Not so Starbucks: Alley A's hidden gem

Frequency Coffee brings intimacy and artisanship to downtown Columbia.

Although Ryker Duncan, owner of Frequency Coffee, has been in the coffee business for a long time, it wasn’t always his plan to come to Columbia.

“When it came time to buy the building I was looking at in Kansas, it had already been sold,” Duncan says. “I had an agreement with the owner, and it kind of just fell through.”

Duncan’s love for coffee was born in Kansas, and it was his experiences there that set him on the path to Alley A.

“I got lucky when I was 18 and actually made a French press right,” Duncan says. “Then I started researching coffee and got a few jobs at coffee shops. I’ve been in the business for about seven years now, I think.”

Duncan’s connections with friends in Columbia had him constantly stopping by for years, and when the time came, the city proved to be an ideal destination for the coffee shop Duncan had been looking to start. Frequency, in its semi-hidden location, dim lights and numerous artworks, has grown into a place of immediate intimacy. And Duncan wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I feel like hospitality is a thing that’s just been thrown out the window when it comes to coffee shops,” Duncan says.

One of the things Frequency has become known for is the fact that it has no menu. To Duncan, this provides the opportunity for a personal connection most coffee shops don’t offer.

“It’s like trying to bring trust back to being a barista,” Duncan says. “Most people don’t really expect much out of their barista other than pushing a button and giving them their coffee, whereas what I’m doing takes years of experience. It’s almost more like having a cocktail bar than a regular coffee shop.”

The quiet, almost secretive aura Frequency provides has been attractive for many students, both for studying and just hanging out. Personal interaction is an important aspect to the shop, along with its sense of community.

“I initially just walked by and saw it as a hole in the wall,” junior Felicity Lewis says. “One of my friends told me that it was a really good, quiet place that’s very in its own. It’s a really good place to just kind of lose yourself.”

Lewis is a frequent visitor and friend to the coffee shop and vouches for its always-personable service.

But what about the coffee? Over the years, Duncan saved up buy a lot of the same equipment he still uses today. His 11 wholesale accounts, from cities like Kansas City and Chicago, provide the coffee he uses to brew.

“I keep most everything traditional,” Duncan says. “I have a macchiato, a five-ounce cappuccino, a 12-ounce latte and a 12-ounce mocha.”

Duncan’s business model prevents him from hiring anyone who doesn’t truly care about coffee, he says. He sees coffee-making as an art, specifically one which shouldn’t be rushed.

“It’s hard being a barista, especially if you’re doing everything by hand,” Duncan says.

Lewis agrees, and attests to the importance of personality in a coffee shop atmosphere.

“Kaldi's and Lakota have more variety, but Frequency has more attitude,” Lewis says. “You know one of three people are always going to be here when you come in, and it’s the best coffee in town, bar none.”

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