The menu is small but mighty – one-size-fits-all, no
David Neill and Daniel Sotelo, both recent ACU graduates, started out on this mission to bring good and simple black coffee to Abilene in April 2016. They set up their pop-up shop at local businesses, like Betty and June, The Mill and Lone Star Dry Goods. As their mission states, they want to “forge coffee enthusiasm through veracious vibes.”
Neill – tall, skinny, scruffy, tattooed on his right arm, and newly married – is a Bible major by training. The Chicago native came to college knowing only Starbucks’ version of coffee. Business partner Sotelo graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies: business, psychology and education. His straight dark hair gets lighter on the ends and hits right above his shoulders. Hailing from Abilene, Sotelo gives off an Austin sort of vibe, the hipster kind.
The two were working together at the young Beltway Coffee Company when they discovered a coffee business could be simple and stripped down. In April, they went on a field trip with other Beltway baristas to tour Dallas coffee shops. They noticed they had just been trying to copy Starbucks at their north Abilene shop with a complicated menu and too many options.
“We started to realize coffee didn’t need all of that,” Neill said. “I had thought about what if I did something on the weekends, and Daniel said ‘Dude, let’s do this together. So we started ordering a ton of coffee.”
Their inspiration? Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, known for his social commentary, his music pushing back against mainstream pop, bringing messages and content stripped down to pure form. In the same way, Neill and Sotelo want to push against Starbucks.
“We want to be the hip hop of coffee,” Sotelo said. “Starbuck
“We are all in this together to destroy the man,” Neill echoed.
Ideas for a business started brewing, and by May, Neill and Sotelo launched Pour Man’s Coffee Stand. They originally
Their coffee stand, built by Abilene-based woodworker Forrest Harmel, has spots for up to six cups to brew simultaneously. When a customer steps up to Pour Man’s stand to order, Neill and Sotelo describe the daily bean offerings and the taste notes – subtle undertones of different flavors – customers can expect to find.
The offerings change every time they set up shop, but customers can expect to find beans like the Kenyan, with the sweet fruity notes of black currant and strawberry in the African soil, or the Honduran, with the orangey, chocolaty finish and toffee undertones.
Neill weighs the chocolaty Honduran beans down to the gram. With the touch of a button, the grinder whirs them into a course, brown powder. Sotelo heats the water in a pewter kettle with a topsy turvy sort of spout. He prepares the filter in a clear conical basket and places the off-white cup below, ready to collect the fresh brew. The grounds tumble into the filter and Neill begins to pour. He tilts the spout, pouring in only a little hot water at first to let the grounds bloom. Then in one circular swirling motion, the water covers the freshly ground beans and begins to drip through the porous paper. For two minutes, the water travels through the saturated beans, drawing down with it the taste notes and coveted caffeine the customers crave. Steam curls off the surface of the finished cup and as customers take their first sips, Neill and Sotelo explain what they should be tasting – the subtle pop of mandarin orange peel, the smooth finish of toffee, the chocolate note smelting on the tongue if held there long enough.
The Pour Men can’t make a living selling coffee at $4.50 a cup, at least not yet. When not brewing at the stand, Neill works at the ACU Call Center and Sotelo still works as a barista at Beltway.
“A lot of people thought they would fail, but they are not failing,” said Bree Foster.
Foster, senior psychology major from Rockwall, redheaded vegan and quality control administrator at Beltway Coffee Company, has worked with both Neill and Sotelo. She is in the same vein of rich coffee subculture in Abilene. She cares about the quality of beans, she believes in lattes. She is passionate for a return to the Italian tradition of coffee grounds, water and milk being the only ingredients allowed on the menu. Foster has watched the idea of Pour Man’s grow since its inception on that work field trip to Dallas. She has taken over for Neill as manager and continues to support Pour Man’s business.
“I think they take a lot of care into what they are producing,” Foster said. “They are just doing it really organically and it’s not like they can get any better because they are already doing it the right way. They are true to the originality of what it means to make coffee.”
More than making good coffee, Pour Man’s is a part of a larger trend that’s happened over the last few years: making Abilene cool, as Neill and Sotelo say. Right in line with emerging street art downtown and establishments like Abi Haus, Betty and June, Lone Star Dry Goods and Vagabond Pizza, Pour Man’s is pouring into local culture, specifically targeting post-college residents in their 20s.
“It’s our responsibility to make Abilene cool,” Neill said.“The demographic of Abilene is like college kids and then 30 year olds. There’s no 20-somethings, but we can create that if we want.”
According to the U.S. Census’ 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, the median age of Abilene is 31.3 years. 11.9 percent of Abilene’s population in 2014 was made up of 20-24 year olds, three percentage points higher than the 8.9 percent of 24-29 year olds.
“I think Abilene is ripe for change and creativity,” Sotelo said. “We recognize that and I think that’s why our business is being received well. It’s moving in that direction. Local business isn’t just like a joke anymore. If there’s a place you want to build something, Abilene is it.”
Pour over rich – that’s the real goal for Neill and Sotelo. More than how many cups they sell or other shops they compete with, they are cultivating more than veracious vibes. They operate from a mentality of abundance: that good coffee beans paired with hot water and Abilene, is enough.