Tour Our 2016 Coffee Bar of the Year: Onyx Coffee

“Our mission is pretty simple,” says Onyx Coffee Lab co-founder Andrea Allen. “To source and serve the best coffees in the world.” Ambitious, to be sure—especially considering that Onyx isn’t exactly located in a coffee hub. Andrea and Jon Allen run one of the country’s most innovative roasting/retailing coffee operations in Arkansas, where they were both raised (they started dating in their teens and are now married). Onyx was born in 2012, and its growth has been swift—there are three retail locations in northwest Arkansas, and the roasting side supplies coffee to 150 cafés in 30 states. The “lab” moniker is fitting in that the Allens consider their business a blend of art and science—tinkering with brewing techniques and drink recipes, hosting public cuppings and inviting customers into the fold to learn everything they can about coffee. “People have an idea about what a coffee shop is,” says Andrea. “Going to a lab, however, sounds and feels different. We wanted to set higher expectations. When higher expectations are met, great things happen.”

Among the great things happening are perfectly executed traditional coffee and espresso, as well as seasonal creations and coffee mocktails like the Cascara Dark & Stormy, a riff on the classic cocktail combining ginger beer, lime juice and cascara tea concentrate (made from the dried skins of coffee cherries). You’ll also find a Coffee Phosphate, and drinks on draft including nitro cold-brew coffee, locally made kombucha and a rotating seasonal option. “We believe the only way to truly engage people is to offer drinks that pique the imagination, challenge taste and push the envelope about what coffee can be,” says Andrea, admitting that it can be challenging—but also rewarding—to elevate perceptions in the most unexpected of places. “Showing customers that something as ‘simple’ as coffee has endless potential of flavor, body and character—getting to watch their preferences and palates grow to love coffee; that’s the fun part.”