Paramour has continued to collect accolades since opening for business this past fall, seducing Saytown with its heady mix of altitude and urban allure (to say nothing of its gifted mixologists). The rooftop bar at 102 9th Street launched its coffee program this past December with Jesse Garcia at the helm, so I took the opportunity to pick his brain about what's in store.
A San Antonio native, Garcia spent several years as a touring musician. He was plying his trade in Nashville in the mid-2000s when a chai latte from Café Coco showed him the sleep-averting benefits of coffee. It wasn't until after he journeyed to Austin in 2008, however, that Garcia had a caffeinated epiphany. Genteel poverty forced him to switch from chai lattes to straight black coffee. The change taught him to discern the fundamentals of a great cup — beans, water, heat and time.
By the time he returned to San Antonio in 2013, he'd decided to quit his corporate drone gig and follow his bliss — a move that's kept him behind a coffee bar ever since.
Garcia spent the next two years earning his spurs, honing his skills at Halcyon Southtown and Press Coffee, always with an eye to directing his own program. That opportunity came, as so many do, by serendipity.
"[It was] the right moment and the right time," Garcia said in an email to the San Antonio Current. "I've always wanted to put together a coffee program with an open-minded individual like Chris Ware [the general manager of Paramour]. Chris was looking for someone to put together a coffee program that would work well with his bar, and our goals and vision lined up."
Garcia keeps several roasters in rotation (Heart Coffee Roasters, PT's Coffee Roasting Company and Sightglass Coffee are among the current offerings), all united by his distinct curatorial taste.
"Most people will describe coffee with such adjectives like 'dark, murky, [and] strong,'" Garcia wrote. "I however, wanted to give the community something new. I chose carefully and wanted to get our customers to say new words like 'floral, clean, aromatic,' [descriptors] mostly reserved for teas."
To that end, Garcia considers a number of criteria to decide which beans go in the hopper. While technical details matter — regional origin, roasting method, bean classification — Garcia is even more sensitive to the intangibles of the roaster.
"I look for companies who love what they do and love educating their community. Do they take themselves too seriously, or just serious enough? Are they roasting killer coffee and humble about it?" he wrote.
Garcia holds his staff — Chelsea Burge, Lissette Longoria and Matthew Kusek, all Local Coffee alumni — to similarly rigorous standards.
"A barista has to be able to be personable and educate the customer while awkwardly waiting for that slow pour to finish," he said. "This is where I learned that coffee is not just math and science, but an innate feeling."
Garcia has seen immense growth in San Antonio's coffee culture since those Halcyon days.
"[In 2013], there were maybe four legit coffee shops and two roasters in town. Now we have over 10 and four roasters, with two new roasters coming in mid-2016," he wrote.
He also foresees this influx of talent raising coffee standards well above the Starbucks bar citywide.
"The San Antonio coffee scene is exploding, and I can't wait to see what happens in the next few years," he said. "Time will definitely separate those 'neighborhood' coffeeshops [sic] from the ones trying to be inventive."
Humble to a fault, Garcia is quick to praise those who helped him establish grounds for improvement as a barista.
"John Lauber from Halcyon has always been the coffee guy I've admired. If you've ever had a latte or shot of espresso from him, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I would love to share the Slayer with him."
Given the fact that the coffee program has practically doubled Paramour's hours of operation, I asked Garcia for a day's worth of drink recommendations. He suggested beginning the day with a honey lavender, then opting for a Mattina (a caffe correcto of espresso cut with fernet) after lunch; if you stick around late enough, he recommended springing for one of Paramour's vaunted cold brew cocktails for a postprandial sip.
There are unquestionable benefits to occupying San Antonio's most (literally) high-flying coffee shop: no noise pollution, a pan-cosmopolitan view of the city, an unbeatable sunrise view. Surely there must be at least one drawback, right?
"Yeah," Garcia affirmed. "Knowing how good the coffee is and you're only on the first floor. "