New Houston Coffee Shop Co-Owned by an Astro Gets on Base

Espresso set up at Maven Coffee & Cocktails.
The Upshot: An Astros pitcher and his business partners have recently opened a brick-and-mortar coffee shop and bar off of Allen Parkway. After a few visits, the shop is still a work in progress, but many things are done right and are worth checking out.

Celebrities starting their own brands can often be a “huge swing and a miss.” But Maven Coffee + Cocktails at 1717 Allen Parkway features Astros pitcher Lance McCullers at the mound, cousins Juan Carlos de Aldecoa Martinez and Nicolas “Nico” Gabriel Baizan de Aldecoa behind the dugout, and a well-rounded team of experienced industry players on the field. Houston Food Finder was invited to opening day at Maven’s first brick-and-mortar to see if the new coffee shop would strike out or knock it out of the park.

Ribbon Cutting at Maven Coffee.
Ribbon Cutting at Maven Coffee. Photo by Ryan Baker.

The new home field for Maven, situated on the first floor of the Thompson Hotel, has a clean and modern aesthetic.  The shop has plenty of comfortable seating, including couches, barstools and restaurant tables. The walls are mostly white space with vibrant art adding intermittent pops of color. The bar has a smart design, allowing plenty of space for both the cocktail and coffee programs to operate. In place of a bulky traditional espresso machine, Maven has a set-up from Modbar, which is built directly into the countertop.

Maven Coffee & Cocktails features coffee roasted by Eximius, which operates out of Houston and Mexico, and has been in the Aldecoa family for nearly a century. The roasts are a little darker and more bitter than typical specialty coffee, but far superior to bulk brands like LaVazza or Starbucks. The selection of spirits available is small but concise, with mostly big-brand bottles. Typically, this could be called a foul in a cocktail bar, but in this case, the selection is well-curated (enough), with many brands still leaning closer to craft (as opposed to the ever-popular bottles of Jack,  Jim and Bacardi that are found on most back bars).

Carajillo at Maven Coffee & Cocktails.
Carajillo at Maven Coffee & Cocktails. Photo by Ryan Baker.

With the exception of pour-overs, the menu offers all of the traditional specialty coffee drinks, such as lattes, cappuccino and cold brew, as well as seasonal drinks crafted by the baristas. Once you hit the “seventh-inning stretch” and are ready to switch to some heavy hitters, the cocktail list has a carajillo and espresso martini. Where a lot of bars mess up with these drinks, Maven excels. Typically, the coffee is an afterthought especially in the current espresso martini craze, so the drink has weird bitterness or it’s overly sweet. Having a bar staff also trained in making high-quality espresso makes a world of difference. 

The roster has several other craft cocktails, such as the Conversation Starter with gin, passionfruit, chai and mint. Despite the chai, the cocktail is lighter than you would expect and slightly medicinal. My favorite of the drinks is the Old Havana, a twist on the Old Cuban with the addition of black currant. (The original cocktail is made with rum, sparkling wine, mint, lime and bitters.) Overall, the drinks are solid, but like in the case of the Conversation Starter, which in two visits tasted completely different (the second being highly medicinal), could still use more coaching.

Love Croissants at the plate for Maven Coffee & Cocktails.
Love Croissants at the plate for Maven Coffee & Cocktails. Photo by Ryan Baker.

There are a few food options in play, such as grilled cheese and toast with eggs which weren’t available when I went. The shop also has some star power on the field with a wide selection of croissants provided by Love Croissants.

Being opening day, it is impressive that there was only one error in the play. The coffee was served too fresh. That sounds counter-intuitive, but, when you roast coffee, you should let it sit for a few days to release gas, or it will have a strong vegetal, earthy flavor. Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix. The execution by the employees, as well as the hospitality provided, was spot on for a first at-bat.

In addition to the knowledgeable and personable staff running the bar, two key moments give hope for the future of Maven. The first is chef Nico Aldecoa’s enthusiasm for coffee. There was a moment when I was speaking about coffee with a few people, and he made a bee-line to talk with us at length about his family’s history with coffee, sourcing, styles of roasting and more. He wanted to make it clear that they were not aiming to be a specialty shop, the likes of Blacksmith or Catalina, but still intended to serve the best coffee they could.

Lance McCullers and the bar staff.
Lance McCullers and the bar staff at Maven Coffee & Cocktails. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Another assuring note was a candid moment involving Lance McCullers, showing he was more than just a name attached to the shop. After most of the cameras and guests had cleared out, McCullers personally ran a quality check on the espresso. For background: quality espresso has several variables, such as grind size and volume of beans, that must periodically be checked and adjusted, or the product can drastically change.

Maven Coffee & Cocktails is a cozy shop, with quality coffee and decent cocktails worth checking out for yourself. The hours of operation are as follows: Monday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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