Local roasters introduce single origin sourced, artisanal coffee to Columbus
By Michelle PizzurroPublished November 1, 2012
According to 9th century legend, Ethiopian shepherds first discovered coffee after observing goats “dancing” due to an increased energy level after eating wild coffee berries.
Soon, experimentation and human consumption spread knowledge of the berries’ effects across the continent. The coffee buzz began a 900-year-old journey, conquering the Arabian Peninsula, Eastern Europe, and Viennese cafés, and beyond. Once the west settled on New World soil – where coffee trees sank flourishing roots – tea had officially met its match.
Fast-forward to post-WWII America and we begin what coffee connoisseurs officially call the First Wave: blended beans macro-roasted and ground in massive quantities to serve in homes and diners, as well as for chemically treated just-add-water instant cups.
It took another half century before the Second Wave hit, where after playing second fiddle to dessert syrups, coffee’s increased association with food created an explosion of newly converted latte lovers.
At the same time, Columbus coffee houses like Stauf’s, Cup ‘O Joe and Crimson Cup began blending and roasting their own sourced beans, not only to save cost, but to roast their curated pairings and operate as a wholesale business.
In 2012, Columbus is feeling the waves of coffee’s Third Wave, which first splashed on the scene in the Pacific Northwest at Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland: beans sourced from one farm, one season, and one crop – in small quantities, not more than 21 days before they are served. (Most true Third Wave coffee roasters grind for each cup and serve pour-over brew.)
Like the classic wine merchant model, roasters treat single-sourced crops of beans according to their terroir, or geological and meteorological aspects of a growing region. Like a grape, a bean’s season affects quality, taste, and roasting abilities.
It was only a matter of time before Columbus-based coffee providers caught on to the tide of artisanal coffee. Café Brioso, located at 14 E Gay St., serves single-farm origin coffees sourced by owner Jeff Davis, who treats coffee as an intricate ritual. He and roastmaster Nick Berardi roast beans on premise and experiment with different techniques, woody ingredients and flavors on which bean is best served for each season.
“We aren’t just failed liberal arts majors,” Berardi says, lifting a quart size scoop of chartreuse coffee beans from a burlap bag he received from a niche Guatemalan farm. “We are passionate about micro roasting beans sourced from single-origin farms so that the coffee flavor speaks for itself.”
Just two miles away in the Short North, another recently opened roaster matches Berardi’s passion with a very different philosophy. One Line Coffee & Sourcing (745 N High St.) opened in July without the perks of Wi-Fi, comfy couches, or Saran-wrapped snacks typically offered in the coffee arena.
“We want to do everything we can to keep our focus on coffee and realize that we’re doing something a little different at this shop,” said Dave Forman, One Line’s founder who serves hand-poured coffee, brewed under individual drip filters, from kettles and spouts as sleek and neat as the café’s minimalist décor.
“There are many great restaurants here … great bars, too,” he said. “We feel like people who love food can love coffee with the same passion.”
That focus goes even further as Forman explains the sourcing aspect of One Line’s agenda. Forman’s concentration, along with his direct fair trade distributors located in Pennsylvania, is to specialize in roasting single-origin coffees, rather than blends of beans from various farms.
The selection process diverts efforts from finding the perfect mix to the much greater feat of selecting the perfectly harvested bean, one that will ensure consistency of the coffee he serves everyday. To that end, Forman receives samples from each harvest to conduct a “cupping,” or multi-part sampling, to test the roasting abilities and flavors through a series of dry and wet taste evaluations.
“With blends some roasters have available year round, you may be constantly looking for coffees with specific flavor attributes,” said Forman of the nuance of having single-bean brews. “We can focus on finding and roasting the best coffees without having to worry about looking for certain flavor profiles to match a blend.”
Such precise coffee craft has been evident for years in Grandview, where Andy Luck has been sourcing and serving small batch artisanal roasted coffees since 2006 and roasting single origin coffees since 2010 out of his Luck Bros’ Coffee location at 1101 W First Ave.
Luck follows a simple philosophy: skill first, sourcing second.
“I would agree that your sourcing is important and ingredients are important, but having some skill is important, too,” he said. “No matter how good of a filet you get, you want to go to a place that knows how to prepare it.”
And skill he indeed worked hard to achieve. Two years ago, when he committed to the craft of coffee roasting, Luck called upon Ithaca, New York’s John Gant, who has been small batch artisanal style of roasting for the last 60 years and best known to roast Gimme Coffees beans. Gant came down to Luck Brothers to conduct a tailored four-day seminar to teach the Luck brothers the art of single origin bean roasting.
When asked what it is about his coffees and roasting techniques, Luck shrugs.
“I can’t tell you what I do different, because I don’t know what anyone else does. I just set my own standards.”
Another key to serving coffee is trust, says Luck. He has developed relationships with his vendors to guide him as to what beans are best in season, and places his orders accordingly.
One of those standards is importing as much coffee from Hacienda La Minita in Costa Rica – which certifies a growing niche of farms all over South America who meet its quality expectations. The original farm has been an industry leader in substanibilty for as long as specialty coffee has existed. According to Luck, their stamp of approval means more to any recently hatched organic certification, fair trade or rainforest alliance anyone could pay for.
Luck has also been able to wade into the roasting pool with an assist from another local organization, utilizing the facilities at Upper Cup Coffee Company in Olde Towne East.
Upper Cup’s Samson Habte has actually visited La Minita; he and his brother Micael kindle batches there, as well as Harar from Ethiopia, and Montanha de Diamante from Brazil. Their warehouse serves as the backdrop for their modest 79 Parsons Ave. storefront, accessorized with a single table and found leather couch.
The most important element to roasting and serving coffee?
“Learning,” Habte says, without pause. “There’s always more to learn and listening to the customer is key. Everyone has their thing and we love hearing what they want and it helps us exercise different roasting techniques to our coffees.”
Like One Line and Luck Bros’, Upper Cup also sells bags of roasted beans for brewing, and even sells raw beans to a few Ethiopian ladies in the neighborhood who stovetop-roast at home.
Perhaps they are in the process of brewing coffee’s fourth wave.