First Sip: Luce Coffee Roasters Opens In The Heights
Helen Choi has operated Luce Ave Coffee Roasters, out of a small unassuming shop in the Upper-Kirby neighborhood, since 2017. After three years, Helen is ready to expand. The company is getting a major upgrade and rebranding as Luce Coffee Roasters. With the new name comes a brand new shop in the Heights at 1717 W 34th Street (it shares the strip center with Les Baget and the new Bubble Egg).
Helen is handing the keys to the first shop to her longtime employee Van “Mimi” Huyen, with hopes that she will be the first of many franchisees. She is also partnering with roaster Luke Jung, whom she met through coffee tasting competitions. Jung is a roaster and competition judge out of California who brings a large network and access to unique coffee beans that customers may not find many places.
At four thousand square feet, the new location is one of the largest coffee shops in Houston. It stands two stories tall and is quadruple the size of the original space. When customers walk into the shop, they are immediately greeted by an island-style service bar that features two large espresso machines and various food choices. “The first location was my private coffee shop. I designed it as someplace I would want to go,” said Helen. “This time, the shop is for everyone.” It boasts an industrial aesthetic, sporting granite walls and wood accented metal staircases. The downstairs seating is fairly limited with a few seats at the bar and a table in the front of the store. The top floor is accessible by both stairs and elevator. It is styled more like a cafe, with a handful of socially distanced tables. A unique feature in this shop is the literal glass ceiling/floor: customers seated at the upstairs bar can look down to the first floor. The shop also has two merchandise walls filled with shirts, masks and many basics for home coffee brewing such as grinders, machines and other accessories.
With the expanded shop comes more offerings. On top of the expected coffee drinks such as lattes and espresso, Luce Coffee offers a selection of pour-over choices and cold brew that can be charged with nitrogen to give the drink a new texture. The shop also serves blended frozen drinks, called Luccinos, as well as a variety of teas. Luce Coffee puts a new spin on grab-and-go drinks and currently serves cold-brew and chai tea in “Capri Sun” style pouches. For nibbles, customers can browse the pastry case showcasing sweet and savory options from local business Cake & Bacon, as well as a daily assortment from Tacos A Go Go.
Helen and Luke, being instructors in barista skills and roasting, have plans to utilize every inch of the shop’s space. They developed one room for roasting, housing one massive roaster next to a few small tabletop ones. Another room is dedicated to barista training, with multiple smaller espresso machines and desk space. They will be offering classes for people people who wish to become certified through the Specialty Coffee Association as well as for folks who just wish to make better coffee at home.
A Google search of Luce Coffee can lead to a confusing result and an interesting story. Although she was born in South Korea, Helen grew up in Houston and got involved with coffee while spending time in South Korea as an adult. She conceived the initial plan for Luce during her time in Seoul resulting in two shops being created simultaneously. Helen returned to open a shop in Houston while her business partner in Seoul would open a shop there. Each one operates independently, spreading brand recognition to a larger audience.
Luce Coffee Roasters is located at 1717 W 34th Street. It is open 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday but will change after the soft opening.