The Austin Chronicle

Restaurant Review

Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, February 22, 2008, Food

Fair Bean Coffee

2210 S. First, 444-2326

Monday-Wednesday, 6:30am-6:30pm; Thursday-Sunday, 7:30am-7:30pm

Fair Bean Coffee is sunny, open, and spacious. The decor is understated: clean neutral tones, gentle lighting, plain wooden tables, and long, low white sofas. The music is usually acoustic and barely perceptible. This is a space meant for grownups, perfect for concentrating and communicating. Both of which are helped along by coffee, of course.

The coffee is the focus here. Sacks and bins of both green and roasted coffee beans shore up the counter, and the green pot-bellied coffee roaster, vented through the ceiling, dominates the entire space. As the name implies, Fair Bean Coffee aims to be socially responsible, and posted on the wall is a Fair Trade meter.

"We intend to be entirely Fair Trade eventually," explains owner Andres Salvador in his soft Venezuelan accent. "Until then, we keep this meter on the wall in a spirit of full disclosure. Right now we are hovering around 58 percent." The problem with becoming entirely Fair Trade is supply. Salvador buys green coffee directly from the growers, because Fair Bean roasts virtually all of the coffee they sell. "As time goes by and I develop relationships with more growers, that is what will get me to 100 percent. You have to be sure you can obtain what your business is selling, you know?" he laughs.

Fair Bean carries five varieties of coffee – Ethiopian, Costa Rican, Honduran, Guate­ma­lan, and espresso blend – and all are roasted on-site and cost between $9.50 and $10.50 a pound. Of course, most of the clientele is here for espresso drinks, and this is where Fair Bean has won my allegiance. "For great espresso, you have to be vigilant," Salvador insists. "The espresso must be properly roasted; you must have a spotlessly clean, quality espresso machine – we have a La Cimbali. The grind must be correct, and the barista must be knowledgeable." Salvador's zeal pays off for the customer: The espresso (and hence the cappuccino, and every other variation) is perfect – strong, hot, aromatic, and never bitter. (The double cappuccino, I might add, has three shots of espresso.) The exemplary quality is consistent no matter when you go in and no matter who is working the machine.

Brewed coffees, iced coffee, iced tea, rooibos tea, and protein shakes are also available, as well as Venez-uelan and Spanish specialties. "My parents are Spanish, and I was born in Venezuela, so I decided to go with the food I know best," Salvador says. "Here on South First, there are so many great taco places! I knew I had to do something at least a little different."

Venezuelan pastries called rotos ($4.50/$5), temptingly stuffed with cheese, raisins, onions, and chicken, are displayed alongside savory South American empanadas ($2.25/$2.50). Both have marvelous, crisp pastry, and Fair Bean makes vegetarian versions of each. Espresso tres leches cake ($2.25) and carrot-pumpkin cake ($3.25) are always under glass, and wedges of authentic Spanish omelette ($2.25) are served, hot or cold, throughout the day. Even so, Salvador feels he has barely begun to tap the potential of the brand-new and spacious kitchen.

This Saturday, Feb. 23, Fair Bean Coffee will open a showing of the stunning beadwork of the indigenous Huichol tribe of Mexico.

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