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Form and Function Combined in Architecture-Inspired Brutal Coffee

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The iconic, brutalist University Hall building on the campus of the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. The building provided inspiration for Brutal Coffee Founder Paul Petrunia at a Young age. University of Lethbridge photo.

In recent years we’ve seen coffee pop-ups inside Brutalist buildings, we’ve seen a Brutalist-style espresso machine for consumers and another, higher-tech machine of Brutalist aesthetic for the professional sphere. Now emerging out of Los Angeles is exactly the brand of beans one should be brewing on such equipment, in such a location: Brutal Coffee.

Brutal is the passion project of Paul Petrunia, the founder and creative director of Archinect, an online publication, job board and networking resource for the architecture industry. Archinect Outpost, the organization’s online and brick-and-mortar store that sells mostly art and architecture periodicals in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, is now also the exclusive resource for retail bags of Brutal Coffee.

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Brutal Coffee. Courtesy photo.

Petrunia, who considers himself an “advanced home barista and coffee geek,” told DCN that he originally spiraled down into the minutiae of origins, espresso and home roasting while combating the sleeplessness that ensued after the birth of his daughter 12 years ago. Brutal is therefore a deeply personal and longstanding passion that he’s excited to see come into fruition.

“I’ve experimented quite a bit with small-batch roasting with a hacked popcorn maker, but when it comes to the finer details of bean sourcing and roasting, I lean on experts like Yeekai [Lim] of Cognoscenti Coffee, Brutal’s roaster,” said Petrunia. “Yeekai has been a super valuable resource during this process. The fact that he used to be an architect himself make the synergy even greater.”

Petrunia collaborated closely with Lim in terms of describing the attributes he sought, and in tasting various beans and profiles sourced and roasted by Lim. The Cognoscenti founder also coached Petrunia through the commercial fundamentals of bagging, labeling and storage.

“I have so much respect for those that dedicate their lives to the art of making great coffee,” said Petrunia, who takes time to enjoy the structured flavors of a well-wrought cup amid a life more squarely focused on architecture and publishing.

Petrunia, who is also the publisher of Ed Magazine, told DCN his love of Brutalist architecture first struck at a young age while frequenting an Arthur Erickson-designed University of Lethbridge building in Canada, where he studied dance.

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Brutal Coffee. Courtesy photo.

“I would go there multiple times per week and walk the extremely long concrete corridors to and from the dance studio,” said Petrunia. “My mother worked there, as well, so I would occasionally go with her. Boredom became an obsession with the architecture, I think.”

Today, Petrunia said he finds it funny when people assume he chose Brutal for a name because it sounds like “brew-tal,” as in brewing coffee.

“This was never my intention, but I don’t mind the association,” said Petrunis. “At a subconscious level, I think it’s the honesty of Brutalist architecture that I associate with a great cup of coffee. Stripping everything down to the raw materiality, with a timelessness and strength that doesn’t rely on ornamentation or trends to stand on its own.”

Brutal Coffee launched this month with two medium-roasted offerings: a Guatemala Ceiba with notes of tobacco, plum, and cane sugar; and a Brazil Yellow Diamond, presenting notes of almond and dark chocolate. As a coffee company, Brutal takes care not to assume an expert level of familiarity with specialty coffee among its audience, but nevertheless targets the refined tastes of the architectural community.

“Taste is very personal, so there’s no doubt a wide spectrum of opinions in how coffee tastes among architects, as with the general public,” said Petrunia. “What we’re aiming to create is a coffee that can be appreciated at a fine detail; a coffee that doesn’t need sugar or milk to make up for imperfections and bitterness. Architects tend to be perfectionists, and I both appreciate and empathize with that.”

Both products were offered as free cups of drip at Archinect Outpost’s holiday party on Dec. 15. Going forward there are no firm plans for rapid development from a business perspective, although Petrunia is excited by the possibilities.

“This is really a passion project for now, so I’d like to have some fun with it,” said Petrunia. “That definitely may include starting a coffee service, maybe looking at new and different ways to market coffee.”

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