The order is simple: coffee, black. Alex Payson '03.5 doesn't miss a beat.
He pours the 200-degree water over the grounds, watching carefully as the brown grains swell upward and begin to froth. The mixture is creamy and rich. Coffee beans give off carbon dioxide for a brief period after they are roasted. The bubbles betray a truly fresh cup to come.
He waits 50 seconds before delivering the first serving. It tastes of cocoa and stone fruit, of peaches with a salty note.
Payson is co-owner of Blue State Coffee — a shop that has established itself, in less than three years, as a staple for coffee drinkers from both Brown and the greater East Side.
Blue State has two locations on College Hill, and now runs through approximately 10,000 pounds of coffee a year. If all goes well, the company hopes to open two new locations before the end of this year, another store in Rhode Island and one in Boston.
"We try to push the envelope for how good coffee can be, to do the best we can to treat coffee well," Payson said. He says his goal is absolute quality in every cup. And the coffee-curious customer is rarely disappointed.
The company's first store, at 300 Thayer St., opened in the summer of 2007. Last January, Blue State opened a new location — the College Hill Cafe — within the Brown Bookstore, and a third branch in New Haven, Conn. near Yale.
Beyond deep-rooted passion for quality taste, the company has worked to give back to the community — donating five percent of sales to local causes — and to be as environmentally sustainable as possible, Payson said.
"Most people still use coffee as a conduit for caffeine," he said. "We want to get people to think about coffee like people think about wine."
Blue State, like many independent Providence cafes, brews coffee roasted at New Harvest Coffee Roasters in Pawtucket.
New England's coffee culture is "exploding right now," said Ryan Ludwig, manager of the College Hill Cafe. Interest in the art of coffee is growing nationwide, he said, and Providence's local coffee scene is "very passionate but also very small."
The University's proximity creates a great opportunity to reach out to students — often the most open to "getting out there and trying new things," he said. He recently rearranged the bar at his cafe to facilitate conversation between baristas and customers.
These conversations are incredibly valuable, he said, adding that he hopes to "create a community around the shop," to "really make the impression that this is a quality product."
Whether or not the coffee is appreciated to its fullest "totally depends on the person," he said, but he is not pretentious about his art.
Sugar and heavy cream are considered to mask the true flavor of the roast, to take away from the full appreciation of its complex flavors. "But a mocha is a delicious drink," he said with a smile. "I have absolutely no problem with it."
The location on the Pembroke campus offers open coffee cuppings every Friday at noon. Community members are invited to taste different blends, develop their palate and learn about the art and theory of coffee.
As Payson clears off the counter, he speaks excitedly of a package he ordered last week. Inside is an aroma kit full of 36 samples, each one a distinct coffee aroma. His pallete, he says, awaits fine tuning.