Balance Coffee & Tea owner talks about coffee and his new business
Marshall Morris grew up in Columbia, worked on the railroad for 15 years, and stepped off the train in Seattle one day. There, he spent a few years learning the coffee trade, and now he’s back in the metro-east with a cafe of his own.
Morris, who now lives in Belleville, got to know what the region had to offer, and looked for a building. His choice? Belleville’s old train depot, at 732 S. Illinois St.
With four employees, Balance Coffee & Tea opened Feb. 20. It was a state holiday, and business was steady.
Here is a conversation about one of Belleville’s newest local businesses:
Q: How did you end up in Belleville, and where were you before?
A: “I was born in Columbia. I was in Belleville for seventh and eighth grades, and freshman and sophomore year at Belleville West, and then went back to Columbia. Then got a job on the railroad outside of Chicago. I did that for nine years, then took a job with Amtrak, and that’s what got me in Seattle.”
Q: And that’s where you became interested in coffee?
A: “I drank coffee since I was a little kid. Both my grandmothers gave me coffee, so I was drinking coffee at a young age. But, Seattle is where I realized coffee’s huge. I decided I didn’t want to railroad anymore after 15 years, and just fell, luckily, into a coffee shop.”
Q: What did you do there?
A: “They hired me as a barista. I just wanted to see what the coffee world was all about. And then within a couple months they ended up training me to be a coffee educator.”
Q: So if someone wanted to open their own cafe like you, where would you recommend they best learn about coffee? And what about tea?
A: “(You) can best learn by working at a coffee shop, but you kind of want to find a good one. That was where I lucked out — the place where I got hired into in Seattle, they did their own roasting, and they had 12 locations, and they did the roasting for all their locations. So when you got hired and did your training, you basically went to the roastery. Whereas, (in) a lot of coffee shops, all you’re ever going to see is the cafe. That’s where I saw everything that was behind it. As somebody in my mid-30s, (I saw), ‘Oh, this is really big. This isn’t just making caramel macchiatos.’”
Q: Coming back here, what was it like trying to find a space, and why did you choose the old railroad depot?
A: “It was kind of hard in one way, and kind of easy in another way. There were just so many places. I was really torn on where to go. I’d come in here just looking for knickknacks at the Resale Shop (which had been in the same building) multiple times. What really got me was the barn doors in the back, because then you could (unload) pallets of coffee, whereas most locations, especially if it’s just built in a strip mall, all it has is people doors. So there’s no way to get a pallet, much less 170-pound bags of coffee, in and out of the place on a regular basis.”
Q: How did the renovations go?
A: “A lot of work. The building was pretty much empty. One of the main things we had to do was pull up all the carpet and get back down to the original terrazzo floor, circa 1927. The biggest thing was the lack of plumbing, getting the plumbers in here and figuring out how they could plumb the building for a cafe, which meant that I had to crawl in a crawl space about 70-feet long, hand-cut pipes and drag them out myself to clear the way for the plumbers.”
Q: Let’s talk about coffee. What is your favorite drink?
A: “My favorite drink is really just an Americano, a super short Americano, or an Italiano, as some people call it — a double-shot of espresso, and a couple ounces of hot water.”
Q: And what types of coffee and tea do you offer here?
A: “We offer a ‘Belleville Blend,’ which is a triple blend. We do an ‘Average Joe,’ which is our darkest roast — that’s a double blend. And then a single-origin of Honduran, Ethiopian, (or) Columbian. Coffee’s seasonal, so I get stuff from different (places) coming in and out. Tea, right off the bat, is a mint green, a spiced chai, and then a black mango. We will delve into tea further down the road.”
Q: For someone who’s used to drinking straight black coffee, what do you recommend that person try?
A: “Either the Average Joe or the Belleville Blend. If they’re just used to normal — people that say, ‘I just want my coffee to taste like coffee’ — then the Average Joe or the Belleville Blend.”
Q: And what if they were about to take that next step?
A: “I would say the Ethiopian is a good way to go, or the Columbian. Just don’t go from, ‘I’m going to drink a 12-ounce batch-brew of dark coffee’ to ‘could I try that single-origin espresso,’ because (they’re just) polar opposites.”
Q: What’s the importance of roasting your own beans?
A: “Freshness. Quality. Quality-control. And then you can develop your drinks — certain roasts might not go well with chocolate, but they might go well with a vanilla or honey. And different milks.”
Q: I noticed that some of your food coolers are empty right now, but what do you plan on offering in the future?
A: “A full line of pastries. We’re going to work with Lizzie Bob’s (Bakery), out of Fairview (Heights) for pastries. Quiches — we’re going to get from Columbia. I have a baker in Columbia that does quiches. So, I figure, quiche, croissant, and soup. And then pastries.”
Q: What’s the ETA on that?
A: “The quiche should be starting this weekend, and then pastries — probably the following week.”
Q: So what type of atmosphere would you say Balance has?
A: “Chill. Easy-going. A place where, if you’re really into coffee, you can feel welcome and know that the people behind the counter know what they’re talking about. But, at the same time, you can bring your mom or your grandmother, your grandfather, and get a cup of coffee. And they can come in on their own and get a cup of coffee without feeling like they’re in the wrong place.”
Q: What has business been like so far?
A: “It’s been dynamite, actually. It’s been really good. (We) didn’t want to do too much advertising because we wanted to see where we would get tripped up on things and what-not. But, yeah, it’s been smooth.”
Q: And what do you think the future holds?
A: “A lot more business. The future holds a lot more business. I have an expansion I can do in Columbia. I’d like to work with someone there on Main Street to get some (coffee) in there. The goal is to buy the property and build a large-scale commercial roastery and cold-brew brewery on the back lot. A coffee version of 4204.”
Balance Coffee and Tea
- Owner: Marshall Morris
- Location: 732 S. Illinois St.
- Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday