The Austin Chronicle

Proud Mary Is More Than Just a Pretty Face

Elite coffee with zero attitude

By Taylor Tobin, October 13, 2023, Food

There's an undeniable Instagramminess to Proud Mary, the airy Australia-inspired cafe tucked right off of South Lamar Boulevard. Blond wood, succulents, floods of natural light, neutral tones – Proud Mary has such an on-trend aesthetic that it feels easy to dismiss it as a see-and-be-seen spot for aspiring influencers and "cool kids." But to judge Proud Mary purely on its photo-friendly looks would be a mistake, as owner and CEO Nolan Hirte and his talented team serve some of the most carefully sourced and intricately brewed coffee anywhere in town.

When you step up to the barista counter at Proud Mary, you'll receive a printed menu with a list of coffees currently on offer. That's fairly standard at coffee shops, but Proud Mary's menu features a unique design with a clear purpose. "If you want to grow the market, you have to educate the market," Hirte says, and by including information about how each drink is brewed, exactly where the beans are sourced, and which flavors guests can expect to taste, the Proud Mary team helps Austin's coffee fans grow their understanding of what makes a quality cup of joe. Hirte guides his employees through "weekly cupping" sessions where they can taste the diverse array of coffees on Proud Mary's menu, discover the differences between the beans and the roasts and the brewing techniques, and – most importantly – learn how to communicate those nuances and distinctions to customers.

Proud Mary's thorough barista training also helps to reduce the sticker shock that some guests experience when they pull up to the bar and grab a menu. "I'm trying to lift the perception of the value of coffee," Hirte explains. "What is coffee worth? And why is it worth that?" When customers spot a $13 price for a pour-over brew, that surprising number "sparks a curiosity." But Hirte understands that once Proud Mary has piqued a guest's interest with a pricey menu offering, they then need to take the next step to justify that number. And that's where Proud Mary's discerning sourcing practices come into play.

While many coffee roasters select beans via sample packages sent by coffee farms, Hirte builds relationships with small producers by traveling directly to the source. "I find that the magic happens when you visit [the producers] and can ask questions and sit in the culture and the ambience. That [allows] us to capture the story and share it with our guests," Hirte says. He likes to spend time at the coffee farms during the harvest season, which enables him to see exactly what goes into the bean growth and collection and how the beans will stand up to roasting.

By spending time in coffee-growing regions like Brazil, El Salvador, and Honduras, Hirte forges connections with independent farmers who grow artisanal beans unlike anything that you'll find from mass-market coffee producers. Currently, Proud Mary's offerings include three different coffees from the same El Salvador farm owned by the Pacas family. Hirte says that the Pacases use the "natural process," which involves drying the fruit of the coffee bean under the sun rather than through a machine-based drying cycle, thereby boosting the bean's flavor complexity. The time and consideration that these farmers put into their harvests resonate with Hirte and make him willing to pay a higher price for the beans, to list the resulting drinks at a higher rate on his own menu, and to make sure that customers know exactly what they're paying for.

At the same time, Proud Mary wants to make sure that their guests feel comfortable, even if their personal coffee tastes are simple and straightforward. "I want everyone to feel welcome, and I don't want to shame someone for choosing the 'wrong' drink," says Hirte. If someone just wants a cup of drip coffee, Proud Mary will be happy to meet them where they are – but Hirte does "challenge them a little bit" by offering drip choices calibrated to the guest's personal tastes. "If they want milk or cream with their drip, we have a blend that works well with that. If they want it black, we'll give them a single origin. They don't have to think too hard about it, but it helps to start a conversation," he explains.

In addition to their one-of-a-kind coffee menu, Proud Mary offers fresh and inventive plates that take heavy inspiration from Australian traditions, superfood smoothies, international teas, and aguas frescas made with leftover cuts of fruit from the kitchen. The aguas frescas reflect Hirte's interest in sustainability; in addition to waste reduction, the team is working to open a fully electric roastery in the near future.

As an eco-conscious and stylish cafe with big coffee-nerd vibes, Proud Mary feels like a natural fit for Austin, and Hirte decided to pick our city for the second stateside location of Proud Mary (after Portland, Oregon) for very good reason: "Austin's coffee community is young and hungry with discerning palates. We [and Austin] have an opportunity to mold each other and grow together, and that's awesome."

Proud Mary

2043 S. Lamar Blvd., 512/551-2901
Daily, 7am-4pm

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