An e-zine for happenings of local culture in Milwaukee and elsewhere

Archive for February, 2017

Connoisseur Culture, Most Roastiest, Pilcrow Coffee


Three boards holding dark stain jut perpendicular from the wall, taught and plum square; it’s almost an illusionist’s trick setting table ledges of half-inch thickness this way. Stark white paint covers the walls thoroughly from ceiling to terrazo floor, broken up only by Pilcrow Coffee’s candy red trim wrapping the tasting room like a waist belt. Milwaukee’s newest coffee roaster opened in January on the South end of MLK Drive, with a roast style that follows the decor: modest/mod/craftsman/independent.

Pilcrow Coffee carries its historical thread proudly. What Schlitz Brewery once used as a warehouse, now houses a wholesale coffee roaster. Chicago transplant via MKE ex-urb (the  same place that brings us Southside roaster Hawthorne)  Ryan Hoban explains, “We specialize in single source coffee, which allows us to have a direct relationship with the farms that our beans come from.” This arrangement allows Pilcrow’s coffee to go beyond fair trade to direct trade, allowing farms to capture the fairest price.

Bean Proof

I wait for my Panamanian green roast honey cappuccino. Although it has a tasting room open on the weekends, Pilcrow isn’t a coffee shop, they do wholesale and mobile retail. Pilcrow’s niche follows the high end theory of custom small batch production.

“Our specialty is light roast. When you roast coffee dark it takes a lot from the real taste out of the coffee bean itself.” Ryan turns to a small oven that looks like a chrome stainless pig roaster for your countertop. Roasting green coffee requires the right temperature and a precise amount of time under heat. “With green coffee I’m listening for the right sound of the bean opening, I’m smelling and looking,” Ryan notes plainly.

As a dogged dark roast drip sipper I’m skeptical, especially of cappuccino. At first taste of this brew I’m sold. The espresso gently accepted the honey and Sassy Cow whole milk. Expecting to be singed by light roast’s distinct tangy acidity, I’m soothed by the blend of flavors the same way creme brulee does. It worked exceedily well for this drink. I know how light roast hits the palette, usually bracing, and calling an acquired taste.

Learning the Way

Curious to know how Ryan learned his craft, I point to Milwaukee’s coffee scene that has roasters like Stone Creek which is known for its coffee science and purist leanings toward light roasts. Sacrificing longer evenings at home with his family, Ryan spent about year learning this roasting style from a friend who worked at Ipsento, one Chicago’s few indie coffee roasters. “I learned my roasting methods by doing. I don’t think coffee roasting has to be exclusive or necessarily intellectual,” he offers.

Observing it all, Pilcrow obviously loves the technical part of cupping just as much as Valentine or Stone Creek coffee. Every Pilcrow cupping passes grounds over a scale, has water measured and heated specifically for the preferred preparation method: brewed, pour-over, cold brew, or pressurized.

On a shelf behind the counter stands a three-level glass system that has a vessel with a turn valve leading to a set of spiral tubing that filters into an Erlenmeyer flask. Ryan tells me, “That’s for cold brew. You fill the top with ice water and drip it very slowly through the coffee.” These fellows have cold brew titration system. However hardcore, the focus of Pilcrow’s product remains the bean.

Not Fashion, Coffee

When asked about his roasting philosophy Ryan offers, “We try and let the beans speak for themselves. We are really specific about how we source our coffee.” With such attention to detail one can imagine that Pilcrow might be tempted to make statements about what people should drink.

Ryan easily differentiated Pilcrow by leveling their main purpose on providing buyers with the most refined and custom choices of coffee roast, in opposition to pushing any one type of cupping method or roast style.


The Land, Still Good

Expressing excitement about locating in Milwaukee, Ryan shared that locating in Bronzeville he found the right mix of regulation, price and place. “There are a lot of great things happening in Milwaukee, and on top of that Chicago doesn’t allow sidewalk food carts”

Flanking its entry way, Pilcrow’s display windows show-off two glossy red bikes hitched to golden-stained wood cases equipped with nitro coffee taps. Mobile vending, a practical and essential part of Milwaukee’s local economy, will add nitro coffee to the menu of things to look forward to this summer.

“Our nitro coffee uses pure nitrogen gas, it’s my favorite.” Luckily I don’t feel put-on. Ryan truly digs his nitro brew. I find out why. I pull a sip from a mini-snifter, rich, silky and earthy. It actually tastes like a well-done stout, but it’s coffee. 

If you are still being passive aggressive to your loved ones and coworkers by putting Folger’s or Kirkland coffee on the counter (Pink Banana, 2011), Pilcrow can bring you sweet redemption. Coincidentally, Pilcrow’s neighbor Northern Chocolate is only a few doors up the street. They share a kindred spirit about business hours and adhearance to craft principles. Pilcrow opens its tasting room on Saturdays from roughly 10:00a to 2:00p, 1739 N. MLK Drive, Milwaukee. The core of Pilcrow’s business centers around coffee subscription and office and restaurateur supply.

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Science is Fun, Cooperative Performance, Fruition of a Delusion

Going back to the future with some Duran Duran playing in the background, pre-engineering major Ruby (Molly Corkins) has entered her mind palace. Once there, her imagination reanimates some of science’s greatest minds to group problem-solve her core values and her life purpose. She searches for her true inner-being in a world of shallow platitudes, self-interest, irresponsible power mongering, global doom and blatant disregard for facts.

My Posse Loves Science

Taking on novel personalities, Fruition of a Delusion protagonists Marie Curie, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Montgomery, Nikola Tesla, and Albert Einstein take turns between comedic bits and purposefully corny dance routines to recount their bouts with genius. Their stories unravel as parables to guide Ruby’s blossoming mind.

Marie Curie (Anna Lee Murray), a pioneering chemist and vociferous believer in scientific discovery, portrayed as flighty and slightly naive, freely experiments in a time when as woman thinking beyond child bearing and housework would have been taboo. She ultimately puts her own safety secondary to her curiosity. To her own detriment, her contributions to science duly receive history’s praise.

We find out gifted intelligence can be destructive. Writers Kelly Coffey and Don Russell recast Oppenheimer (Selena Milewski) in a stormy, death metal and occultish caricature. Milewski deftly summons a cold inaccessible presence that could conceive a technology able to kill 100,000 people in the blink of eye, yet possessing mysterious charm.

With a pipet of irony, Montgomery (Eric Scherrer) reveals that accidental brilliance can save humanity from something more dangerous than atomic weapons. Do IQ and social adjustment correlate? Coffey challenges the audience here, with Scherrer adding multiple doses of off-color humor. An epic breech of the forth wall brings Montgomery’s addition to the annals invention to bear, assisted by a low-tech Rube Goldberg machine.

Oft-noted local performance artists Sarah Ann Mellstrom and Ben Yela have serially trounced happily in the indie theatre scene and continue their proficiency here by grounding this play with well-rounded and interesting mannerism and movement. Yela, touting the exploits of Nikola Tesla’s seminal inventions that transformed the possibilities of transporting electricity without insulated wires, takes his character toward comedic lunacy. We learn even the best ideas can threaten powerful interests and be suppressed at the expense of humanity.

Introducing synchronicity, Einstein (Mellstrom) opens our thoughts to the possibility of natural harmony, even among objects of obvious discord. In the process, Einstein settles the debate of the solubility of geekiness and cool.

Techno Chango

Fruition of a Delusion brings Cooperative Performance Milwaukee together with students of Marquette U’s school of engineering. With that arrangement come some fancy toys to digitally assist the production. The school’s visualization lab gives the production a virtual set, a 3D projected environment (Chris Larkee) that turns a 4 x 15 alcove into a 1,550 square foot foyer. Imagine a video game transplanted out of a television set.

A live music ensemble provides the soundtrack for most of the musical numbers and scene interludes. Julianne Frey gives direction for Elizabeth Smith, Scherrer, Lizzy Biermann (Arrangement), Matthew Mueller to play the tunes live.


Rattle and Roam

Fruition of a Delusion tumbles through a rambling and prolix script relying heavily of the random access memory of Corkins, and the rest of the ensemble, to sharply deliver a succession of quip and obscure references to pop culture, philosophy, science factoids and terminology. In this task the ensemble passes the test, switching between the script and movement choreography (Daniel Burkeholder) with ease.

The costume design (Colby Breyfogle) follows the nontraditional casting, offering non-sequitur interpretations of style sense exuded by the scientists’ portrayed. Sydonia Lucchesi saw to the stage management.

Fruition of a Delusion is performed in the 3D Visualization lab of the Marquette University Opus School of Engineering, on the corner 16th and Wisconsin Ave. with remaining performances Friday February 17th and Saturday the 18th at 8p, and Friday February 24th at 8p, and closing the 25th with performances at 3p and 8p.