2015 Chicago Rising Star Artisan Xavier Alexander of Metric Coffee Co.

2015 Chicago Rising Star Artisan Xavier Alexander of Metric Coffee Co.
May 2015

Metric Coffee Co.
2021 West Fulton Street Suite K-101B
Chicago, IL 60612
metriccoffee.com

Photos

Starbucks baristas aren’t always in it for the coffee. Xavier Alexander is the exception, making a dedicated 14-year climb from pulling fully automated shots into paper cups , to roasting his own beans as co-founder of Chicago’s Metric Coffee Co.

A self-identified coffeephile, Alexander found his calling with a position in roasting and quality control at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee. Alexander was ambitious, but as he continued working, he realized the better wisdom in coffee came from admitting—and exploring—everything he had yet to learn about the beans.

Intelligentsia wasn’t just a serious training ground, it’s where Alexander met his future business partner Darko Arandjelovic, owner of Caffe Streets. Besides a mutual respect for an integrity-driven approach to coffee, Alexander and Arandjelovic had a similar itch to start something entirely their own. Two years after the concept for Metric was born, and one year after opening, they’re roasting their own beans with a German cast iron drum roaster. And while Alexander is still driven by a measured, meticulous perfection—which the name Metric implies—he now roasts with an intuition that can only be earned from more than a decade of studied attention to coffee. 

 


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Interview with Chicago Rising Star Artisan Xavier Alexander of Metric Coffee Co.

Caroline Hatchett: Where did you get the idea to start Metric Coffee Co.?
Xavier Alexander:
The initial concept was visualized two years ago with Darko Arandjelovic, my business partner and owner of Caffe Streets. At the time, I was head roaster and manager at Intelligentsia. We both wanted a place with both good quality beans and services.

CH: Tell me about your roaster.
XA:
It’s a 1961 German Probat cast iron drum roaster. This is a solid work horse and very hard to find. When we finally found one, it was one that was owned by the great grandson of the founder of the company. We foolishly paid for it in advance and thought the seller had disappeared with money. Seven months in, we were about to go to Hamburg to hunt him down, but he ended up delivering. The machine is a legacy, but when it arrived, it was nasty.  We spent 10 months taking it apart and putting it back together. A lot of people really helped us, some for free and some for very little charge.  It was interesting, but at least now we know the machine inside out.

CH: What is your approach to roasting?
XA:
I like to roast in a way that highlights whatever is unique to a particular coffee bean without over-developing. But I also think a lot about how to craft the drink. As a roaster or “cook,” there’s only so much I can do. In the end, the user has to choose the right water quality, filters, methods, etc. in order to fully bring out all the qualities.

CH: You’re not a big company, yet you’ve managed to get your name out there. How did you do it?
XA:
Everything is word of mouth. We haven’t had the budget to pay for advertising, but we’ve met a lot of friends, who have help spread the news about us. We also have a strong brand and concept.  The steam punk look helps. Darko and his reputation with Caffe Streets have also helped us land a lot of clients. We’re about 15 accounts strong now, mostly restaurants, a couple of cafés, and some online retailing. Last week we had an order from Germany and we just filled one from Switzerland.

CH: So what’s next?
XA:
We want to create a retail space here. There are 120 startups in the area, but no place to get coffee. It’ll allow us to sell our products exactly the way we want. We can nerd and geek out as much as we want. Darko’s wife, who is a chef, can make juices and baked goods. We want to create an awesome spot for people and make them fall in love with our coffee. Everybody deserves good coffee. We actually just got all the permits for it. We’re just waiting for an architect now.