Before he got into coffee Zayde Naquib did post-production work for the film and video industry. And though he enjoyed it, sitting in front of a computer for 16 hours a day without much human interaction, made him crave something else.
So, 10 years ago, he got a job at a café near his house. “I’ve always loved food and coffee so figured why not?” he said. What started as a part-time job soon morphed into something else as he grew more and more in love with the business – and, admittedly, more and more obsessed with coffee.
He’d spend three years at Plant Earth Eco Café in Hermosa Beach, followed by a position on the opening team of Two Guns Espresso before heading into the specialty coffee world at Espresso Cielo in Santa Monica.
He’d also spent a lot of time at home experimenting with roasting at home. Learning – and absorbing all he experienced -- he began writing a business plan for what would eventually become Bar Nine, with the thought of creating a coffee roaster/café designed to elevate the coffee experience.
That was six years ago. In April 2014, he opened Bar Nine, a 3,400-square-foot ode to coffee that’s as serious about roasting, brewing and coffee education as it is about sustainability. The shop is partially solar-powered, uses compostable packaging and serves coffee to go in reusable glass jars. Bar Nine also relies on innovations like nitrogen-flushed, pre-ground, and packaged coffee for use in hot brew, cold brew, ice brew, or concentrate formats.
It should be noted, too, that its expansive bar features a shiny Modbar espresso making system, which was the first in Los Angeles, along with an on-premises matte black Probatone 12 Series roaster. The space also houses a cupping bar with cuppings held weekly.
Named a 2017 Rising Star by StarChefs, Naquib has been touted for not only changing the way we enjoy coffee but influencing how we buy and brew it. Between sips of a brew of he – no joke – nursed for 45 minutes – Symrise got his thoughts on roasting, education, and why he’s been known to order – and enjoy – diner coffee.
On what makes Bar Nine special: We have ambitions aside from coffee. We’re extremely hospitality -focused. That means paying attention to our guests’ needs but also taking care of our employees. After being both a barista and manager at various cafes around LA, I saw how perpetually dissatisfied employees could be. I’m always striving to not only do more and do better for our guests but to do more and better for the people that work here. That means we work on a gratuity free model and offer a higher base wage program.
We’re also very focused on sustainability which means we have no paper cups at all. We serve coffee in glass jars and ask guests to return them on an honor system. We think it’s very powerful to ask something of our guests and basically say we’ll give you this and hope you can give us that. A little over a year ago we introduced offering 25 cents off their next drink when they bring the jar back. [Guests who bring in their own cup also get 25 cents off.] Though it was a tough in the beginning and took some time for everyone to “get,” we now spend less on glass jars than we would on paper cups.
On the secret to the perfect cup: I don’t think there’s any one secret. It all really starts and ends with the ingredients and in farmers taking diligent and appropriate steps with the beans and then baristas and roasters using proper quality control so you’re representing the product as faithfully as you can.
The exciting thing about our work is that the product is constantly changing – it’s a seasonal product after all, so you need to be constantly adjusting the way you’re roasting and approaching coffee and try to improve on what you did the week before. I like that the work is never finished; that we‘re constantly trying to improve.
On coffee regions: We run the gamut in what we offer but mostly feature beans from Ethiopia which is the birthplace of coffee and one of the places where you’ll find the most exciting varieties of taste. It’s endless what’s going on over there. We also focus on neighboring estates in Panama and in particular, the Gesha variety. Most of our work this year is focused on Gesha, which is known for being exceptionally floral with a delicate body and a lot of flavor. It’s generally has a citrus and jasmine character.
Gesha is known for being the most expensive variety of coffee in the world, so it’s really exciting to be able to share it in a big way, as most guests aren’t able to have access to it normally.
On coffee education: We try to showcase our coffees with love, care and warmth without being pretentious in any way. We think of ourselves as storytellers. It’s not just about the products you’re serving or the experience you’re trying to create or the people you bring on your team; it’s also about the larger story you’re telling.
On how it works at Bar Nine: We have one coffee a day, offered three ways, as espresso drinks, hot, and iced coffee. Guests put a lot of trust in our team and hopefully by the end of the week, we’ve made some important connections. I’d rather spend that time on a few coffees, knowing our limitations than offer 7 or 10 coffees we haven’t mastered as dutifully. Our café also serves in-house food and pastry like olive oil cake, seasonal tartines, shortbread, and more that are served because they specifically go well with coffee.
On his favorite brew: Usually, I drink a black filtered coffee. It’s super simple but I like to spend my time with it – I’ve been nursing this one now for the past 45 minutes. I like to go slow with it and appreciate it.
I’m into a variety of tastes though I like coffees that have fruit and floral characteristics. Coffee is a fruit itself.
On what people may be surprised to know about coffee: Just the amount of tastes possible. We work on a lot of large scale events and get to observe folks who don’t drink specialty coffee. It’s in these settings where we see people’s eyes light up and say how delicious something is that often mean the most. We just want people to like what they’re drinking. If it’s delicious that’s all that matters.
On roasting: Everyone has a different style. The wonderful thing about roasting is that there are so many ways to get to even roast development, it really depends on the coffee and what you’re trying to communicate with it. In our case, we want to honor the ingredient and showcase its best qualities while not adding roast taste.
We always want the integrity of the coffee to shine through. It can be a harder line to balance but that’s our goal. It requires a little more attention to detail. Ultimately, it’s about our guests. We use an omni roasting style which means we’ll roast it to present its best taste but also make sure it brews well in a variety of brew methods and extractions.
We have a home subscription program so no matter if our guests use a Mr. Coffee, French Press, Chemex, or an Espresso machine, we need to make sure they still get that wonderful taste experience.
On working with farmers: Having a direct relationship with the farmer is critical to us. We’re able to get the most information from them when we all work together. We need to know about quality insurance reports and the moisture percentage of the coffee, so we can deliver consistency and quality. It’s all about the origin and understanding the growing process. Again, we are storytellers. Once this coffee has gotten to your door it’s had a long history behind it. We want to be able to tell that story through great taste and an affordable price point that makes our guests happy.
We have been working with Ninety Plus Gesha Estates in Panama the past few years, they are doing some incredible work in growing and processing the Gesha Variety, we feel lucky to be able to share their work.
On drinking coffee elsewhere: It’s important for me to have a perspective and know what’s out there. So yes, that means I’ll have coffee at a Dunkin Donuts, iHop, or Starbucks if I happen to be at one. In fact, a couple of years ago I started an experiment where I went to different diners and ordered the house coffee. One of the things that struck me is that these cups were being served by what’s called a natural processed coffee. It’s a process you don’t often find in specialty coffees and has generally thought to be polarizing for guests as these coffees are very fruit-forward.
Realizing in many ways those tastes are more common to the average consumer, we started carrying really high-end naturals more regularly, which is unusual for a specialty coffee roaster but is in many ways for approachable for the guest.
I believe in trying all kinds of coffees with all different kinds of approaches. It’s similar to tasting different wines. The variety of taste can be very exciting.
I’m also struck by the diversity of tastes at the coffee shops in LA. In other cities I think there’s a similar style but here there’s no one defined taste. A lot of people are brewing coffee differently and that’s what I get excited about -- comparing and contrasting those differences and learning from them.
Final thoughts: Coffee is best when shared with others. Our focus at Bar Nine is just that; it’s really more of a vehicle for a great guest experience.