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Coffee in Kentuckiana

Name: Sunergos Coffee
Location: 2122 South Preston Street, Louisville, KY
Roasters: Sunergos Coffee

Rating: 3+

I didn’t have a lot of hope for finding good coffee when I visited Louisville a few weeks back. I was there for a wedding and something of a family reunion so my coffee shop sleuthing hours were limited to the early weekend mornings. That excluded one downtown location, and the rest of my good coffee candidate list came up a bit shorter than I would have liked. Not that any of this was a surprise, mind you. I have a deeply cynical attitude about obtaining quality food in Midwestern states. My attitude may be unfounded, especially these days, but is deeply embedded in my years of growing up in a small, Midwestern town where exotic cuisine was (and probably still is) equated with Taco Bell.

Enter Sunergos Coffee, a location that came to me through a helpful tweet that I can sadly no longer find. Not that I had high hopes for Sunergos either, given their beguiling name and the lack of information available about their coffee on their website, which happens to be under construction. I’ve found in past reconnaissance work that “website under construction” is often an unintended euphemism for closed. Nevertheless, I headed towards Sunergos’ supposed location, just east of I-95, right next to a warehouse district and not too far from the University of Louisville. I noticed the slightest touch of Bohemia – an art gallery in a former barber shop, I think it was – that spruced up an otherwise working class neighborhood. Then I found it. Sunergos sits right next to an old school bakery (which happens to have some pretty delicious donuts).

Inside, I was struck by the glowing blue, 2 group Astoria Rapallo espresso machine, which I don’t think is necessarily the greatest machine but which does look nice. It also fits with the vintage look of the shop . Next to the machine sat a pretty spectacular antique grinder, which the baristas still use. I was so far enjoying the aesthetic but still wondered about the coffee.

Then I noticed the more promising details. A roaster was housed in the back of the cafe behind a glass wall, which promised fresh-roasted coffee.  The menu included micro-lot coffee options (decent green) brewed via either Chemex or Hario V60 (premium brewing options), three choices of regularly Fetco-brewed coffee (lots of brewed coffee options), and a single origin espresso in addition to their blend (multiple espresso options). Furthermore, the collection of cups resting on the espresso machine and hanging from the unusual, made-of-sticks “mug tree” included souvenir mugs from some of the country’s best roasters. At that point, I found myself liking Sunergos if for no other reason than that they understood the concept of good coffee.

On my first visit, I opted for the Costa Rica San Janillo. On my second visit, I chose the Nicaragua La Manita. I had both coffees made via the V60 since I wanted something brewed to order and the Chemex was too much coffee for one person.  The Costa Rica was a nice, bright coffee with a buttery mouthfeel and notes of chocolate and kaffir lime (3+).  I liked it quite a bit, but remember liking the Nicaragua slightly more (4-?). I remember the latter being more complex and a bit lighter and sweeter. Perhaps better made. It turns out, however, that drinking it while getting lost on the way to the airport isn’t the best environment in which to evaluate coffee.

I tried both Sunergos’ espresso blend and the Harrar single origin espresso. The Harrar exhibited some classic blueberry notes and a nice syrupy mouthfeel but lacked depth and body and otherwise served as a good example of how single origin espressos can be interesting without being particularly good (3-). I liked the blend, however, which, at the hands of my barista, produced a long, slightly thin shot with not a lot of crema, but a very layered espresso. My list of tasting notes included toasted bread, pear, apple, grape and tobacco on the finish (3+).

But I feel compelled to spend a few minutes commenting on Sunergos’ insides, which struck me, when I first entered the shop, as a typical college town coffeehouse. The furniture is mismatch vintage and the lighting was an antiques fixtures showroom. But the designers weren’t simply trying to save a few bucks or make their environment something akin to a frat house by stocking it with second hand furniture. The furniture is  too nice and too deliberately placed.

My next thought was that Sunergos was reveling in the sort of irony carefully crafted by hipsters pilfering far away places and past decades for styles they can reclaim as their own. But that’s when I realized how location matters. Certainly there is a sense of irony to be found in Sungergos’ decorating scheme, but it isn’t the callous and unconnected sort brandished by someone who might open a similarly designed cafe in the Bay Area. Instead, it is the deeply sad sort. The contents of Sunergos could have been collected from the houses around it. The decoration scheme here pays homage too without mocking its firmly midwestern, working class surroundings.

(Update: A second Sunergos location recently opened up at 306 West Woodlawn in Belmont Beechmont.)

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11 comments to Coffee in Kentuckiana

  • Sunergos Coffee was the first place I learned coffee can taste delicious without sugar or milk. It’s also the place I first saw latte art, wrote half of my papers for college, and learned about this larger world of third wave coffee.

    I’m glad you appreciated what they’re doing in the Midwest.

  • David

    Try Blue Dog cafe next time on Frankfort Avenue

  • Natalie Kumaratne

    I really like how you rated the coffee houses. I am writing a blog myself about local coffee houses in the Phoenix area for a class assignment. I also enjoyed your pictures, and how they were embedded into the text. I have never been to Louisville, but I felt that you wrote the blog in a way I could relate, such as the comparison to Taco Bell. I was able to get the feel of the coffee house without being there. I liked how you added the update to the current location.

  • THuffman

    Thanks for the review; I like the way you style your reviews. I am a ‘Ville resident who has been in love with Sunergos since they opened on Preston. The new location is in Beechmont (not Belmont), though. I live two blocks away and am so happy to have a good local coffee shop.

  • Anyone knows what brand that amazing grinder is of? I’d love to read some about it.

  • Sunergos is one of my and my wife’s favorite coffee shops. We are glad they opened a second shop. The baristas have helped my wife and I grow in our understanding of coffee and cupping. We like the decor of both shops too.

    On your next trip to Louisville you may want to try La Vida Java or Java Brewing Co. They have good coffee and good baristas too. But we just drink coffee, black, no sugar, no espressos.

    Did you try Nords, the bakery next to Sunergos? With the ethnic diversity of Louisville there is some great food available. A personal favorite is the Vietnam Kitchen.

  • Couple of other great Louisville options not previously mentioned:

    The Anchorage Cafe:
    11505 Park Road, Anchorage, KY
    Features Counter-Culture Coffee on a 3 group Victoria Arduino Adonis and V60 brewing

    Quills Coffee:
    930 Baxter Avenue, Louisville, KY 40204
    Features P.T.’s Flying Monkey’s on a La Marzocco 3 Group Mechanical Paddle Linea with Sunergos roasted coffee for brewing

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