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Instead of the usual sights and sounds of a coffee shop — the whirring of bean grinders, frenzied baristas pounding espresso grind holders against the counter — the scene at Antoine's Annex (513 Royal St., 581-4422; www.antoines.com) resembles a serene science lab. Barista Wendy Michael is behind the counter, eyeing an hourglass-shaped contraption with two glass globes stacked over a small flame. Soon, steam emanates from the top as wet coffee grinds are sucked into a bottom chamber filled with bubbling water.
"Makes me think of being back in school, playing with the Bunsen burner," says Niesha Gloyd, the cafe's general manager.
The gadget is called a siphon, also known as a vacuum coffee maker, and it is part of the trio of coffee brewing devices that make up the Annex's Slow Bar. There is also a pour-over system, in which hot water streams continuously through coffee beans (as opposed to fully saturating the beans in water) and a tall Japanese slow-drip device. The equipment looks complicated, but creates a simple pleasure: smooth, flavorful coffee.
Slow-brew technology has existed for at least 100 years, but recently it became trendy in Seattle and New York. After learning about the technology, Gloyd decided to introduce it to New Orleans.
"We ... wanted people to slow down, enjoy and appreciate the coffee they're drinking," she says. "We're just really excited to get people excited about coffee."
Coffee preparation takes a little bit longer, but Gloyd says customers have embraced the "slow" aspect of the Slow Bar.
"It's really a Zen-like experience to watch your coffee being made," she says. "It gives you time to ask questions and learn about the coffee you're drinking in my experience, I haven't had anyone who's said 'You know, it's a great cup of coffee, but it just takes too long.' What they're saying is 'It's a fabulous cup of coffee and I want another one.'"
Coffee is the main focus of the Annex, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary, but the cafe also offers house-made pastries, candies, gelato from Angelo Brocato and a menu of breakfast and light lunch items. Being associated with one of New Orleans' most famous restaurants certainly carries prestige, but Gloyd says she wants the Annex to be recognized as a destination in its own right.
"We want to get the word out that we're here and that Antoine's is accessible to everybody," she says.