Aamil Sarfani aims for the Austin coffee ideal

Aamil Sarfani soaks up the burnished light at Radio Coffee & Beer, a popular hangout on Manchaca Road.

“They nailed the feel,” says the owner of Apanas Coffee & Beer, which opened at two locations in Austin during 2016. “It’s not too quiet. They offer both beer and coffee, similar to what we do. At 5 p.m., they turn the Wi-Fi off. The work day is over; time to hang out. We are too scared to do that.”

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Aamil Sarfani, owner of two Apanas coffee and beer shops in Austin, seated at Radio, one of his favorite established spots. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

He points to the lightly scuffed floors.

“No, I just love this place,” Sarfani says. “This is one of the reasons we did wood floors, too.”

RELATED: Nifty coffee shop Apanas opens at key spot on South Congress.

San Antonio-born-and-bred Sarfani, 24, grew up in an entrepreneurial Indian-American family before attending business school at Emory University in Atlanta.

In 2014, he signed up for a class that looked interesting: Social Enterprise in Nicaragua.

“We learned how businesses can do more than just profit from their revenue stream,” Sarfani says. “And the school already had partners down there.”

RELATED: Looking for Austin coffee shops near Burnet Road.

For the class, he stayed over at El Peten coffee farm on Lake Apanas, the namesake for his two Austin outlets.

“Every morning, I went down to the lake and took pictures,” he says. “I came back with really fond memories. And the owner of that farm made connections for me with other sources in Nicaragua.”

RELATED: Trying out Austin coffee shops near Upper South Lamar.

Sarfani learned that by sidestepping third parties through the direct trade model, he, as a retailer, not only could increase the farmer’s share of the revenue, he also could improve transparency and traceability of coffee bean origin and movement, something that not all “fair trade” coffee shops can do.

 

“I came back from the trip the year before senior year and expected to eventually start a business, but I didn’t expect to do so right out of college,” he says. “I had all the resources in hand. Talked to professors, created business plan. I was ready to do something that means more than making a quick buck.”

RELATED: Test these Austin coffee shops near Lower South Lamar.

Sarfani now imports two single-origin beans.

“One is natural processed, Los Piños, picked off the tree andleft in the cherry to increase its sweetness,” he says. “It’s a hard process to master, what with errors, low yield. If you do it right, the coffee comes out fantastic. The other is washed El Peten. We also have a drip coffee that’s a blend of bean from farms in the Los Robos community, and the money goes back to the town’s clinic.”

That echoes the efforts of Austin’s Farahani family, which funds Nicaraguan health care through its nonprofit Fara Coffees.

RELATED: Savor Austin coffee shops near South First Street.

Sarfani grew up “behind the register” from age 12 at his father’s gas stations and fast food restaurants. So it made sense to pitch his dad as an investor.

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Scott Jones at Apanas Coffee and Beer on South Congress Avenue. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

He opened his first coffee shop in January on Rock Rose in the Domain Northside. It’s a mid-sized spot at 1,800 square feet. There’s not a lot of competition in this giant retail district for this wide open and comfortable spot that is not surprisingly already attracting regulars.

In the fall, he opened the second Apanas in a 2,500 square-foot former sports medicine space on South Congress, where there is indeed heavy-hitting competition from Jo’s Coffee, Toms Roasting Co. and Mañana Coffee & Juice.

“We have felt that,” Sarfani admits. “I consult with my Dad. He stays out of my way, tells me what I could be doing, but lets me makes mistakes.”

RELATED: Sip from Austin coffee shops near South Congress Avenue.

Apanas also offers 20 types of draft beer, selected with the same Sarfani philosophy: “High quality in everything”

“We are lucky enough to sell handmade products,” Sarfani says. “Our beer buyer is home brewer too, so very knowledgeable.”

Food is not a focus at Apanas, but one can pick up Quack’s bakery items, Tyson’s Tacos, and Fricanos Deli sandwiches.

Sarfani did hang some modest-sized TV screens in Apanas, unusual for a coffee shop, but he insists they will never become a focal point, except perhaps during parties on game nights.

RELATED: The original 10,000 coffee shops story from 2007.

Besides Radio, Sarfani reveals some of his other preferred Austin coffee shop:

Dominican Joe: “I like what they are doing on the back end, supporting a Dominican Republic community.”

Seventh Flag: “Great community, good vibe, trying to create sense of welcome, home.”

Houndstooth: “A reputation for serving the best coffee in town, but sometimes you get the wrong barista. We are focusing on consistency.”

The 10 worst Austin parties of 2016

Whether it’s a backyard barbecue, a glittering gala, a sprawling music festival or an intimate dinner, our city loves a party.

And 2016 gave us plenty of golden chances to meet fellow Austinites and hear their stories.

Yet some of those parties … oy.

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In my head, I can count at least 10 sour outings from 2016. (You didn’t really think I was going to name and shame, did you? You haven’t been reading this column for the past 10 or so years.)

RELATED: Sharp tips from a professional party planner.

Be of good cheer, prospective hosts, you can easily avoid that sour social aftertaste by watching out for these 10 perils. Then yours won’t be one of the 10 worst of 2017.

When in doubt, follow one rule: Be kind. Don’t waste time.

  • Program started too early. Be mindful of the web of daily activities in your guests’ lives. Example: Quite a few new social spots opened in the Domain Northside this year. Virtually every one of the opening bashes started at 6 p.m. Has nobody been on our roads at that time of day? Make it 7 p.m. and maybe we’ll call it a deal.
  • Program started too late. I kid you not, more than one host in 2016 assembled guests as early as 5 p.m., yet the main event had not begun by 9 p.m. As much as I like learning about other guests, that’s a lot of chat time to fill, or a lot of time in the lobby scrolling through emails.
  • Program started on time, but lasted way too long. Oh my. Such a widespread sin. Cut off speeches. Show one really good video instead. Take the temperature of the room. If your guests are noisy and restless, there’s a reason.
  • Live auction killed the buzz. This beast devoured some of the most fabled Austin parties in 2016. Don’t get me wrong: A good, short, lively — not necessarily loud — auction can be entertaining for the 95 percent of us not bidding. Ten, maybe 15 minutes max. Instead, why not hold a very quick “fund a cause” or, better yet, a raffle? They’re coming back.
  • Too many people honored. Look, I think it’s great that this city honors its worthy citizens. But oh my: Dozens of awards followed by dozens of acceptance speeches? Even Hollywood can’t make that work, and they’ve hired the best talent on the planet.
  • Lines too long. How often I am tempted to turn around and walk back home when I see a registration line snaking out of the lobby, down the hall and even, in one case, up a grand staircase. Buffet and bar lines are to be expected, but spread the stations out and make sure that their numbers are proportionate to the size of your crowd.
  • Too many acts. Many parties engage a warm-up band, then a late-night dance band. A few appear to invite every act in town up on the stage. We love our Austin musical greats, but this is too much. Guests start to wander off.
  • Too much internal transit time. Some hosts get creative and spread a party out over several locales. This makes for something of an adventure — and certainly we can use the exercise — but tick tock.
  • Parking snarled. This one doesn’t apply very often to me, but I’ve watched the aggravation at the curb. If everyone is required to valet, and they all leave at the same time, somebody is going to wait a very long time. (Stray note: Always tip your valet handsomely. It’s not an easy job in the best of circumstances.)
  • Segregated tables. This one applies to just a few of us. When a host segregates the press to one table, we are robbed of any opportunity to engage other guests and, presumably, tell their stories. Another waste of social time.

 

Best Texas books: Rev up with ‘Miles and Miles of Texas’

This week in “Texas Titles,” we take a very long road trip, scan murals at Texas post offices, seek solutions for the Yogurt Shop Murders, take in more football and dive into a museum’s loaned artifacts.

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“Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department.” Carol Dawson with Roger Allen Polson. Texas A&M University Press.

What a great and necessary book! So much of Texana focuses on the state’s pre-industrial past. Yet Texas is a place of cities and suburbs connected to vast expanses by an intricate modern network of interstates, federal highways, state highways, farm and ranch roads, as well as county roads and city streets. Austin-based writer Carol Dawson and former TxDOT thought leader Roger Polson put together this 100-year history relying partly on the agency’s priceless photo collection, edited by Geoff Appold. We promise to dig deeper into this fine volume to produce a feature story in early 2017. Meanwhile, it makes a terrific coffee table book with as much to read as to see.

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“The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People.” Philip Parisi. Texas A&M University Press.

If ever a regional book demanded a second printing in paperback, this is one. The New Deal sparked an unprecedented outbreak of public art in styles readily accessible to the general public. And where else to place them during the 1930s than at government gathering places that every community patronized? Parisi, formerly of the Texas Historical Commission, first produced this marvelous guide in 2004. It provides 127 images from the 106 artworks — some gone — commissioned for 69 post offices in the state. The images celebrate Texas life and history, with an emphasis on everyday labors. On a side note, Parisi does not mention contemporaneous artist Paul Cadmus, but several of the images are rendered in his unmistakable homophile style.

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“Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.” Beverly Lowry. Knopf.

Here’s something to contemplate: The Austin Police Department is still working on the Yogurt Shop Murders case. Yes, still. The four girls were found naked, bound and gagged on Dec. 6, 1991. The late Corey Mitchell’s 2005 “Murdered Innocents” raked up all those terrible memories. Now, distinguished Austin journalist and fiction writer Lowry tells the ongoing tale crime, punishment, reversal and frustration. We’d love to interview the author on the subject, but we’ll have to read it more thoroughly first. That will happen.

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“Pigskin Rapture: Four Days in the Life of Texas Football.” Mac Engel and Ron Jenkins. Lone Star Books.

Recently, we wrote about Nick Eatman’s “Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Seems like an idea that’s going around. Engel, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Ron Jenkins, a DFW-based contract photographer, teamed up on this chronicle of a four-day period in autumn 2015. Again, the granddaddy of this form was H.G. Bissinger’s groundbreaking “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream,” later morphed into a movie and one of the best TV series ever. This volume maintains a playful tone to go along with the lively photographs, which often capture what’s happening off field as well as before and after the games.

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“Seeing Texas History: The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.” Edited by Victoria Ramirez. The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

What a matched pair: Two handsome books tied to the state’s history museum. The first lays out the artifacts borrowed by and displayed by the Bullock. The texts are minimal but essential and exacting. All is organized by periods such as “Empires,” “Struggle for Independence” and “Modern Texas.” The second books goes with an extremely powerful exhibit that includes local contributions from Austin’s Phillipson family collection. You can read more about the first book here, and more about the second book here.

How to trace the Medina River

Over the course of 10 years, Michael Barnes and Joe Starr have traced 50 Texas rivers by car and on foot. We inaugurate our expanded Texas River Tracing guide with the Medina River.

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MEDINA RIVER

Length: 116 miles

Source: Edwards Plateau in northwestern Bandera County

Mouth: San Antonio River in southern Bexar County

Lake: Medina

Our main route: Always try alternate routes. That’s how you discover Texas. This trip, we took Texas 16, FM 1283, PR 37, FM 1283, FM 471, US 90, Cagnon Road, Macdona Lacoste Road, Nelson Road, CR 1604, Palo Alto Road, E. Charles William Anderson Loop, Interstate 37 access roads, plus inevitable side trips and impulse stops.

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Places to See: In Bandera, the Frontier Times Museum and the courthouse; Hill Country State Natural Area, southwest of Bandera; Castroville, to explore Alsatian heritage and architecture, including the Landmark Inn, a State Historic Site; Lake Medina, good for boating and fishing when the water is up; Castroville Regional Park, not fancy but with good trails; Medina Natural River Area, a City of San Antonio preserve. (A reminder for your physical and legal well-being: Stay off private land.)

Natural history: Named in 1689 for Pedro Medina, a Spanish engineer, this river rises rapidly among extinct volcanoes that formed along the Balcones Fault. It shares a ridge on the Edwards Plateau with the more famous Guadalupe River. Primarily, it drains Bandera County in a region with a dry, subtropical climate that promotes short grasses and scattered oaks and junipers.

Human history: One of the bloodiest battles ever fought in Texas took place at the river on August 18, 1813, pitting Spanish Royalists against a ragtag army of republicans, an encounter that was part of the larger fight for Mexico’s independence from Spain. After four hours, the royalists won resoundingly. In 1842, Col. John Coffee “Jack” Hays defeated a band of Comanches during at Bandera Pass, a V-shaped cut in the ridge between the Guadalupe and Medina Valleys that was used by the Indians, Spanish, and early Anglos, and later formed part of the Western Cattle Trail. On maps of the 1830s, the Medina serves as the southern border of the Department of Bexar — and thus, Texas. On January 15, 1842, the empresario Henri Castro negotiated a contract to settle Alsatian families in a colony on the Medina, which he did with Hays’s assistance in 1844. Castroville was founded in September of that year. As with much of West Texas, very few slaves were brought to communities along the Medina; a little over 100 were counted in Bandera and Medina Counties during the 1860 census. Unsurprisingly, local enthusiasm for secession was not high. In the only real military action in the area during the Civil War, General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s Confederate cavalry brigade passed through on its way to invade New Mexico. In contrast with much of West Texas, there were no forts in the valley during the Indian Wars. Although US 90 goes through Castroville and San Antonio, the Upper Medina River region generally provides few transportation options. In 1880, for instance, Castroville refused to give the Southern Pacific Railroad a bonus, so it passed south of town. Tourism, including tubing, camping, and dude ranching, remains a major industry. Some farms produced minimal amounts of corn and cotton, but ranches have turned out plenty of cattle since Spanish days. Lackland Air Force Base helped transform the Lower Medina, and Medina and Bandera Counties are today included in the San Antonio Metropolitan Statistical Area.

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Our Trip: The drive from Kerrville to the source of the river is not for the faint of heart — a twisty, turning two-lane road through hills and dales. Like the other rivers wriggling south off the Edwards Plateau, its mother canyon is gorgeous and rugged. We followed it down Texas 16, the narrowest state highway we have ever encountered. The river, already swift and lined with cypresses, appears at full force before reaching the village of Medina, where the North and West Prongs meet to form the Medina proper. In the valleys, we encountered stretches of road that narrowed to one lane under construction. Traffic lights, rather than flaggers, guided the drivers from each direction. Drivers approaching from the opposite direction were, for the most part, courteous and mindful of the ersatz traffic signals. The first town of any consequence is Bandera, the self-styled Cowboy Capital of Texas, once a cypress lumbering camp and then a magnet for Polish and German immigrants. The beauty of the verdant valley is complemented by the historic downtown and numerous guest ranches. We wandered around a bit, but the scene seemed tilted toward the tourist trade. Our next adventure took us south, a right turn at Pipe Creek onto FM 1283, a winding back road to a lookout park over Medina Lake. The park itself was empty, and the lake — still low in late 2015 — without activity. But, boy, do those rugged hills make a great setting. The lake road was cluttered with “Do Not Enter” signs and trashed-out yards. A few miles past the Dancing Bear Cantina, we made a hairpin right on FM 471, where the Medina picks up steam again near the hamlet of Rio Medina The river then gently enters Castroville on the plains below. After longing to explore this Alsatian community for decades, we were delighted to find that many of the slope-roofed structures had been preserved. To catch the river, we hiked through Castroville Regional Park and stopped next to a camp of human snowbirds. On this fine day, joggers and picnickers joined us. The stream bends widely among thick cypresses hung with Spanish moss. It could have been East Texas! Lunch was at the Alsatian-themed Castroville Cafe—good food, much appreciated—and then we headed east on US 90 and drifted into the dreaded gravitational pull of San Antonio. To our surprise, little of the land southwest of the metropolis was developed. We couldn’t get close to the Medina’s mouth, at the San Antonio River just off Interstate 37. Just as well: from the surroundings, we guessed it would not be pretty.

Books to check out: Texas: A Historical Atlas, Rivers of Texas, Spanish Texas, Flash Floods in Texas, Texas Water Atlas, Handbook of Texas, The Adventures of Big Foot Wallace.

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Floods: In 1932, 14 inches of rain fell in a few hours, and Medina Lake rose 22.5 feet. In August 1978, 20.2 inches drenched the town of Medina, and the Manatt Ranch received 48 inches, then a record for a seventy-two-hour period. Raging water encircled the town, plowing through camps in the way. The river peaked at 56 feet in Bandera, which locals said was nearly as bad as a 1919 flood. In July 2002, the Medina flowed into Bandera shops and over the spillway at Medina Lake. Downstream, Castroville experienced its worst flood ever.

State of the River: The Upper Medina, which flows over a limestone bed, is fairly pristine. Settlers chopped down many of the ancient cypresses, but floods eventually wiped out the lumber industry. Now, other than during extreme droughts, the water runs clear and fast; it is never very deep except when in flood. Once the river drops onto the plains, agriculture, industry, dumps, and military installations bedevil it. The river borders the Nueces River Authority, established in 1935, but is not controlled by it. The lower part falls within the boundaries of the San Antonio River Authority.

How to Help: Save Medina Lake, a subset of Lake Medina Conservation Society, aims “to ensure effective stewardship of the water in the lake to benefit farmers, ranchers, recreational users, area businesses and surrounding counties.” The Medina River Protection Fund provides support for an annual river cleanup. Texas Rivers Protection Association, more generally looks after the quality of the state’s remaining natural rivers. The Texas Living Waters Project, a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, is working “working to protect wildlife by ensuring that abundant fresh water is flowing in Texas rivers and into our bays.”

Best Austin coffee shops near Burnet Road

After perusing the coffee shops in South Central Austin — see links below — we headed up north to Burnet Road. One finds many parallels.

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Upper Crust Bakery. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Upper Crust Bakery. 4508 Burnet Road. 512-467-0102. uppercrustbakery.com. 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sun. Limited onsite parking. Decaf (brewed), teas and chai. No discernible Wi-Fi. Either no music, or it’s very quiet.

The name says it all. Upper Crust has been among Austin’s best bakeries for decades. The main attraction is a long, bent counter filled with cakes, pies, cupcakes, Danishes, croissants, breads and other baked good. Guests stream by, then reach two almost always busy registers. But wait. Upper Crust also offers sandwiches, soups, tortillas, as well as espresso-based and drip coffee drinks.Worn wood chairs, tables, cabinets and shelves lend it a warm Old World feel. At certain times of day, an Old Austin crowd actually read print newspapers. Despite the high ceilings and hard surfaces, it’s quiet enough for the conversational arts. Juices, milk, pop supplement the lunch specials. Telling detail: Black and white pictures of staff at work through the years. This is an excellent place to pick up a special occasion cake, but I couldn’t pick up a Wi-Fi connection and, let’s face it, more attention is given to the baked goodness. Coffee drinks are more of an afterthought.

RELATED: Sip from Austin coffee shops near South Congress Avenue.

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Pacha Organic Café. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Pacha Organic Café. 4618 Burnet Road. 512-420-8758. pachatx.com. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m-7 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Limited onsite parking. Wi-Fi: “pachapublic. Passwrod: “pachalatte.” Decaf (pour-over or Americano), teas and chai. Perky music. Quiet spots possible.

We’ve long thought that Pacha serves some of the best coffee in town. Maybe it starts with the beans. Or the roasting. Whatever the secret, we’re regularly impressed. Bright colors, tiles, round and square tabletops amplify the Latin American atmosphere, where one can order from dozens of coffee drinks and a complement of teas, juices, mile, Italian sodas, smoothies and hot chocolate. A few tables and chairs are perched out back on a cute deck. Beer and wine are also available. The menu? Start with “always organic” eggs, milk, yogurts, fruit, vegetables, beef  and honey, all clearly sourced. The sign informs us: “No more tamales.” Breakfast specials might include pancakes, hash or french toast. There’s more: Quiche, salad, empanadas, tortas. Just as importantly, the place radiates soul, that hard to define quality that includes authenticity, worldly wisdom and joy.

RELATED: Test these Austin coffee shop near Lower South Lamar Boulevard.

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Monkey’s Nest. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Monkey Nest Coffee. 5353 Burnet Road. 512-505-8033. monkeynest coffee.com. Open 24 hours. Generous onsite parking. Password-free Wi-Fi. Decaf, teas. Moderately amplified music fills many a quiet corner

Boy, did the founders of this coffee shop fill a waiting niche. Before Lower Burnet Road took off to the tune of hundreds of new apartments and dozens of refilled and refined midcentury shopping centers, Monkey Nest packed its long, softly lighted space — angled to the street — with more tables than you’ll find in most other Austin coffee spots. On a winter Wednesday afternoon, almost every table was taken up by laptoppers using the password-free Wi-Fi. At the long, clearly organized counter, one lines up to order from a vast menu that includes espresso-based, French press and brewed coffee drinks, as well as teas, smoothies, pastries, soups, salads, pizza and sandwiches. Your name goes into the register, so when your order is ready, it’s as easy as listening for your call. Folks in business attire join the usual younger types that haunt coffee shops. Bonus: The coffee is actually good and, amazingly, it’s open 24 hours a day.

RELATED: Savor Austin coffee shops near South First Street.

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Genuine Joe Coffeehouse. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman.

Genuine Joe Coffeehouse. 2001 W. Anderson Lane. 512-220-1576. genuinejoecoffee.com. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m-10 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Lots of onsite parking, but watch the signs. Password-free Wi-Fi. Decaf (Americano). Pleasant music and plenty of quiet.

This former northern Austin coffee outpost now feels comfortably central these days. First, there’s the funky, laid-back scene in a old commerical building, surrounded by a giant parking lot. Up front are stools and counters as well as unmatched tables and chairs. Out back is more like a lounge or a rumpus room. The main counter is bisected by the pastry displays and the whole service area is plastered with images and slogans. The place offers plenty of waters, sodas, juices and teas to back up the hot and cold coffee, as well as smoothies and a few lunch items. On a very cold day, there were plenty of spots to fill, but that meant more time with the extremely engaged barista. Among amazing things here are the prices. Low! A decaf cost me under $2, which made my usual dollar tip a 50 percent grace note. And that Americano decaf, served with an unforced smile, was darn good.

RELATED: Trying Austin coffee shops near Upper South Lamar Boulevard.

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RELATED: Our original 2007 Austin coffee shop series.