But at Caragay’s tiny shop in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood (where the simple decor was inspired by Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, he tells me), you’ll find coffee in a purer form. On a weekday mid-morning, Spro is quiet. A handful of customers sit on a reclaimed church pew at small tables along one white wall. Conversation is muted. There’s no music in the background and no WiFi to distract from the business at hand: coffee, of course.
The latest trend in independent coffee shops — such as Rue’s Volta Coffee and Tea in Gainesville, Fla., WTF in Brooklyn, Barista in Portland, Ore., Peregrine in the District — is coffee ground and brewed to order, using a variety of manual brewing methods. But Spro takes coffee geekdom to new heights.
Ric Rhinehart, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, says these new coffee shops, with their single-sourced beans, various brewing methods and rigorously trained baristas, are simply following “the evolutionary process of consumers to move upstream.”
Even by that standard, Spro might well be in a class by itself. Caragay claims that Spro is “the only shop in the world” to do what it does.
“It’s a pretty big claim,” he admits. But if you look at it in numerical terms, Caragay just might be right. First, there’s the function of roasters: the businesses that often engage in exclusive relationships with shops to provide products or services, from sacks of beans to coffee filters and flavorings, from equipment to training for the staff. “We have no particular loyalty to any one roaster,” Caragay boasts.
Spro has five regular companies providing beans — including Barefoot, Origins Organic from Vancouver and Intelligentsia, in Chicago and Los Angeles — along with carefully selected coffees from any number of smaller companies, such as Tim Wendelboe Coffee in Oslo, Norway, and the New Jersey-based OQ Coffee Co.
Second, he says, is the brewing: “No other company offers the seven methods that we do, and nobody else takes the time to pair the beans to the brewing.” So with all of the potential combinations — seven or more coffees and seven brewing methods available on any given day — Spro may indeed stand alone. However, Ryan Jensen, who owns Peregrine Espresso near Eastern Market, itself a place that offers a rarefied coffee experience, cautions that any claims of singularity might be short-lived: “In the year since Jay opened, I’ve heard of other places doing the same things, or trying to.”