Provision Coffee takes craft to a new level
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
I was entirely enchanted to find a gem amongst the usual clutter of my email inbox recently: a special invitation to meet with Provision Coffee's CEO and visionary, Daniel Suh, and sample one of the shop's unique and finely crafted coffee beverages. On this most recent Friday, I traveled to Provision's location in Phoenix's toney and historic Arcadia neighborhood, a locale rife with a treasure trove of Al Beadle designed midcentury homes and understated architecture. Provision Coffee neighbors The Original Chop Shop at 4501 N. 32nd Street, in a contemporary space with an angled roofline and minimalist exterior elements.
I stepped inside the shop's sleek, streamlined interior and noted the polished cement floors underfoot, a subdued color palette, the thoughtful use of stainless steel and white utilitarian countertops, as well as the copious amounts of exposed plywood. The aesthetic is at once understated and modern, but at the same time it seems to evoke a warmth that has proven very inviting to Arcadia's aspirational class. When I arrived, Daniel Suh was stationed at the cocktail bar, busy at work on his laptop. While I waited for Suh, a kind barista suggested I try the shop's honey lavender latte and proceeded to craft for me a lovely beverage infused with locally sourced mesquite honey and organic lavender syrup. The rich, delicious milk that embodied the latte's perfect froth is the result of careful sourcing by Provision Coffee as they only use the grass fed, pasture raised dairy of California's Sonoma Valley in their milk based beverages. The gorgeous drink I was presented was topped with perfectly symmetrical latte art and dusted with a fine mist of delicate rose petals and lavender.
I soon learned that no detail is considered insignificant at Provision Coffee. With every seat in the shop's cafe occupied, Suh led me to the enclosed windowed room in view of the coffee bar that encompasses the company's roastery. We each took a seat facing the shop's immaculately restored 1950's era UG Probat roaster, a highly coveted midcentury feat of German engineering with cast iron components. After further researching this particular Probat model, I later realized that I had been sitting in the presence of an instrument not unlike one of Mozart's original pianofortes. This piece of equipment is an extremely rare find amongst artisanal coffee roasters. It is essentially the Hope Diamond of the industry.
Suh was exceedingly generous with his time and put careful thought to his answers during our interview. At times he would close his eyes in concentration while propping his feet up on one of the burlap sacks of Arabica coffee lining the interior of the room. He shared with me his motivations, inspirations, and the practicalities of running a successful craft coffee enterprise.
First and foremost, I learned that Suh's vision is to build community through quality coffee and food. This is essentially Provision's mission statement and Suh explained that it took an inordinate amount of time and tinkering to land on that one sentence. Provision builds community by creating an approachable menu and not overloading guests with too many options. "We want to build community and we happen to do that most effectively with coffee as it is much easier for people to connect over a tangible and sensory product. I just wish there was a bigger space here so we could accommodate all the people," he tells me.
As part of their effort to build community, Provision sponsors free events such as yoga on the cafe's patio on Monday evenings. These classes are taught by one of Lululemon's global yoga ambassadors and will be ongoing until April. On Wednesdays the cafe hosts Jack Trivia, a fun activity in which participants have the opportunity to show off knowledge and win prizes. There are also live music events indoors in the cafe on the weekend. The venue is small and usually accommodates one or two musicians and often features acoustic instrumentation. The day I visited, Provision was preparing to host the Twice Baked Band, a high energy local ensemble that, according to its Facebook business page, plays restaurants, bars, circumcisions, annulments, and more.
The key, of course, to Provision's mission of creating community lies in its obsession with quality products and ingredients. Quality is at the forefront of everything Provision does. "Quality is the most important," Suh shares with me. "We try to do local if we can, if the quality is there." Provision only works with specialty quality focused suppliers and artisans. They source all of their ingredients this way. Suh describes vetting vast samples of local honey until finally landing on one that had the perfect synergy of sweetness and depth Provision was looking for to pair with its coffee and tea beverages. That company was Valley Honey Company https://www.valleyhoneyco.com/, a small beekeeping operation in the local Phoenix valley. Each ingredient the cafe uses is carefully evaluated and assessed for taste, quality, and sustainability. For their alternative milks, Provision has chosen to work with Califia Farms of California for their progressive irrigation methods and their use of local bees for field pollination rather than bees imported from other regions.
Which brings us to the subject of Provision's crowning jewel: its spectacular coffee. Suh and business co founder Lawrence Jarvey have each traveled to coffee growing regions throughout South America . These visits helped the company cement their understanding of coffee's supply chain, and, as a result, the company was able to establish direct trade relationships with farmers in Guatemala, Hondorus, Bolivia, Columbia, and El Salvador. Provision also features an impressive line up of coffees from the East African country of Burundi. For those varieties they use the Long Miles Coffee Project https://www.longmilescoffeeproject.com/ , a small family owned green coffee exporter that has chosen to take up residence in Burundi and has committed itself to weathering the tempest of the country's unpredictable political climate and weather related harvesting challenges. The cafe offers up seasonal coffee varieties, and at my visit, Provision was featuring three packaged options: the Prickly Pear blend, a flagship espresso intended to be served with milk; the La Terraza from Hondorus; and a medium roast Guatemalan variety suggested for filter coffee with bright and clean notes.
Provision's Arcadia location also features a robust cocktail menu that includes coffee infused cocktail offerings. These coffee cocktails inhabit the interface of coffee and alcohol, an oft discussed "fourth dimension" of coffee that surpasses the industry's current "third wave". Suh explains to me that while many associate Provision's alcohol offerings with its coffee related cocktails, these particular drinks only make up a small percentage of the bar's menu. The rest of the menu features classic cocktails made from highly curated and distinctive craft spirits. "We aren't going to carry Jack Daniels," he assures me. Instead, you will find the bar stocked with labels like Whip Saw rye whiskey, or Del Bac, a craft distillery which employs a Scottish model of whiskey making. They also carry Four Pillars, a rare dry gin from Australia. The cocktail bar serves a fine selection of Amaro liqueurs, as well, which are Italian in origin and flavored with herbs used to aid digestion.
From 11am to 5pm, Provision serves gourmet sandwiches crafted with bread from locally owned Nobel Bakery. There is the $11 Jackfruit BBQ, made from the tropically grown exotic jackfruit, which is used as a plant based meat alternative. When cooked, jackfruit has a stringy, textured quality that pairs well with BBQ sauce. The fruit is packed with nutrients and is a highly sustainable global food resource. There is the $12 Grilled Cheese and Proscuitto, which is essentially a more elegant version of the classic ham and cheese sandwich featuring responsibly produced artisan cured proscuitto from Iowa. Another delicious option is the $14 Turkey and Brie featuring soft ripened cheese procured from Fiscalini Cheese Company of California https://www.fiscalinicheese.com/ Fiscalini only uses their own cows in the production of their cheeses in order to control for factors such as cleanliness and quality of feed used. Provision also serves the Vietnamese staple sandwich (and popular street food), the Banh Mi, which is a baguette split lengthwise and filled with various savory ingredients.
The cafe's delicious pastries are provided by local companies 350 Baked, Decadent Macaron, and Sugar Loaf Bakery. Nathan from Sugar Loaf Bakery https://sugarloaf-lane.square.site/ happened to be delivering items to the store when I visited and kindly explained to me that the company only uses the freshest and finest ingredients. He shared that the cherry bakewell, a gluten free vegan option, is the company's current best seller in the cafe. He also pointed out their delicious looking lemon loaf and vegan carrot cake scone featured in the bakery case.
On the retail end, Provision sells a small selection of coffee brewing equipment such as the Chemex and requisite Chemex filters, its own roasted and handsomely packaged whole bean coffee beans, and the environmentally sensitive Huskee 12 oz cup. The Huskee cup is manufactured using coffee husks which are a discarded waste product of the coffee milling stage of production. The organic husk is repurposed to make a non toxic, earth and dishwasher friendly reclosable container for coffee that helps keep the beverage hotter for longer periods of time.
As I eluded to earlier, Suh has left no detail of his cafe's operation unconsidered. This includes the cafe's water source. Suh has engineered an incredibly advanced proprietary water system for Provision Coffee which uses an ION exchange system that is mainly found in Europe and optimized for coffee driven businesses. The water system goes a step further than reverse osmosis in order to create the absolute right minerality needed to showcase the nuances of the company's artisanally roasted coffees.
As for sourcing the cafe's talent, the company looks for candidates with a genuine interest in coffee and a passion for serving customers. Provision offers an extensive training program for its new employees. Suh not only holds a level two certification through the Specialty Coffee Association, he was also one of the association's lead instructors. He is particularly driven to translate the science based curriculum behind coffee production to students who don't have that background in the organic facets of chemistry. The process requires careful thought and is quite difficult to convey at times, he tells me.
Provision Coffee's strategy for the coming years involves having multiple stores and continuing to grow its wholesale product line. They are actively researching locations in the valley based on careful metrics. The Arcadia site was an ideal launching pad for the company based on the area's unique demographics: plenty of disposable income, highly educated local residents, and a central location that has attracted a community that has eagerly embraced the gourmet experience that Provision offers. Markets that can support similar key performance indicators are currently being thoroughly researched by Suh and his team. The wholesale side of Provision is operated by co owner Lawrence Jarvey. Provision can help support any coffee concept start to finish and provide the equipment, coffee, and any items a coffee shop would need to hit the ground running. The company is extremely picky about who they choose to work with, Suh shares. The client has to be able to successfully showcase Provision's award winning coffee, after all. Provision also aligns with quality breakfast oriented restaurants like Chestnut at the Vintage https://www.chestnutaz.com/ to help set up coffee operations.
While Provision's coffee may be in the competent hands of other Valley establishments, the very best place to experience its incredibly nuanced delivery is at their Arcadia location on 32nd Street, just south of Camelback. Sunday through Thursday hours are 6:30 am until 10 pm. Friday and Saturday, the hours are from 6:30 am until 11 pm.