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Coffee break

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Fun facts about Fortezza
* The name means “fortress” in Italian, and Sean Wang chose it because Fort Wayne is often called “The Fort.”
* Sorry, venti lovers. The biggest cup size at Fortezza is 12 oz. because Wang said that size packs enough caffeine to wake you up and is just big enough to finish while it's still warm.
* Hold the sugar. Fortezza froths or heats milk at a lower temperature range than most coffee shops, Wang said. This makes Fortezza's lattes naturally sweet, so take a sip before you add extra sugar.
* What should you order first? Wang recommends a regular latte, and if it's too strong for you, add flavored syrup.
By Kara Hackett
The owner of the new Fortezza Coffee shop Sean Wang prepares to brew espresso.

New downtown coffee shop to feature world-famous Fort Wayne brewing system

It's like reaching into your pocket and finding a $20 bill.

There's exciting news in the world of coffee, and it's right in our backyard.

An invention that's changing coffee shops from Manhattan to Milan was designed and manufactured in Fort Wayne, and it will soon be showcased at its first Indiana location in a new coffee shop downtown.

Sean Wang, 34, owner of Trionfale Espresso at 2910 E. Dupont Road, is opening a coffee shop called Fortezza Coffee in downtown Fort Wayne sometime in the next few weeks (pending a final inspection).

Wang has big plans for revolutionizing the way Fort Wayne does coffee, starting with what's known as the Modbar brewing system, which is already turning our city into an international attraction for coffee gurus.

Walk into the shop at 819 S. Calhoun St. (across from the Dash-In), and you'll see what look like beer taps. But they're not. They're parts of a brewing system designed to help you get the most out of your coffee in taste and experience, Wang said.

The Modbar brews true espresso in 20 to 30 seconds, and steams milk at the precise temperature Wang uses to make lattes extra sweet.

Know how some of us have to stand on tiptoes to see what baristas at Starbucks are doing behind a row of tall machines? Tiptoe no longer.

The Modbar makes it easier for baristas and customers to connect because it removes the wall of machinery between customers and the staff. Instead, it shifts the boilers and other large components under the counter, so customers can talk with baristas and watch the process that makes handcrafted coffee worth the expense.

Wang said Modbar dropped jaws in the coffee industry when it debuted in April 2013 at the opening of the Specialty Coffee Association of America annual expo, and he was surprised to learn that it was designed and manufactured right down the street at 628 Leesburg Road.

Corey Waldron, 33, of Fort Wayne came up with the idea for Modbar when he was a coffee roaster at Old Crown when it first opened in late 1999.

"We were really education-centric because we were Fort Wayne's first microroaster," Waldron said. "But customers couldn't see the coffee being made."

So he started thinking of ways to get the "casket off the counter" by hiding the clunky components of the brewing system, and giving customers the chance to see the process.

During the next six years, Waldron developed a precursor to Modbar called Jet Steam in 2006 with his Modbar co-founder, Aric Forbing, 33, also of Fort Wayne. Then in 2012, they came up with Modbar, which had more technology and a modular setup, so shops can custom-arrange the various components to fit their spaces.

Under the counter, control components for Modbar's steam, espresso and pour-over machines look like CD players with touch screens and simple knobs. Above the counter, the taps and steam arms are were inspired by beer taps and vintage soda fountains.

"It's '50s art deco crossed with modern styling," Waldron said.

Since Modbar made its debut last April, Forbing said the team of eight young workers in Fort Wayne can hardly keep up with the demand.

The bulk of the system's custom components are made within about a 30-mile radius of the company's location near downtown, Forbing said, but that hasn't stopped Modbar from getting national and international attention.

It received support from La Marzocco, a manufacturer and distributor of coffee equipment in Seattle and Italy, and Forbing said some big names in the coffee industry from Italy, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have already come to Fort Wayne to see the system for themselves.

"People were surprised we were in Fort Wayne instead of Italy or Seattle," Forbing said. "They don't expect you to be making this kind of coffee in Fort Wayne."

But just because Fort Wayne doesn't have that coffee culture yet doesn't mean we can't have it in the near future.

Wang said he's seen growing interest in handcrafted coffee picking up in the last couple of years, with more people aware of coffee origins and more shops around town learning latte art, or foam designs on top of the coffee.

Now that Modbar has put our city on the map for coffee lovers, he's hoping to encourage coffee culture by hosting what he calls free "cupping sessions" to educate the public about variations in coffee blends.

He also wants to start latte-art throwdowns with other coffee shops around the city, in which local baristas compete to make the most fanciful foam designs and win prizes.

"Coffee shops don't really reach out to each other often enough," Wang said.

It might be time to start.

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