Tucked away in a strip mall somewhere between a Sonic drive-in and a New Fit Gym sits Trifecta Coffee, the innovative and unpretentious coffee spot with a drink just for you. Hatched from a number of local coffee ventures, Trifecta has been honing their coffee prowess at their North Valley location for two years now. With the recent addition of a pastry chef to the original roaster-barista duo, comprised of Thomas Isole and Lee Sanders, the cafe has finally found the third point to their signature triangle.
Since 2008, Isole had been roasting coffee under the name Fat Boy Roasters in Tijeras, tinkering with different roasts after leaving behind almost 25 years in high tech. With some space to share in the roastery, he asked the owners of Bebe Cafe – now Velvet Coffeehouse – if they knew anyone looking to start a coffee shop. Sanders, a barista there at the time, jumped at the opportunity. He had worked in bar tending, food service, and coffee shops since high school, but was looking for his own place. In 2012, the two opened Muskrat Coffee in Tijeras, and later changed the name to Trifecta for the opening of their Albuquerque location in 2015.
Isole and Sanders wanted their coffee shop to be welcoming, yet streamlined. According to Isole, who built much of the interior, “Even though it’s an industrial space, it still has a little bit of a warmth to it. I want a clean look… but on the other hand, it can’t feel stark and sterile.” The pair converted what used to be a dark furniture store into an airy space featuring an open roasting area, an espresso bar, and a sitting area with tables and chairs. The shop is now filled with light. A low counter piled with bakery treats attached to a bar with stools makes the space feel intimate.
The team behind Trifecta is meticulous about every aspect of their operation. Isole installed a reverse osmosis water system, which is used for everything in the store from espresso to ice. The system ensures that every mineral put back into the water creates the optimal base for their coffee. He’s been honing the roasting profiles of the coffee beans for nine years, adjusting here and there for both roasted-to-order batches and wholesale buyers.
Sanders’ seven years in bartending lend an efficient yet friendly vibe to the coffee counter – he takes time to chat with new customers and personally recommends creatively crafted coffee drinks. Sanders also bakes scones and pound cakes with enticingly unique flavors like blackberry chocolate chip and sea-salt rosemary. “Everything that goes out the front door is produced here,” he said.
Just a few months ago, a baker named Marley Miller walked into Trifecta. She was finishing up a pastry certification in Santa Fe and looking for a kitchen to run an online bakery out of. Instead, she ended up being the missing piece the Trifecta team was looking for. With roots in Louisiana, Miller infuses classic pastry techniques with Cajun and southern twists. From dark chocolate cake with hazelnut dacquoise and French praline to lavender cake with pastry cream, Miller’s elegant creations are the perfect compliment to Sanders’ classic scones and tarts.
Miller draws on her own tastes, which include a leaning toward rich textures like meringue and buttercream, combined with recipes passed down from her family. Miller said, “Food is bigger than its tangible [form]. It brings people together and you can celebrate with it. It’s an adhesive piece to me.” Though she’s only been at Trifecta for a little over a month, she plans to incorporate local ingredients into her baking, like lavender from Los Poblanos and milk and eggs from local dairy farms. For Valentine’s day, Miller made rosewater cake with tart raspberry filling and swiss meringue buttercream, and Trifecta later celebrated Mardi Gras with king cake, Cajun shrimp quiche and classic café au lait.
Many of the drinks at Trifecta read more like cocktails at an upscale bar than the usual cafe repertoire of lattes and mochas. Driven by Sanders, a “Shaken not Stirred” menu has emerged and grown with popular demand. Initially, the “Shaken” menu featured only one drink called “The Shakes”: a mix of espresso, ice and simple syrup. The menu grew to include the “Coffee and Tonic,” a timely darling of third-wave coffee shops featuring espresso, tonic water and lemon rind. The shaken drinks have names like “The Close Shave” and “The White Cin,” and the menu has expanded to include house-made flavorings like lemon-verbena and butterscotch. Isole and Sanders have been in talks with Broken Trail Brewery and Distillery to develop bitters for the espresso bar, and would like to feature a tonic that Broken Trail produces.
So far, the team at Trifecta has been pleasantly surprised by their dedicated following. Their spot off the highway attracts out-of-towners, and their location in the lower part of the North Valley allows access from all over the city. “We really wanted to find ourselves in the crossroads for the whole city, and not just be a neighborhood coffee shop,” Isole said. Isole and Sanders say they have become a destination for customers, who range from high schoolers to retirees.
A number of projects are on the horizon for the Trifecta team. Kiva Lighting designed a new sign for the storefront, and Isole said he’s been thinking about joining a coffee cooperative for enhanced involvement in the sourcing of their beans. Trifecta will have a stand at the upcoming annual Albuquerque Chocolate and Coffee Fest at the end of the month. They’ll be serving up Miller’s popular dark chocolate espresso fudge and a signature cold brew, as part of a collaboration with Canteen Brewhouse. They’re also working on producing bourbon-tinged “barrel-conditioned” coffee with Broken Trail Brewery & Distillery. The new projects and ideas at Trifecta, as Isole says, just don’t end.
Sophie Putka is a Massachusetts transplant in love with New Mexico. She writes, makes lattes, and haunts Albuquerque eateries in search of a good bagel. She can usually be found in the kitchen trying to use up as many leftovers as possible and plotting her next adventure.