Boasting a laid-back, open industrial vibe, Ultimo Coffee has quickly made a name for itself both locally and nationally, recently snagging the #1 spot as America’s Best Coffee Shop on The Daily Meal. Best known for its minimalist design, hand-poured cups of Counter Culture coffee, and espresso shots pulled from one of four known Strada EP machines in the world, it’s easy to see why Ultimo ranks among the elite.
To kick off HyLo’s unofficial guide to all that is delicious, divine, and caffeine-infused in Philadelphia’s coffee scene, we sat down for a quick chat with Bradley Napier, barista extraordinaire at Ultimo Coffee in Graduate Hospital.
What got you into coffee?
I think, like a lot of people, I started drinking coffee during college for the caffeine boost, as well as its ability to presumably make you feel like more of an adult than you actually are. I still remember my first cup – it was an Irish Cream flavored “drink” from the 7-11 beneath my freshman year dorm in Washington, DC.
The following year, I was exposed to the much more palatable world beyond cheap diner coffee and corner store sludge. My best friend lived in the suburbs of DC, and whenever I went to visit, we would go to Murky Coffee in Arlington, Virginia. Oddly enough, my boss, Aaron, was a barista there for many years, including the years I was a patron. Visiting Murky Coffee was truly a turning point in changing the way that I view coffee.
What’s your favorite/specialty drink to make?
Honestly, I really enjoy pulling espresso shots for customers. Since you don’t have to steam milk as the shot is pulling, it affords you the opportunity to really focus on making sure that everything is optimal with the drink. In terms of specialty drinks, I love to make and serve cortados. Since they are served in a rocks glass, and not a ceramic cup, you can actually see the milk begin to settle and reveal the layer of foam as you set it down.
What sets your shop apart from the rest?
Especially as of late, Philadelphia is a city with a strong coffee scene that seems to only be getting stronger. There are a lot of really great shops around the city that are making coffee the right way, with passion and skill to boot.
What I can say that I like most about our shop, compared to a lot of other specialty coffee shops, is that we don’t use an automatic coffee machine. Any time of day that you come into our shop you are getting a hand-poured cup of coffee–whether it be via chemex or a beehouse dripper, and I think that’s really neat.
What are the most important elements of a good coffee shop?
There are so many crucial elements that can distinguish a great coffee shop from a place where you go to grab a quick cup. Just off the top of my head–making sure the coffee and milk you serve is of the highest quality is definitely key. Baristas who are passionate about what they do and who are willing to share that passion with the customer are also incredibly important. Also, managers and owners who understand what it means to work in a coffee shop, and are therefore able to support their baristas in the right way, really make for an enjoyable work environment. I could go on forever…
What do you love about your coffee shop and neighborhood?
What I love most about our shop is the row of sliding glass doors that line the street. We have a great view of the neighborhood and everyone who walks by the shop. Plus, popping the windows open when the weather is nice helps us feel like we’re outside during our time behind the bar.
Throw us some some shop lingo.
I’ve been racking my brain for a bit trying to dig up some coffee slang for you all but, honestly, it’s not really coming to mind! Most of our slang is just shorthand for different types of coffee and is meant to expedite the passing along of a drink order. I remember the coffee blog Sprudge revealed some secret coffee slang pertaining to baristas who wanted to covertly tell their co-workers they thought a certain customer was cute… but I can’t go around revealing those “trade secrets…”
What’s your favorite neighborhood spot?
Finishing a shift and heading over to the Sidecar is probably my most frequent Graduate Hospital activity. It’s right down the street from Ultimo and their servers, bartenders, etc. stop by the shop during their shifts, so we’ve all developed a little service industry solidarity between the two places.
Why do you love working at Ultimo?
There are so many reasons I love working at Ultimo, but I will just say that every day that I come into the shop, I have the opportunity to brew some of the finest coffees in the world, on some of the nicest equipment in the industry, alongside talented coffee professionals who are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about coffee–which is a pretty great deal all around.
Coffee is best enjoyed with…
Introduction. Natalie Opsitnick
Images. Lendl Tellington
Ambience. Ultimo Coffee | 1900 S. 15th Street, 19145 | 2149 Catharine Street, 19146