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Mar 26, 2013 | 12:49 pm
A coffee shop from the U.K. with celebrity ties is opening its first U.S. location in Dallas. Called Black Sheep Coffee, it's a growing chain based in London with a renegade stance: to champion the robusta coffee bean, one overlooked by most coffee snobs.
Black Sheep was founded in London in 2013 by friends Gabriel Shohet and Eirik Holth, who loved coffee and wanted to start their own business. They've built it into a chain with 60-plus locations including cafés and take-out shops across England, Scotland, Wales, France, and the Philippines.
The Dallas shop will open at 6240 E. Mockingbird Ln., in a shopping center in the Lakewood neighborhood. Shohet says it'll open in late spring.
Dallas came onto their radar after they formed a partnership for the U.S. expansion with Kristaps Porzingis, a professional basketball player who was playing for the Dallas Mavericks. He's since been traded to the Washington Wizards, but Shohet says Dallas still seemed like the perfect place to launch.
"I love Texas, it's a great state and a lot of people are moving there," Shohet says. "There's so much growth and Dallas has a good vibe. Kristaps became a good friend and ended up investing. He moved to Washington but we'd gotten this great location on Mockingbird and we're building a local team."
They'll make Dallas their headquarters, with a plan to open another half dozen locations, plus franchise opportunities as well (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
One of the non-coffee drinks at Black Sheep Coffee is a peanut-butter hot chocolate.Black Sheep Coffee
Shohet and Holth built the company brick by brick, starting out doing pop-ups before moving into brick-and-mortar locations. Their goal is to break the wall between specialty coffee and the mass market.
"We've always been about the coffee," he says. "We source the beans from plantations in southern India, Papua New Guinea, Brazil. We get the best beans in the world: specialty-grade, shade-grown, and hand-picked."
"But our premise was also, How can we bring great quality coffee to the mass market, by providing the best coffee but not making people feel like they're disturbing the coffee sacks?" he says. "Our baristas know their coffee, but if you just want to get your drink quickly and want caramel syrup, then go for it. We make it inclusive."
Their most radical act is their use exclusively of the robusta bean, whose stronger, less delicate flavor profile has seen it relegated to uses such as instant coffee and pre-ground cans, while arabica has been the bean favored by the discerning coffee crowd. But some roasters have begun to reject the narrative that robusta is inferior to arabica.
"We're the only coffee company in the world to focus 100 percent on specialty robusta," he says. "Everybody is always touting arabica, but if you can find a great robusta that’s not commercial grade, you have a cool product."
Robusta has twice the amount of caffeine, and he says the growers they work with are more enviro-friendly, requiring less water with more cherries per bush.
"Robusta is thicker and richer, and has an amazing crema when you brew it as espresso," he says. "It's also less acidic, so it's easier to digest on an empty stomach and has more body. It might have less flavor notes than arabica, but that extra body punches through the milk. Robusta is a great bean for drinks made with milk. It's unfair that it has a bad reputation."
Their championing of a bean that others forsake goes with their entire ethos. They also eschew plastic.
"When everybody’s doing something, we do something different," he says. "That’s what our slogan is about: 'Leave the herd behind.'"
In addition to coffee, their shops have exotic lattes, smoothies, and a signature peanut-butter hot chocolate. They do a small selection of food including bagels, "toasties," and Norwegian waffles, a signature.
"But we don't want to be a restaurant — we'll offer the pastries and items that go with coffee, but we just want to focus on making the best coffee."