Typically, bakeries bake and coffee shops roast and brew, but Three Brothers Bakery is giving Houstonians a new one-two punch. On November 1, the local bakery chain debuted a new coffee program featuring beans roasted in-house. Though the bakery has offered up class-act pastries, cakes and cookies for nearly 70 years, coffee was admittedly always considered an afterthought. That changed when former customer—and now roast master and coffee saucier—Jack Babin approached bakery co-owner Bobby Jucker and his wife a year ago about raising the bar on their beans, noting that their prior program lacked passion and quality.
In order to get an understanding of their starting point, they conducted a blind tasting of four different vendors before realizing their former source was not meeting their expectations: the coffee was over-roasted, too acidic, and at times stale, explains Babin, who says the difference now “is that our stuff is absolutely fresh.”
When attempts to help another roaster become certified kosher fell through, the trio decided to take the leap and bring the entire operation under their own roof. Though Babin had some prior experience during his 20 years in the industry, both he and Jucker had a lot to learn regarding specific methods and techniques for proper roasting. The pair traveled to Diedrich Roasting School in Idaho and after three weeks of tinkering in Houston, Babin had developed profiles he felt confident enough to sell.
“We decided that we wanted to serve really good coffee to our customers and that was really important to me and it’s really important to Jack,” says Jucker, who also notes that in the coffee industry, things aren’t necessarily as transparent as they seem. He and Babin want to bring clarity to their own program through careful selection of beans and ingredients.
Part of the upgrading process also included the acquisition of top-of-the-line La Marzocca espresso machines for each of the three bakeries and a Diedrich roaster at the South Braeswood location (locals may recognize the Diedrich name from the shops that used to grace Montrose). Customers have taken notice and Babin notes that while he used to go through about 30 pounds of beans per week, he now runs through well past 100 pounds and growing. Jucker says the overwhelming response has compelled him to start seeking a second roaster.
Currently, guests can purchase the Baker’s Brew daily blend, Dark City Roast, three single origins and espresso options by the cup or as beans; those grabbing whole beans will be happy to know grinding is available for free on request. Babin also develops scratch-made sauces and syrups to elevate coffee and tea, giving patrons new ways to indulge with more than 35 flavors in the rotation. Basics like vanilla, hazelnut and almond anchor the offerings, in addition to signature selections of blood orange, Vietnamese cinnamon, star anise with cardamom, vanilla-and-black pepper, salted caramel and dark and white chocolate sauces.
Buzz is sure to abound over coffee-free selections like the Buffalo Fog, which marries black tea with almond syrup and steamed milk, or the cozy combo of honey-sweetened steamed milk with Vietnamese cinnamon. A rotation of holiday-themed drinks will tempt guests each season and current offerings include the Pumpkin King (pumpkin caramel latte) and homemade pumpkin spice latte with upcoming drinks like holiday spice chai tea and a gingerbread-white-chocolate latte in the works.
Look for fruit-based syrups to enhance iced tea next summer along with forthcoming frozen concoctions. Even decaf-lovers can rejoice in the Swiss water method decaf espresso; while they do not currently offer decaf drip coffee, guests can ask for a decaf Americano for a sturdy substitute.
“We really went out on a limb,” explains Jucker. “Everybody told me ‘You guys are bonkers and crazy to do this’ and I said I want to do this. Jack believes in it, I believe in it, I want to do this.”