Joule is hard to pin down. Is the Raleigh hotspot a restaurant with a great coffee program or a coffee shop with a great food program? The table service and dinner menu points to the former, while the front counter- arrayed with a custom La Marzocco Strada and a Kalita Wave brew bar -suggests otherwise. Perhaps the question misses the point. Either way, the stunning café from James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen is brewing some of the best coffee in Downtown Raleigh.
Perhaps it reflects Christensen’s restauranteur background, but much of Joule’s approach defies coffee shop conventions. A table service model is widely used in places like Australia, but seldom appropriated by specialty coffee shops in America. There are benefits and drawbacks to the system. Positively, it eliminates the long queues and conveyor belt style of service common at coffee shops. Instead of awkwardly standing around waiting for your drink, you can sit down and talk to a smiling server. But for coffee enthusiasts, not having any direct interaction with the person making your coffee is sort of disappointing. As automated machines become better and better at making coffee, the relational element of hospitality will play a larger role in the future of the barista profession. As a working barista myself, I highly value the personal interaction I get with my regular customers, yet I’m interested to see if Joule’s approach catches on in the States.
Over the Counter Culture
Not surprisingly, Joule serves coffee roasted by Counter Culture, a local roaster that just happens to be one of the largest and most influential companies in the specialty coffee industry. Counter Culture in many ways sets the industry standard for wholesale support- offering excellent training and maintenance for their exclusive partners. Nonetheless, finding a wholesale account that does justice to the product they’re serving can be a challenge. Everyman does a great job. So does Peregrine and Jubala. After a couple of visits, I would add Joule to that list. My pour-over of the Thiriku, Kenya was impeccable: balanced, sweet, with a lively acidity and a spicy finish. It’s the sort of coffee that makes me look forward to Kenyan season each year.
Although the formal nature of the table service might keep Joule from becoming my daily coffee shop if I lived in Raleigh, it certainly is my first coffee destination when Downtown or feeling peckish. I’ve yet to have anything off Joule’s new dinner menu, but having frequented Christensen’s other establishments, I expect great things. Every city should be as lucky as Raleigh to have such a great restaurant take coffee seriously.