A new roastery and coffee bar in Midtown Houston called Un Caffè is giving guests a taste of Italian-style coffee with a distinct focus on craft and performance.
Un Caffè Founder, Roaster and Barista Soonkack Kook also embraces the Italian cultural practice of greeting each guest at the bar.
“They can watch every [drink-making] performance,” Kook recently told Daily Coffee News. “I give them surprise drinks. I ask them how their day is going.”
Kook, who initially moved to the United States from Korea for college 20 years ago, spent the past 14 months renovating a 1,900-square-foot space inside Un Caffè’s 90-year-old building. The result is a modern roastery and retail bar awash in shades of red, green and white, reflecting Kook’s reverence for the birthplace of espresso, Italy.
“Espresso is an Italian culture,” said Kook. “I get it, light roasting is the trend now, but I wanted to know Italian roasting, too. When my coffee journey began I wanted to learn trendy light roasting, but at the same time I wanted to offer dark roasting to my customers.”
A certified Q Grader and authorized Specialty Coffee Association trainer (AST), Kook is already an expert in coffee, but he credits 2016 Espresso Italiano Champion Daehoon Park with helping him develop his methods for Italian-style coffee.
For lighter roasts, Kook said he embraces a technique known as Environmental Temperature Response Roasting (ETeRR), as developed by Joo Sunghyun, winner of the 2017 Korea Coffee Roasting Championship.
“With green beans having 12-14% moisture at the beginning, as you roast, the water in beans will evaporate,” Kook said of the technique. “The amount of the heat should be adjusted depending on how much water is left in the beans, which can be estimated by looking at the environmental ROR [rate of rise].”
At the back of the shop, Kook uses an Ikawa Pro100 sample roaster prior to loading small batches into an Arc 800 roaster or larger production batches in a Probat P12.
Those roast support classic espresso options prepared through a Slayer Steam espresso machine, or drip and cold coffees made with a Ground Control brewing system. The Einspänner, a Viennese drink consisting of espresso topped with a small amount of whipped cream, is another European import by way of Korea.
“Einspänner is a popular drink in Korea, and you don’t see the drink here,” said Kook. “Unfortunately my whipping machine broke on the second day, so I quickly changed that to an affogato, but it is coming back once I receive my brand new whipping machine.”
A one-person operation on most days, Un Caffè is not pursuing wholesale accounts, although the capacity is there. For now, Kook said he wants Un Caffè to be a friendly coffee resource for the community while he continues to develop his own skills.
Later this month, Kook plans to receive additional training at the Probat U.S. headquarters outside Chicago. Next month, Kook will attend the SCA Expo in Portland as a volunteer.
“I feel the love from the community and I want to keep this vibe,” said Kook. “I want my shop to be a place for all my present and future friends and community.”
Un Caffe is located at 3217 Milam St in Houston. Tell DCN’s editors about your new coffee shop or roastery here.
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.