Coffee drinkers know that the closer you are to a cup of coffee, the better, and experienced coffee drinkers know the corollary: The closer the cup of coffee is to you, the better. Now, the Midwest is a fine place to grow a lot of things, but not coffee beans. The bean is nothing before it's roasted, of course, and St. Louis is replete with local roasters. The café that roasts its own beans is reminiscent of another dear departed era, when cities were full of small breweries, some that served only a handful of taverns. And that's a good thing. These days we have everything from industrial-size roasters that sell their beans wholesale nationwide to neighborhood joints that serve the community their own robust wake-up brew. Shaw's Coffee, Ltd. falls nearer the latter end of that spectrum: Since 1999 they've roasted their beans in a former bank building on Shaw Avenue. Half the space is dedicated to the coffee shop (the safety deposit box vault is still open — perfect if you want some quiet or privacy), the other half to retail. The beans originate from the usual nations, like Ethiopia, Colombia and New Guinea; each batch is roasted by a specialist according to his ability, each bean roasted to its need. If all of this sounds familiar, it should: Coffee roasting is as much artisan as it is art, and the consistency of the work — that is, to be consistently good — is one of the hallmarks of superior craftsmanship. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding: If you aren't sure, sit at the café and drink one. It's a fine cup of joe.
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