September 2017

The French Bakery: A Devotion to Coffee

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

There are many sweet, savory, and social motivations for stopping by The French Bakery in Shelter Cove Towne Centre on Hilton Head Island. Staff bustle about serving guests—some who are getting in-and-out quickly, and others who enjoy the café society aspects of this special spot. Like cafés around the world, coffee is the barometer by which many guests measure their devotion, and owner Marek Belka attends to this aspect of his restaurant with a great deal of care and passion.

Offering espresso and its many incarnations, cold brew, and drip coffees, the day begins with tasting, testing, and calibrating the grind of the beans—always sourced from King Bean Coffee in Charleston. Daughter-in-law Ellie, and expert barista, makes an espresso or two for Belka’s scrutiny. In addition to tasting, he sprinkles a few large sugar crystals over the cup’s crema (foamy surface). “The sugar should keep a little bit [in the crema], and then slowly sink into the espresso,” Belka said. Adjustments are made, if needed, the selection of precisely-right cups for each of their java elixirs are lined up, and The French Bakery is primed for the day. “When you have a good cup of coffee, it’s not only what is inside, but how it is presented.”

The beans are ground immediately before any cup of espresso is made, or before brewing pots of drip coffees. The larger drip batches are carefully monitored throughout the day, and when they are no longer at their best, new batches are prepared. A four-step water filtration system is key to the taste of their coffee drinks, Belka said. “Like making whiskey or wine, the water makes a difference.” With three common filters, and one final filtration specifically selected for each brewing process, the water is always at its best.

Belka’s passion for finding the finest local coffee wherever his travels take him resulted in a lesson on cold brewing on a visit to Dayton, Ohio several years ago. Now serving nitrogen-infused cold brew from a shiny beer-tap-like spigot, they are making two, 50-gallon batches each week, and demand is growing. The science behind cold brewing results in a pleasant coffee drinking experience. “The brewing process and the nitrogen makes it smoother, nicer, and a little bit foamy.

“I love coffee, not only as a drink, but as something to celebrate,” Belka said…with passion.

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