Six-month-old Forge Coffee Lab brings a new level of craft coffee service to the Tri-Lakes area, evidenced by a shiny new La Marzocco espresso machine and rear display of all the nerdiest gadgets, like a siphon-brew stack and Chemex pourover units. But those would be nothing but counter clutter without competent baristas. Owners Shawn and Robin Krzykowski both are — she in the industry for six years, and he since the early ’90s, he says, noting this is the first shop he’s owned. They recently moved to the area from Houston, Shawn citing weeks he’d spent here during summer vacation as a kid. This time, he came with the intent to open Forge.
For food, they carry a small selection of quality, locally made grab-and-go items (sandwiches, quiches, pastries) from the likes of The French Kitchen and Taste of Life. You can also pick up retail beans from select Springs-based roasters, as well as more distant, premier roasteries. For the house ’spro, Forge has chosen Story Coffee’s Walden blend (usually Ethiopian/Costa Rican) for the regular and Hold Fast Coffee Co.’s Colombian for the decaf.
I’m excited to find a new-to-me industry drink, perhaps naively thinking all this time that the sole secret-handshake item was the One & One (a double shot split into a neat sipper and a macchiato, for contrast, to taste-test a bean/roast). Apparently the Undertow has been a thing — a creation of Starbucks employees a decade ago says the internet — and I can understand why after shooting one. Yes, Shawn tells me it’s meant to be shot, not sipped, as a pump of vanilla syrup (Forge makes all their syrups in-house) on bottom with heavy cream atop, into which a double shot of espresso gets floated. I shoot mine and experience a delightful, sweet (but not overly), rich and velvety texture and flavor, an unashamed treat compared to the purist craft coffee drinks that are left unadulterated by milks.
For one of those, order Forge’s Stout Americano, which isn’t just a typical double shot watered down to basically be a mug of drip coffee, nor is it like a Red Eye, that being brewed coffee with an espresso shot added. Instead, it’s an equal ratio of water to espresso — either four shots for $5.50 or six for $6 here, equating to a 12- or 16-ounce drink. I wisely choose decaf on this one, not wishing to be jittery the rest of the day, and enjoy the Colombian roast’s upfront sour brightness and deep, bitter dark chocolate aroma that finishes with a faint pop of citrus for us; we struggle to agree on blood orange or tangerine as a more specific note.
While we’ve enjoyed the Undertow and the easy joy of a traditional macchiato in-house as we talk over the counter with Shawn, we take the Stout Americano and a Chai Latte to go. He’s recommended the homemade chai drink to us in part because I asked him to suggest a good drink that would let me try the housemade almond milk. We make it a dirty chai with an added espresso infusion. I like that the drink on the whole doesn’t cloy, nor overdo the spices. It’s more subtle, the almond milk having a slightly leaner body, the chai mix folding into the coffee nicely, and finishing on the palate like a gingerbread cookie, about 10 seconds after you’ve chewed a bite, as the biting spices recede.