At Work With Metric Coffee

At Stock we use time-tested methods of production and appreciate the fine details that make a garment built to last. For our At Work series, we focus on like-minded companies and individuals who don’t do things the expedient way, but the right way.

This time, we’re featuring a business down the street from our store, Metric Coffee. Started in 2013, the company quickly gained acclaim for their delicious coffee--Chicago Magazine’s “Best Espresso” in 2017--and shop, which ZAGAT, Eater and Roast Magazine have featured. Once you step foot into their minimally elegant cafe, all senses are satisfied by wafting roasting aromas, perfect volume music and plenty of natural light. The coffee is sublime.

We sat down with owners Darko and Xavier to hear more about where they’ve been and where they’re headed.

For those who are just hearing about Metric, what is it?

Metric Coffee is the brainchild of Darko Arnadjelovic and myself, born out of our need to create a brand that reflects our passion for clean coffee and compelling design. We started Metric in early 2013 out of a garage in Humboldt Park with just one machine, a few coffee bags and our hands. At the time, our first space had no AC or Heat which made it the least ideal scenario, but it taught us that building a quality brand takes time, not money. Our goal, since day one is to build a brand people can trust; anywhere our coffees are available should be a delightful experience and every time you take a bag of Metric Coffee home, should be a reminder to the consumer that we care about quality and want them to enjoy our coffees just as much we do. That is who Metric was, is and always will be!

What was the moment you realized Coffee should be your career?

My coffee career started purely out of a necessity, but shortly thereafter became obsessed with the beverage, the process and how to achieve optimum flavor. Eventually, after checking out an annual Specialty Coffee Expo back in 2002, I stopped in to taste a natural process coffee brewed in a Clover Brewer that tasted like hot maple syrup and blueberries and my mind was blown. It was right there and then that I realized that THIS is what I needed to do with my life.

Darko is the current owner Caffe Streets and Xavier is a former roaster at Intelligensia, how do those skills combine when it comes to Metric?  

Darko had his ownretail café, Caffe Streets, prior the launching Metric. This allowed us automatic distribution and the opportunity to connect with coffee consumers directly. Our goal from day one was super simple: buy delicious coffee, roast it to perfection and serve said coffees via our wholesale partners. Of course, there’s a lot more to it, including branding, marketing and operations, but ultimately our business is based on sourcing the best coffee we can get our hands on and roasting to highlight each varietal’s unique flavor profile. 

We love vintage manufacturing gear! What can you tell us about the '61 Probat UG 15 you restored and use to roast beans?

Our roaster is the stuff of dreams, but initially it was a living nightmare. We purchased the machine, sight unseen from a seller in Germany who unbeknownst to us, didn’t have the greatest reputation. After a few months of emailing, phone arguments and nearly buying two plane tickets to Germany, we finally received the roaster, albeit in complete shambles. That is of course what we get for buying a very expensive machine, sight unseen from a seller that had little to no public information on his site. Still, out of all the hubbub, we decided to persist, fix the roaster and get our dream underway one bearing at a time. That was back in 2012,  it took four solid months of rebuilding the machine ourselves to get the roaster up and running. This experience taught us what we were made of and continues to inspire us when we run into stumbling blocks.

There seems to be an endless demand for great coffee in Chicago, what sets Metric apart?

Our focus on both quality coffee and hospitality. We pride ourselves on focusing on every single detail of our coffee from how we source and roast to how the label looks and the guest experience within the cafe; the devil is in the details.

Metric has been collaborating in the beverage space with companies like Cardinal Spirits and our good buddies Hopewell Brewing Co. What is your approach to the collaborations and do you have any upcoming that you can talk about?  

Collaborations are the fun part of our business. To date, we have collaborated with with like-minded brands and nonprofits like CB2, Paws, Pilot Light, Hopewell Brewing, Koval Distillery, Cardinal Spirits, Flowers for Dreams and the band The Devil Wears Prada. As for our approach, it’s fairly simple- we invite our collaborator in for a cupping, taste coffees blindly and discuss what flavors they perceive in those samples and see what draws them to each samples. For the beer collabs, we generally discuss the style of beer they are making or if we’re lucky get to taste some during our cupping and talk about which coffee we all collectively feel would be the most complementary to the beer. These sort of collaborations, we feel, really connect the brewer to our product and vice versa which makes it all the more exciting for everyone involved.

Your coffee shop on Fulton is keenly designed with a patio. How does Metric the brand translate into a physical space and what can people expect when they visit?  

Prior to our café, awareness of Metric Coffee was lacking. Having a public presence tremendously helped our wholesale and consumer business. Now, about our café; it is small but mighty. It was design by Darko along with his friend/architect Brent Norsman who also designed Caffe Streets. It’s an ode to simple and clean Scandinavian-inspired design that is very different in this neighborhood but still manages to blend in well with the area. As for the café area, we are talking 400 square feet which can only accommodate 3-5 guests inside, our patio makes hanging out and enjoying coffee and conversation a lot easier.

Metric is in its 5th year of business, if you could go back and give yourself advice in year 1, what would it be?

If I had a time machine and could back to give myself advice, it would definitely be to slow down. Back then we were so fixated on being where we are at today, and while we are 100% grateful for all of the good and bad experiences, we still could have used a day off or two.

What other Chicago companies do you think our readers should know about?

Besides Stock Mfg. who of course made all of our custom aprons for our baristas (they truly killed it with these), I would say that among my personal favorites are Red and White for wine, mostly because of you can't go wrong with any of their recommendations, our friends at Federal Moto who build the most beautiful motorcycles and are also some of the nicest dudes you'll ever meet and last but not least our homies at Arbor Projects who are not only our partners but also throw down on some delicious food and drinks but are also a talented group of humble beasts; definitely a place worth checking out.

TEN THINGS w/ Darko and Xavier