Originally published to Sprudge March 2017
Orange County’s Hopper & Burr has fled the nest of its pop-up space at the former Little Sparrow in Santa Ana, California. Coffee guru and Barista-featured Truman Severson opened a space for the cafe on December 10, just a few blocks away in the hip enclave of Santa Ana’s Artists Village.
Hopper & Burr, which Severson launched after years spent at Portola Coffee Lab, opened inside Little Sparrow in February 2015 with the intention of finding a permanent place later. A quaint hub for OC coffee enthusiasts, the space had limited weekday hours of operation in cooperation with the eatery.
Its new permanent space, a former jewelry store-turned-cafe, stands proudly on a corner of Fourth Street, as a sort of clean white palace of coffee and neighborhood interactions. The way it’s situated, just the right amount of natural light pours in without oversaturating guests, while massive glass walls on either side create the illusion of a much bigger, wide-open space.
Severson and his team have taken additional measures to be similarly open and welcoming with customers. Inspired by Boston’s Drink, a menu-less cocktail bar, Severson embraced that landmark’s philosophy of communicating with people over beverages rather than about them. At Drink, everything is made using ingredients and glasses that are under the counter, rather than above, and Severson does the same at Hopper & Burr.
“Rather than trying to have a bunch of flashy equipment out or doing pour-overs or anything like that, rather than having interactions with people about coffee, we’re trying to have interactions with people over coffee,” Severson affirms.
Hopper & Burr’s bar layout is designed towards simplicity and a feeling of openness. Nobody lugs gallons of milk onto the counter. No one has to tiptoe to peer over stacked cups on their espresso machine to talk to you while steaming. Everything but the espresso machine is underneath the counter—pitchers, cups, and brewing equipment. All milks are served on tap from three-gallon kegs—and lightly nitrogenated—keeping it cold, fresh, and long-lasting. Every counter in the cafe is of uniform height, too. There’s no high bar or low bar—everything from counter space for guests to the pastry case is at the same level.
The coffee program is also designed for simplicity. As mentioned earlier, there are no pour-overs or manual brewing equipment, but rather a meticulously controlled FETCO. The shop’s La Marzocco Linea PB is volumetric, meaning there are no external scales or shot timers to clutter up the machine. As a result, baristas are more free to interact with customers over coffee.
“Our joke is that we do all of the work that only people can do, like making sure the coffee tastes good and is appropriately extracted and all of the sensory stuff, but then we export the rest of the work to the robots,” Severson says. “If you’re going to make a pour-over while having a conversation with someone, either the coffee is going to suffer and the customer service will be maintained or the human being is going to get ignored so that the coffee can be good.”
I can assure you the coffee Hopper & Burr serves is damn good. The multi-roaster currently works with Michigan’s Madcap Coffee and Colorado’s Color Coffee Roasters, the latter supplying an Ethiopia for H&B’s drip. The coffee gets served in thick, white, handle-less cups on tasteful white oak trays. Robots may be doing the brewing, but the baristas are doing the tasting and making sure the coffee stays dialed in.
To say Severson is pleased with recent developments would be an understatement.
“It’s kind of like going from living with roommates to moving into your dream home,” he says excitedly. “It’s really cool to have ideas for years and years, things that [my coworker] Andrew and I have talked about that were just like, ‘Oh that would be cool if that happened one day’—and now they’re real.”