ONYX Coffee Bar

Author: george Posted: May 25, 2011

I’ll have a black coffee please.

Last week we took to the road for a one and a half hour drive from Vancouver through farmland, over the border, and to just outside of downtown Bellingham to arrive at Onyx Coffee Bar.  It was opened just a couple months ago slightly under the radar by Mr. Edwin Martinez, a name you may recognize as being responsible for the widespread availability of the ever-sought after (and often elusive) Hario products, and for providing and guiding many roasters from around the world to truely wonderful coffees from Guatemala.

The story goes as follows:  Before opening, Edwin went around to a bunch of customers of local cafes with the question why they frequented the cafes they did, having options such as “coffee, location, service, price, etc” to choose from.  Contrary to what coffee people would hope, “Coffee” wasn’t even in the top 5 reasons (It actually came 7th).  What came first slips my mind at the moment – convenience maybe? – but none the less, he acknowledged the data and opened up his coffee shop.  Only he did the opposite of the data, and opened a cafe that focused solely on coffee.

That focus on coffee is presented not just by what they have, but perhaps even more so in what they don’t have.

What they have: an unparalleled selection of coffee.  When we were there we could have chosen from over 20 coffees, from 8 different roasters.  Each coffee is available via pour over or syphon, by the cup, or in a tasting flight of 3 coffees of your choice.
What they don’t have: Milk, or sugar, or a condiment stand of any kind.  And as for milk, that goes for both hot and cold.  There is an espresso machine, but it’s just for espresso.

Now with the above being said, the philosophy of the store is that every customer who walks in, walks out happy; whether they do so with a coffee, or empty handed with directions to another place.

And so now that you know the pre-story, you can view the images with it in mind.

The machine they use isn’t one that many people would be familiar with – but it’s really cool looking.  It’s Nuova Simonelli by make – a Nuova Simonelli Yacht Club.  (Type it into google if you think I fib.)  Obviously from the way it is situated on the bar you can’t see the back but it is paneled in wood (real or fake I don’t know) and is clearly designed with a “nautical” inspiration.  We stuck to drip coffee however, so I can’t tell you much more about the machine itself, or what was brewing.

The shop is small, with a few seats at the bar, and plays out more like a tasting room than your traditional cafe setting, which serves it’s purpose quite well.

“Pulpa” or cascara, from Edwin’s farm, that we tried cold and carbonated.  It was a work in progress he said, but very good none the less.  If you have access to any, you should give it a shot and see what you come up with.

Tim Wendelboe and Scott Rao neighbored one another on the bookshelf.

After the coffee gala, Edwin took out a suitcase and asked Evan to retrieve a key he had put behind the counter, and after stating, “no eyes had seen this yet”, he proceeded to tell us the story of how he came into possession of it’s internal contents and that they were older in years than he was.


Beautifully rare and accurate relieved maps of the Huehuetenango regions.  Edwin gave us a guided tour through his finger, tracing along the map over the rough roads and mountains through various farming regions while narrating.  (Did you know you could be stuck in some areas for several days?  Or that going to the bank is a 1+ hour endeavour?)

And when the the stories were done and the suitcase closed, it was back to the paved roads of Bellingham for us, over the border and into Vancouver.  But we’ll be back for certain.

If you’re looking for Edwin’s Hario (and more) page:  http://roustaboutproducts.com/

Onyx Coffee Bar:  1015 Railroad Avenue, Unit #105 (Bellingham, Washington State)
Hours of Operation:  Wednesday – Saturday, 10-6 (closed from 2-3 for lunch)
Tweeter: @onyxcoffeebar

13 Responses to “ONYX Coffee Bar

  1. Daryl says:

    Looks awesome! Great to see the coffee ‘bar style’ that accentuates the tasting dimension of the coffee experience. Really wonderful to see such an educational element to the things as well. Looking forward to a visit in the future.

  2. BWJ says:

    Fantastic post and beautiful photos as always George. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Deaton Pigot says:

    Photo’s look fantastic!

  4. Tristan says:

    Wow, I love to see people pushing the boundaries like that. All the best to these guys; I can’t wait to get down there!

  5. Kyle Wheeler says:

    Whoa. Roadtrip when I get back. Who´s in?

  6. Jessica Cole says:

    WOW. What a brave endeavor. Can’t wait to make the trek.

  7. Ceilidh says:

    Ahhh!!! This post just made me so excited. Thank you for posting this! Now if I only wasn’t in Halifax….

  8. Daniel of Arabica - cleanhotdry goes to Onyx says:

    [...] intimate portrait, in text and images, of a particular shop and the people who make it what it is.Recently, the cleanhotdry folks visited a new coffee bar in Bellingham, Washington, that goes by the…, that was created, in part, through a novel approach to the practice of consumer polling. The [...]

  9. Jonathan Lawson says:

    I’m glad I don’t have to take a road trip to enjoy Onyx. It is only a short walk away.

  10. David Evans says:

    This sounds lovely.
    It’s up the PNW coffee and culinary communities to make this shop a success. Road trip: planned…

  11. JamisonTroy says:

    I don’t even know what to say about this. So pure. So real.
    You should let me know when you are heading down there again.
    I would love to tag along.

  12. Cheoy Lee says:

    Astounding photography, looks like a great place.

  13. Tim Taylor says:

    Anxious to see this in person. Looks fantastic!

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