Union Coffee, Tampa, FL
1910 N Ola Ave #108, Tampa, FL 33602
I've recently been informed that I have a recognized habit of "being late." At first hear, I attempted to explain what I consider to be my sometimes casual tardiness. Like, haven't you people ever heard of "casually late?" However, after I moved past my initial denial and begin to check my track record, I realized that maybe...just maybe I do have a problem. Yet, I'll pose that it's all in how we case this "problem." I like to case it as me trying to just squeeze out as much from from every day as possible, which sometimes... bumps things to the right a little bit. You get me right? So really, I have a recognized habit of trying to squeeze as much as possible into one day. And this sometimes causes delays. I like that. That sounds much better.
How does this relate to Union Coffee?
I had a little under three hours to drive from my grandmother's house in Brandon, FL to the Tampa airport (+ return my rental car). I was convinced I had plenty of time to swing out of the way a tad to try Union Coffee in Armature Works, but I wasn't mentally prepared for how captivating Armature Works would be. A coffee community friend of mine Jamil said it was a don't-miss coffee shop; he didn't warn me that it's a shop that one doesn't just "pop in and grab a coffee." I walked around, admired, photographed and relished two coffees as I soak up this stunning building for over half an hour. The time crunch that resulted after was absolute MAYHEM. Cue crazy driving, a little honking, a lot of running and just a tad of pleading to get myself on my flight. I barely made it. It was 100% worth it and here's why.
First, we must discuss the nature of Heights Public Market, or what I will refer to as Armature Works. To be clear, Heights Public Market is just a component of the 73,000 square foot space that is properly referred to Armature Works. There's additional communal type workspaces and event spaces inside as well. For sake of ease, we'll refer to it as Armature Works.
Any history buffs out there?
Armature Works history goes back to 1910, when this warehouse served as the storage and maintenance facility for Tampa's Electric (TECO) streetcars. Formerly referred to as the Streetcar Barn, this warehouse maintained the cars that connected broad swaths of Tampa's neighborhoods together. By 1946, the invention of the automobile had stunted the utility of the electric streetcar, which led Armature Works, a phosphate machinery manufacturer, to bid for this industrial complex. In the twenty first century, developers from Soho Capitol acquired a 50-acre waterfront property along the river with a vision for a family friendly and modern family destination. Soho initiated a concerted effort to create a space full of residencies, shops and restaurants all interconnected along the river, with Armature Works as the epicenter. This area became known as the Heights.
There's the history - let's talk about the now. I was entirely mesmerized by the design inside! The designers did an outstanding job of preserving the old and highlight with the new. A giant natural, wild flower display in the middle of the entrance sets as you walk in the entrance. Big hanger windows and giant sky lights open the building up the sky. Exposed brick and concrete floors maintain a genuine industrial feel. Rich leather cigar couches lined the walls and were complimented by wooden mid-century furniture pieces. The restaurants each had their unique vibe, but the basis of the design was consistent throughout. Visiting this place is an experience in and of itself!
But let's be real. Let's talk about Union Coffee.
Union Coffee is the name of the location, but Commune and Co is the name of the coffee company. Commune and Co started as a one man band, a guy who had a passion for trying something new: pressured cold brew. In 2015, you'd find Joel Davis riding his keg equipped tricycle around Ybor City serving up coffee treats. This was before the sensation of cold brew and nitro took hold. He was truly ahead of the curve (pun intended). The tricycle coffee shop took on new character over time and Commune and Co was pulled into the whole complex of what is now known as Armature Works. Union Coffee is one of Commune and Co locations. It's just on the left as you walk into Armature Works. Commune and Co gets their fire from the passion of the cafe culture; the concept of sitting next to strangers and striking up conversation over coffee inspires them. They're dedicated to creating the perfect cup, from sourcing through to brewing, and serving in friendly settings.
Pressured Cold Brew -- say what?
Experimental coffee has taken cafe culture by storm. Most independent coffee shops offer pour-over options and more complicated siphon methods are becoming more mainstream. I was told about Union Coffee from the barista over at Foundation Coffee, who insisted I try Union's unique drink -- pressured cold brew. My first order was, therefore, an easy one.
No heat is involved in the pressured brewing process. Instead, coffee and water are mixed 'cold' under the pressure of a galvanized barrel and infused with nitrogen gas during the brewing process. Of note, most nitro coffee is infused after, making this method incredibly unique.
Look at that frothy head
and thick, bubbly cascade!
The result is a cascade of bubbles, a foamy head and the basis of a rich, dark coffee. If you didn't know better, you might think it's Guinness. Wouldn't that be a neat combo? I'm here to tell you that I find many cold brews to be too acidic, but this is by far the best cold brew I've ever tasted. The product that comes out of this brewing process is bright, bubbly and doesn't have a hint of bitterness. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I'd say it dances on the tongue. And I dare say that's its ALMOST sweet.
I walked around for a good bit and admired the walls and couches and came back for a second drink: a horchata latte. I probably didn't need a second coffee, but I always enjoy the unique latte options and the opportunity to try the espresso a shop uses.
Commune and Co doesn't roast their own coffee, but they're very intentional about using quality roasts from near and afar. Commune and Co featured Bandit Coffee and Eastlick Coffee, both based out of the Tampa area. Additionally, they partner with Ruby Coffee Roasters of Portage Country, Wisconsin and Kingstate from the local area.
I was intrigued because the barista was personally testing out Hex Coffee, a nearby favorite of mine in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hex Coffee is easy to recognize, as they've done a great job with branding and have beautiful packaging. The barista said that they're friends with the owners of Hex Coffee and just received some roasts in the mail that they were trying out. How cool is the coffee community?
If you're visiting the Tampa area, plan to spend a couple hours here. This is one of those places you don't want to miss. It's worth going out of your way. When you visit, the pressured brew at Union is a must. I'd also recommend factoring in some time to try one of the many foodie joints in Armature Works. Union has some pastry treats and a few breakfast options, if you need something to line your belly. On a sunny day, you can take your pressure brew on a walk along the river. Sounds like a perfect day to me!