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Down-to-earth space stuff

Cirque Coffee carves a niche in Tulsa’s coffee scene

Space Stuff, one of Cirque Coffee’s January specials

Greg Bollinger

When Cirque Coffee opened in August 2016, many wondered how Tulsa could support another coffee shop—or if it needed one. Perhaps it was less about the number of coffee shops and more about the fear of the city being overrun by beard-donning baristas.

Much like the geographic term their name refers to—and despite the saturated coffee scene—Cirque has sculpted a place for itself. A cirque is a cleft in the side of a mountain formed by glacial erosion. (Le Cirque was also the name of one of the first coffee shops in Tulsa, which the depths of the interwebs claim was run by a one-armed folk musician.)

Cirque’s interior is a mashup of mountainside lodge and industrial aesthetics. Hand-poured cold concrete counters are offset by the warm glow of tungsten filaments and live edge wood tables and bar tops, both created by the owners. Upon entering, the first thing one will notice is an array of intricate brewing contraptions lining the counters and walls—the shop resembles a steampunk-style laboratory. Everything from the standard French press to the more esoteric Dragon (which uses both hot and cold water in a manual pour-over syphon method) present themselves, ready to brew the perfect cup. Cirque’s Slayer espresso machine looks as beautiful  as it does intimidating with its matte black and copper frame, wooden handles, and transparent walls.

In addition to standard espresso drinks, Cirque offers 15 different coffee extraction methods for the three to five single-origin coffees on their rotating menu.

When discussing with Austin Fogt their many coffee contraptions, the conversation felt a little like a chemistry course. Fogt, who worked his way up from customer to barista to business partner, talked about the importance of the water’s mineral content and the proper ratio of total dissolved solids for the perfect cup of coffee. Measuring this data is something Cirque periodically does, and Fogt says they are aware that an overemphasis on quantifying can remove the romance and art from coffee.

“Data has to be a means to an end of a cup that tastes good,” he said.

In other words, brewing a coffee that tastes good is more important than brewing a coffee that meets a set of scientific standards.

As if their numerous extraction methods aren’t enough, the rotating seasonal menu carves the cleft deeper. Fogt stresses that theirs isn’t the typical seasonal drink menu relying on flavored syrups.

“[Cirque is] trying to push the industry forward in terms of creating interesting signature drinks that are coffee-forward.”

Locally, they are to coffee what Valkyrie is to cocktails and what Oren is to food. In fact, the flavor combinations and presentation at these Tulsa gems inspire the team at Cirque.

One of the highlights of Cirque’s January menu is Space Stuff, a drink created by head barista Ian Walla. This drink goes beyond the standard coffee paradigm by exploring contrasting textures and complementary flavors. It’s an ounce of fresh espresso topped with a little bit of heavy cream  and sprinkled with caramelized sugar and spices, providing a slightly crunchy surface like that of creme brûlée. The drink is garnished with a flamed orange peel and mint then served with a spoon.

For those not wanting to drift out into the cosmos, Cirque’s draft latte is consistently a crowd favorite. The iced latte is kegged and served on tap, with nitrogen from the keg imparting a thicker mouthfeel to the drink.

Cirque also takes pride in their espresso—a blend of coffees that they adjust throughout the course of the year. Because coffee is a seasonal fruit, the flavor of a bean varies depending on the season. Cirque’s year-round target flavor profile for their espresso is berries, cream, and milk chocolate—with a clean finish.

With their myriad advanced brewing methods and atypical drinks, it’s easy to make assumptions about the shop and even the baristas.

“That’s always the struggle,” Fogt said. “How do we combat the misconception of the pretentious, arrogant, hipster, condescending coffee shop?”

For the owners and employees of Cirque, they do this by keeping in mind their core values: kindness and customer service.

“No one will get mad at you if you order a pour-over and add cream and sugar,” Fogt said. “We’re grateful for the support and to be doing something so well-received and [that] hopefully has improved the quality of people’s day.”

Cirque Coffee
1317 E. 6th St., cirquecoffee.com
7 a.m.–5 p.m., every day

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