Arriviste is Serious About Roasting

For anyone who might accuse a specialty coffee shop of being pretentious, Arriviste Coffee Roasters owner Kim Lopez shares that he used to drink dollar bodega coffee in New York. “For a while, coffee was just coffee to me,” he said. “I’ve always been an enthusiastic consumer of coffee, but I was very resistant to it being ‘fancy.’ My first exposure to coffee being more than just coffee was at a pop-up at the Brooklyn Museum. There was a natural Ethiopian they were serving and I thought, huh, I’ll get that. It tasted like blueberry juice, and I was like ‘What the hell is this?’”

Despite his confusion, Lopez got hooked on the possibilities of coffee from there. “That was the first time I conceptualized coffee in a deeper way. Later, I learned that that’s not an uncommon experience. A lot of people get more into coffee from an Ethiopian blend,” he said. Brooklyn Roasting Company, the pop-up Lopez sampled, is still in business, but his tastes have evolved. When he moved to Pittsburgh with his wife, he left behind his work in New York as a corporate consultant in the medical field and could realize a passion project he’d been kicking around for years: Opening a coffeeshop. Since 2017, Lopez now runs Pittsburgh’s first coffeeshop to use an under-counter Modbar espresso machine and the only shop in the city to use a Bellwether in-store roaster.

The Roasting Process at Arriviste

“I want approach coffee similar to wine. It has its own terroir,” he said. As we spoke, he was roasting beans he calls San Gabriel, a product of a young woman and her father outside of Medellín, Colombia in the shop’s Bellwether roaster. “People should be able to experience the taste. Winemakers know how to make things taste, even if they’re blends, not single grapes, which most wines aren’t. Coffee technology isn’t as advanced to get that taste, so you have to make sure you have the right tools.”

The Bellwether roaster Arriviste uses has a lower carbon footprint than the traditional approach of having an offsite facility to roast and distribute from, Lopez fell in love with the process itself of roasting. At first Lopez roasted using the profile settings the Bellwether came with. But, over time, he developed his own custom profiles. “It’s about temperature and time. Terroir implies a specific coffee should taste a specific way, and I’m wary of over-roasting too dark and roasting away the taste. Or, if it’s too light, it’ll taste vegetal, like beans.”

A Space for Caffeinated Enjoyment

Lopez is a friendly, down to earth presence and Arriviste’s stripped-down natural light interior (designed by Studio Lithe) is inviting, but he’s serious about coffee, both its production and its enjoyment. The café has no wall outlets in it to encourage visitors to come to talk and enjoy a drink rather than only to work. Cafés where you hang out and talk with friends might seem ubiquitous now. But Pittsburgh only got its first in 1991 in the form of The Beehive on the South Side.

With the specialty coffee boom came in an interest in specialty lattes like the matcha latte or the pumpkin spice latte.“If I had my way, I’d think of a simple minimal menu with just black coffee, espresso, and cappuccino, but I understand that people want something more interesting or sweeter. If you go to a nice cocktail bar, they have names for everything and a lot of thought and context is in everything,” Lopez said. For specialty items, he drew on his Filipino heritage. Arriviste advertises itself as the “home of the ube latte,” but that latte is technically called The Thrilla from Manila, after the 1975 match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

“I’m by no means the first person to do an ube latte in Pittsburgh, but it’s part of my life and heritage. That boxing match happened in the neighborhood I grew up in in Manila. I meant for the drink to taste like the ube jam that’s basically ubiquitous in the Philippines,” Lopez said.

Menu Updates

The team at Arriviste has since decided to lean into Lopez’s Filipino heritage. Starting this summer, Arriviste will be offering pan de sal, a Filipino soft bread roll. “You can use it for anything, to dip in coffee, breakfast, afternoon snack,” Lopez said. He product-tested it with baker friends and colleagues over the past nine months.

But it really clicked when he invited one baker, he was working with over to his home to try his wife’s version of pan de sal. “That was when we really got the recipe. Anyone can read a recipe, but a recipe from your culture is one you’re intimately familiar with and there are little nuances that you can only get from that.” He also plans on bringing a new specialty drink to the menu infusing the taste of plantains from the Philippines into a latte.

Prior to fulfilling his dream of owning a coffeeshop, Lopez was a research scientist. He brings that interest in testing formulas for the best possible results to his business. On Arriviste’s Instagram, he posted a scientific-looking pie-chart of all the regions he sources coffee from—almost 30% come from Africa. He’s hoping to increase his inventory to include more from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Bolivia, and eventually the Philippines. Though an specialty shop like Arriviste isn’t for everyone, sometimes the best things in life aren’t. It wouldn’t be specialty if it was just like everything else.

Story by Emma Riva / Photo courtesy of Arriviste 

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