Jill Brussow froths milk for a cappuccino at Moose Coffee & Gifts, 725 S. Sam Houston Blvd. in Houston.

“Finally!” I said, a self-professed coffee being who is cast under the spell of the addictive brew. Its alluring fragrance and lovely elixir puts a snap in my garter and a buzz in my brain, “Houston has a coffee house!”

Coffee has come a long way since the first sip of its bitter brew by a 9th Century citizen and the 1950 Houston Herald poll protesting the doubling of the price of a coffee cup from one shiny nickel to a silver dime.

A regular cup is now a little more than a buck, and the bitter brew can be as smooth as liquid silk and as sweet as bottled sunshine on a cloudy day.

The making of the Moose…

Moose Coffee and Gifts, with its log exterior, is tucked into the backside of First Street on Sam Houston Boulevard. Benches line the front porch, and cars crunch into the gravel lot seeking tonic for mundane Mondays, a java jolt of caffeine, with or without sugar.

“We have more than 30 flavored syrups, including sugar free,” say Jim and Barb Kupets, Solo, who opened Moose Coffee, Sept. 27.

You can have it hot, iced or frozen. It is a coffee cornucopia.

Moving from the Chicago area in August 2004, the Kupets came without employment plans. “We were empty nesters. Barb’s parents lived in Hot Springs and my parents lived in Rolla. We had driven through Houston four or five times and thought it was nice. It was really a move of faith,” said Jim.

Jim found employment with Leggett & Platt furniture manufacturers based in Carthage. He travels and implements purchasing and accounting software from his office in Moose Coffee using the wireless Internet (wifi) they offer free to their customers. The wireless Internet connection has been a popular draw.

“Phenomenal,” said Jim. “Ninety percent of our regulars use the wireless access.”

Barb, with a history of accounting and payroll said, “I always wanted to open a gift and craft shop. We love coffee so much we decided to include both.”

It was not difficult to come up with the name. “Moose is my favorite thing,” said Barb, who has been called the moose lady. “My dog is named Moose. I have moose slippers, a moose coat (a moose on the back), a moose collection…”

The food…

It smells good in here,” said a new customer, her nose sniffing the air before she scrutinized the menu offering breakfast, lunch and bakery items.

It did, indeed, smell delightful. The sweet, roasted aroma of the coffee smelled good enough to eat by itself.

But, coffee candidates need not live by aroma alone.

“We have breakfast, a “Big Country 99″ that is two biscuits with gravy and a sausage, egg and cheese croissant, sandwiches, soups, salads, muffins, and I am trying a stromboli made from scratch,” said Barb. “And I am working on getting baked goods from a lady who owned a bakery in Illinois.”

The Bean Scene

Customer Debbie Wilson purchased a bag of freshly ground German chocolate coffee beans. “Have you ever heard of German chocolate (coffee)?” she asked, “It is good!”

“We use Arabic beans,” said Jim. “They are from a smaller region around the equator and have a lower acid content. Our roaster is Chauvin Coffee out of St. Louis, and we have a specialty moose-blend we get from Seattle, Wash.”

They are premium coffees of the gourmet claim, advertised for those in search of the “perfect cup” of coffee.

“What makes the coffee house is the coffee machine,” said Jim. “This one is not computerized.”

Espresso thyself…

The coffee (espresso) machine differs from a filtered coffee maker in that (200°F) water is pressured through a densely packed “puck” of finely ground coffee – as opposed to a leisurely drive-by draining of hot water through loosely packed, coarse grounds.

The finer the grind and the higher the compression, coffee lover loyalists say, the more complete is the flavor extraction.

That means the “baristas,” those trained in the art of espresso preparation and working the coffee machine, must be schooled in times, temps and tamps, for even the pressure of packing grounds and the speed the hot water affects the product.

Moose Coffee baristas are Melissa Carpenter, Dina Casey, Kayla Cooper, Hannah Day and Jill Brussow. Practice and experience are a barista’s best friend. “We let the girls experiment,” said Barb.

Jill, the Kupets’ daughter, has five years experience. She demonstrated the use of a steam wand in milk to make froth for a cappuccino. The steaming forces tiny bubbles into the milk, making a velvety and sweet foam. Besides the espresso, the most important element in preparing a cappuccino is the texture and temperature of the milk.

A shot of espresso is poured over the foam to make a cappuccino. Cappuccinos have a higher ratio of froth than lattes.

A latte (the French word for milk) is espresso poured into steamed milk with a quarter-inch layer of foam on top.

“We use 2 percent, skim or soy milk and can add any flavor,” said Barb. “The cappuccinos you get in the gas stations are not really cappuccinos.” They are made with hot water and a mix.

“I don’t know people by name,” said Jill. “I know them by their drinks!”

This author is “soy latte.”

Mary Odle, “skinny latte” (espresso with skim milk) stopped by for her second visit of the week.

Debbie Wilson “German chocolate fresh ground” returned to the coffee shop for the second time today. “I came back because I just wanted to say, Dina Kasey was the reason I came here the first time,” she said. “It’s not just the coffee, it’s the people. They have an excellent staff!”

Creating a Third Space

Providing more than coffee was always part of the plan.

“There is a large customer base of single parents,” said Jim. “We wanted to make an area where kids would have toys that are a throw back to a time when kids had to use their imagination (without the help of video games.)”

An area with games and small tables is set aside for kids. Wooden puzzles and toys are for sale.

“We want moms to enjoy themselves,” said Jim. “We wanted to create a third space (of comfort) other than home and work.”

The Kupets have future plans for weekend crafts and story reading for children.

The continued traffic of “regulars” testifies Moose Coffee seems to be brewing the right ingredients.

Terry Tryon and Steve Slick come two or three times a week for “the wireless, great coffee, lots of fun and good people.”

Bud Squire has been a regular since Moose ground its first coffee bean. “The coffee is good. I use the wireless but I come for the people. They put stuff in it to get us addicted,” he said.

“Its called love,” said Jim.

Latte love.

The caffeine doesn’t hurt.

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