses the rich beans with a slow drip of ice water. His new cold brew apparatuses are once again pushing Alchemy Coffee beyond the normal expectations for a corner coffee shop.
Served cold straight from a nitrogen-pressured keg, the coffee comes out smooth and creamy; with much more of caffeine kick than the average serving.
Next, Farmer plans to bottle the cold brew and sell it at other local businesses. Currently it is available at The Merch, and in the next few weeks it will be unveiled at The Burger Stand.
As far as the possibilities seem to go, however, Farmer is mostly concerned with keeping the business local and creating a community with everyone that wanders in.
“We aren’t here trying to be trendy or cool,” Farmer said. “We are trying to make the best product out there and also having fun doing it.”
Edited by Erika Reals
Photography by Emma Johnson