Carabello Coffee's Analog Slow Bar offers in-depth, creative craft coffee experience

Posted at 12:06 PM, Oct 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-10 12:06:50-04

NEWPORT, Kentucky -- Walking into Carabello Coffee’s newly opened coffee annex, Analog Slow Bar, jazzy tunes echo from a record player while bar manager Austin Childress whips up complicated coffee drinks most people wouldn’t have the time and patience to make on their own.

Analog Slow Bar manager Austin Childress makes a Cold Fashioned: cold brew and bitters. (Photo by Garin Pirnia)

At the six-seat wooden bar, the coffee apparati rests behind the bar, not in front, so that patrons can actually see the processes in action. Think of it as a chef’s table or a mixology bar.

“No more secrets,” Childress said of the transparency.

Analog opened in September, during the Newport shop’s three-year-anniversary, as a more curated space than the main room, which has a different menu and clientele — those who want a latte and not something made with an AeroPress or siphon, a.k.a. devices that bring out nuanced flavors.

Justin Carabello — who owns the company with his wife, Emily — understands multifarious coffee isn’t for everyone.

“The vernacular of our coffee culture can be really off-putting to people because they feel like, ‘I don’t get what you’re talking about right now -- I just want a yummy drink,’” Carabello said. “We try to meet people where they’re at and take them on a coffee journey to the degree that they want to have instead of forcing our approach to coffee.”

The inspiration for Analog came from Costa Mesa, California’s Portola Coffee Lab’s slow bar, and the Carabellos’ observation that their shop had become a gathering spot with a “social first, coffee second” mentality. They decided to challenge it in developing a section where customers could have a honed experience.

“To me, this is my ’80s mixtape versus iTunes playlist,” Carabello said. “When you made an '80s mixtape, you had to literally spend all the time on that tape with the music, and the whole time you’re becoming emotionally connected to the thing you’re making. And that thing that you end up with — even though it’s just music on a recorded piece of tape — has so much more value to you because of all the investment and time.”

A blueberry mint shrub (no coffee), and a coffee and doughnuts cortado, at Analog Slow Bar. (Photo by Garin Pirnia)

In Analog’s first couple of weeks of operation, Carabello offered a five-course tasting menu, featuring coffee flights, affogatos and non-coffee shrubs.

“Let’s give everyone a context for what we wanted to do,” Carabello said of his motivation behind the tasting. In early October, they switched to a monthly à la carte menu broken into espresso drinks (cortados, macchiatos), brewed coffee five ways (Kalita Wave, siphon, Hario V60, Chemex and AeroPress), cocktail-inspired cold drinks and BonBonerie desserts.

For now, the Analog Slow Bar is open only 1-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday as a way to ease into what may be a foreign concept for many of Carabello’s regulars. Reservations are offered but aren’t mandatory.

“I thought, ‘Who goes to a coffee shop and makes a reservation?’” Carabello said. “But why not? If you can make a reservation at a restaurant, you should be able to make a reservation at a place like this. What we’re doing here requires a lot of skill and preparation. We want people to think of it differently than going to a neighborhood café.”

While in Austin, Texas, the Carabellos visited Fleet Coffee and discovered it made a cortado using doughnuts soaked in milk. The Carabellos adapted the drink for their menu, implementing Holtman’s glazed doughnuts marinated in milk. That milk, along with warm milk, is added to a shot of Carabello’s Kenya Gathaithi Peaberry espresso. At first it tastes like a regular cortado, then 10 seconds later the doughnut flavors rush over your palate. 

A Sprosemary Tonic: simple syrup, lavender bitters, San Pellegrino and espresso, served at Carabello Coffee's Analog Slow Bar in Newport. (Photo by Garin Pirnia)

Because of the bartender aspect of the coffee bar, Childress likes to experiment with coffee mocktails, such as the Cold Fashioned (cold brew coffee and bitters, sans the bourbon) and a Sprosemary Tonic: San Pellegrino sparkling water, lavender bitters, espresso, simple syrup and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Before Childress and his wife, Roxy, came to work at the shop, he spent time working in Starbucks’ training program in the Los Angeles area. When he visited his hometown of Cincinnati in April for his sister’s wedding, he found an opportunity.

“Somebody knew both of us and were like, ‘Hey, you should totally chat with the Carabellos.’ Through that, we set up a meeting with them,” Childress said. “They were like, ‘We have this thing called Analog Slow Bar and we think you’d be perfect for it. Would you ever move here?’ Three weeks later we packed up our apartment and drove across country.”

Carabello Coffee has come a long way since 2009, when the Carabellos started roasting coffee beans in a popcorn popper in their garage. Their wholesale business has taken off, too: You can find their coffees at Hotel Covington and in Braxton Brewing’s beers. 

“The city of Newport has really embraced us into the fabric of the community,” Carabello said. “We didn’t understand how significant it could be to become a part of the everyday life of people in the city. We didn’t expect people to be as positively responsive as they have been.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go, but we’re just along for the ride.”

Carabello Coffee

107 E. Ninth St., Newport
Carabello hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Analog Slow Bar hours: 1-8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday