NORTH LIBERTY– From its architecture to its direct trade coffee, Café Muse embodies perfection.
Open since Feb. 4, the new North Liberty coffee shop boasts single origin coffee, high tea and caffeinated cocktails, as well as a unique indoor design.
For co-owners Nasi Moradi and CJ Huang, it’s about more than just cranking out warm cups of joe; it’s about the experience.
“I love our coffee and I love to see our customers being impressed by how well it has been made,” said Moradi. “Our whole goal for the café is to bring the coffee culture to the community. Bringing in new methods is one way to have customers try different things and see which is their favorite.”
Although the shop, located at 565 Cameron Way, does offer conventional batch brew coffee for customers in a hurry, the star of the show is the industry standard Hario V60 ceramic dripper– used in the menu’s many pour-over drinks.
“We’re using the same method for all of them, the pour over, and it’s very precise– how long, how much water, the weight,” said Moradi. “But different origins can make a huge difference in the taste. It’s really amazing.”
She said she suggests patrons with at least five minutes to spare, barring those in the drive-through, wait for a pour over brew. In their waiting, they may just learn something new about coffee.
“We both love coffee, but during the whole process and before that, we studied a lot,” Moradi confessed. “We learned a lot and every day we try to educate ourselves as well as our staff. We try to have them know everything about what they’re serving. That’s a very important part. We have customers watching our staff make pour overs, and they just keep talking about where the coffee comes from, what it tastes like, and the different characteristics.”
And from where exactly does the coffee come?
“All over,” said Huang. “Right now it’s Ethiopian, Brazilian and Peruvian.”
“We actually rotate between different regions because we want to educate our customers and give them the chance to try different regions and different flavors,” added Moradi.
Their Chicago-based supplier, Intelligentsia Coffee, works directly with farmers to ensure high-quality and high-yield beans for roasting. The product is a partnership that ensures premium coffee, as well as increased profits for the farmers– from Bolivia to Rwanda.
“Every coffee here, we know exactly each farm it’s coming from,” said Moradi. “All of these people in this chain, from the farmers to the roasters and to the baristas in our café, they try their best to create perfection in a cup of coffee.”
Café Muse mostly sells Intelligentsia’s single origin coffees, which feature beans picked from a particular growing region, but also offers coffee blends at a cheaper price. While a cup of batch brew goes for $2.50 at the coffee shop, a V60 pour over is based on market price and can fluctuate depending upon the weekly offerings.
Caffeine-lovers should expect nothing less from a self-proclaimed third-wave coffee shop, which means the owners care strongly about the quality of the coffee, where it’s sourced and how it’s brewed.
“Every single drink has its own precise way to do it,” Moradi reiterated.
For the pour over, that includes gram-by-gram measuring and re-measuring of coffee grounds and liquid, and a specific streaming of water (clockwise) into a pre-heated carafe.
Requiring even more precision, or at the least time, is the cold brew, which is made in-house over a 16-to-18-hour period.
“It’s like a giant chamber,” said Huang. “We put five pounds of coffee in, and it comes out very concentrated, almost as strong as an espresso shot, but a completely different flavor profile.”
He said Café Muse will use both methods– in addition to the traditional espresso– in its caffeinated cocktails, which just began selling last Friday, Feb. 24. The North Liberty City Council approved the shop’s Class C Liquor License with a Sunday sales endorsement at a regular Feb. 14 meeting.
“Technically the menu is a showcase of how different brewing methods can compliment the traditional cocktails,” said Moradi. “So we have an espresso martini or coffee old fashioned or Irish coffee that people are very excited to have.”
Huang said the two wish to create a sort of speakeasy lounge of sorts, something he thinks the Corridor area is lacking.
“It’s somewhere you can come and have a beer, a glass of wine, or a coffee cocktail and socialize without loud bar music or sports going on,” he said.
There are no television sets or loud music, but the Wi-Fi, booths and couches are plentiful at Café Muse.
“One of the things we wanted when we started thinking about the design was we wanted something that would be good as a less stressful office, or for business meetings, or to just hang out with friends,” said Moradi. “Something open and bright with a new contemporary style, something that would impress people.”
And impress it has, she said.
Completed by AKAR Architecture of Iowa City, the design is clean and modern with a creative and geometric faux ceiling.
“The design is as much as of the product as the coffee we’re serving,” Moradi added. “People walk in and they’re like wow, this is amazing.”
Jon Howes, of Iowa City, said the café reminds him of coffee shops in bigger cities like Chicago and Minneapolis. He’s already become a regular in the short amount of time the café has been open.
“I like the space. I think it’s really conducive to work. It’s pretty creative,” said Howes. “In terms of coffee quality, it’s probably the best in the area.”
Co-owners Huang and Moradi, both of North Liberty, said their own travels to metropolitan coffee shops were what inspired them to open Café Muse in the first place.
“Some of those places are amazing, how creative people are to make those coffee shops and how much thought they put into making a cup of coffee,” said Moradi. “Since we witnessed the growing community in North Liberty, we thought we should bring one of those places here.”
While Huang has restaurant experience as the owner of Rock Bar American Grill in Cedar Rapids, stepping into the service industry was a new endeavor for Moradi, who received an environmental engineering degree from the University of Iowa before becoming a realtor.
However, their relative inexperience with coffee didn’t stop them from introducing a product they felt was lacking.
“We really like how fast the community is growing. We wanted to be part of this growth,” Moradi explained.
The café also partners with local Coralville bakery Tip Top Cakes for its pastries, Rishi Organic Tea of Milwaukee, and the City of North Liberty in donating used coffee grounds for compost at the community garden.
Moradi said the high-traffic location along Penn Street has been great for business, as customers can pop into the drive-through before getting on Interstate 380.
“It’s easy to drive here. Parking is easy. We have a lot of residents around here that can just walk here on the nice days,” she added.
For now, the café is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, but Huang said they might extend the hours now that the caffeinated cocktails are available. While the drive-through opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, it and the café open at 7:30 a.m. on weekends.
“We are proud of it,” Moradi said of Café Muse. “We are proud of the staff. Everything is perfect.”