Restaurants / Openings

Coffee Mad Scientist Opens Up a New Shop in Sugar Land That Defies All Caffeine Expectations: Former Biochemist Uses High-Tech Tools to Create Unique Gourmet Joe

BY // 12.14.17

For conventional coffee brewers, roasting is an art. Like cooking, it’s based on experience and relies on finely tuned senses. For a new coffee brewer on the Sugar Land scene, it’s more science than style, more Pasteur than Picasso.

Weihong Zhang, owner of brand-new BlendIn Coffee Club, is breaking tradition and going high-tech.

The former biochemist and his wife, Xuan Zhou, opened their coffee club at 8410 US-90 in mid November. BlendIn Coffee Club is bringing gourmet cups of joe to the area southwest of Houston, “a community that is underserved when it comes to specialty coffee,” Zhang tells PaperCity.

Though you could hardly guess it now, Zhang didn’t always crave caffeine. He picked up the coffee habit while pursuing his PhD, after moving to the United States in 2009. He went for mass-produced back in those days, fueling up on the standard Starbucks.

That all changed one chance afternoon in Arizona. Infusion Coffee & Tea hosts regular “cuppings,” and Zhang decided to check one out. Not familiar with cupping? A couple steps: first, sniff the coffee. Second, slurp it up. It’s like a wine tasting, but with java.

That first time, “it was not like any coffee I’d ever tasted,” Zhang says. He picked up on notes he never knew coffee could have, ones he later identified as floral (jasmine) citrus (lemon) and blueberry, a common impression from Kenyan coffees.

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“It made me wonder what the best coffee in the world should taste like,” Zhang says.

He left academia behind in order to find out. After quitting his post-bac program at Baylor College of Medicine, Zhang embarked on the new business with his wife, bringing his biochemistry background to the forefront of the new project.

In addition to Blendin’s classic coffee shop space, it’s got a roasting room, a green coffee storage, a small gallery, a training space — and a laboratory.

“My roaster is electronically controlled. It’s all digital and very precise,” Zhang says. He has a computer that recognizes every parameter you could think of as his coffee roasts — temperature, color range, and more — and records and uploads the data online.

Zhang compares the flavors, analyzing minute changes in the noting profile of each batch. These comparisons allow for consistency and insure quality control.

Another handy gadget: equipment to calculate and measure coffee bean density and moisture, and a laser that reads roasted coffee bean color. The color tells him how much the flavor has been developed, whether or not it’s burnt, and its similarity to past roasts.

“Coffee is a subjective thing,” Zhang says. It all comes down to personal preference. BlendIn strives for a balance in the flavors of the 12 single-origin coffees they serve, and their three-blend espresso.

coffee outside
BlendIn Coffee Club take a two-pronged approach to coffee: enjoy and educate.

Into the more dark, bitter coffees? Try out their Honduran Capucus. It’s intentionally roasted darker to highlight the chocolate, caramel, and nutty notes.

If you want to lighten up, go for the Jasmine Blossom from Ehtiopia. The wash-processed coffee has floral tones, with a taste of orange juice and lemon lime.

BlendIn’s Mount Kenya harkens back to Zhang’s eureka moment. It’s high in blueberry, as expected. But it’s got a kind of “high, fruity vegetable tone as well,” he notes.

The club truly embraces coffee drinker’s idiosyncrasies. It goes beyond the beans.

Customers can customize their experience by selecting one of seven brewing methods. BlendIn uses everything from siphons to French presses, aeropresses to steampunks. “Different methods can actually produce different flavors of coffee,” Zhang says.

Customers can take their pick. Some regulars are even experimenting different ways to brew the same beans. “They like to mix and match,” Zhang adds.

One Unique Coffee Retreat

Serving delicious coffee is one goal. Educating people about the coffee is another. That bent on learning puts the Club in BlendIn Coffee Club. Zhang and Zhou are passionate about helping people learn how to appreciate their coffee.

For starters, BlendIn holds regular cuppings. The public can interact with their offerings on a more elevated level.

BlendIn also houses Specialty Coffee Association education programs. As one of the only two approved SCA trainers in the United States, the Zhang can implement a six-module program. From January 8 through January 13, classes on Barista Skills, Brewing, Roasting, and more, will be held at BlendIn. Maximum capacity is six per module.

“Coffee is a sharing culture,” Zhou says. It’s in their philosophy and in their name. Blend was an intriguing choice. With the exception of their espresso, the club doesn’t serve blends. Here, “blend” doesn’t refer to the beverages, but the people who enjoy them.

Like her husband, Zhou wasn’t always into coffee. But after her husband started filling up mugs with the specialty stuff at home, “I couldn’t live without it.”

Zhou, a former interior decorator, called upon her training in Shanghai when designing the look of the unconventional coffee shop. “We knew we wanted something pure, something simple. We don’t want to distract from the coffee. We want to showcase it,” she says.

She had an interesting choice of canvas to start out with. BlendIn Coffee Club is inside a revamped former bank building. The couple chose the property because they needed space inside to accommodate the many rooms, and they needed space outside for parking.

Together with Construction Concepts, they completely transformed the previously “rundown old bank space,” Construction Concepts Josh Weisman tells PaperCity. They ripped out the old bank vault, concrete, and reinforcement structures. Eight hundred feet of space were added. The interior is now crisp and clean, with floor-to-ceiling windows and nary a bank teller in sight.

Hurricane Harvey stalled the 100-day construction, but only for about two weeks. “We put a lot of manpower behind it,” Weisman says. “This place is the first of its kind, with the knowledge they bring. It was really neat to see it come together.”

Bottoms up.

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