The other day a coworker at Revival Market brought to my attention a new coffee shop he said was pouring good drinks in the back end of a First Ward church. That cafe, Paper Co., is the reincarnation of Taft Street Coffee— the now-closed coffee shop once housed inside Ecclesia's old Montrose location that claimed to have the most fair trade beans of any coffee shop in Houston. An avid follower of high quality coffee in the city, I thought I'd adventure from the usual acclaimed haunts to check the place out.
Paper Co., which opened this past July, is tucked inside of a refurbished paper factory just outside of downtown that also houses Ecclesia Church. If you aren't familiar with Ecclesia, it's a "holistic missional Christian community" church famous for its Cruciformity tattoos. The church—and its coffee shop—moved to Elder Street from Montrose last year. On the backside of the building, facing overgrowth and overpasses, is a blue door with the coffee shop's logo proudly stating "a cafe for all."
Cool air greeted me as I entered the large room that houses Paper Co., the ceiling high with exposed metal girders. The rectangular room continues into a hallway of sorts past the bar, giving the shop an overly exposing feel. Opaque plexi-glass forms a ceiling over and to one side of the bar, making a small enclosure. A continuation of this type of enclosure would give the shop a cozier feel.
I approached the bar and asked for a glass of water, then—to test their barista chops, as a fellow barista—asked if they could make a flat white. Despite not being on the menu, the apron-clad barista said that they could. He rung me up on an iPad and I looked around while I waited for my coffee.
The large white walls behind the bar are too bare for now, but what art is up on the walls—including an impressionistic painting of a seated man wearing a cowboy hat and a quote by Thomas Jefferson about coffee—are clean and fitting for any new wave coffee shop. Six round, metal tables fill the sitting area, each with four artfully designed metal chairs, along with one larger high-top table. The menu is written in chalk on a stand listing $2 doppio shots, $3.50 Vietnamese style iced coffee, and $3 lattes among other standard drinks. I was happy to see Paper Co. uses a La Marzocco espresso machine to pull its shots, which resulted in some well made drinks.
I asked where Paper Co. get its beans from as I ordered a second drink, a double shot of espresso. Expecting to hear Greenway or Katz's—standard answers here in Houston—I was surprised when told that its provider, Mueva Coffee, is a family operation in which the father grows the beans in Nicaragua and his daughter roasts them in Montrose. An impressive example of direct trade coffee, to be sure. Equally impressive was the balanced espresso, which arrived with a buttery crema.
I imagined Paper Co. would be a coffee shop designed solely to serve those in attendance at Ecclesia. While it does maintain the vibe of being in a church, it's a respectable coffee shop on its own. Its location, being tucked into a dead end on the edge of the First Ward, is its largest drawback. When some new developments go in (as they surely will in this quickly gentrifying neighborhood) this quiet, out-of-the-way coffee shop will be the perfect enclave for the new residents, as it is for those currently residing in the Elder Street Artist Lofts across the street.
If a secluded coffee shop inside of a church is making this level of coffee drinks, the future of coffee in Houston looks bright. The use of this space, too, is perhaps a vision of what Houston will look like as abandoned parts of the city are revitalized. Old structures are being repurposed and neighborhoods are being transformed. We're learning how to make the most of what we have in this city, and Paper Co. is a fine example of that.