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Cup Runneth Over

Photo by Collins Laatsch Humans have been drinking coffee for over six centuries, and caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive agent on the planet. Though it’s not hard to find a six dollar cuppa, very little of the money made from the end of the line works its way back to the hands that [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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Photo by Collins Laatsch

Humans have been drinking coffee for over six centuries, and caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive agent on the planet. Though it’s not hard to find a six dollar cuppa, very little of the money made from the end of the line works its way back to the hands that picked the beans. Founder and President of Crimson Cup, Columbus’s own Greg Ubert wants to change the coffee game as the world sees it, and he’s building his own arena right here in central Ohio. He has enlisted himself to strengthen the chain from tropical dirt to capital city cup, and back again. Ubert knows intimately that the place where you buy your hot morning Joe, or set up your laptop to “get some work done” is the end of a very long line of people. From farmers to field workers, roasters to purchasers, baristas to drinkers, these plants pass through many hands before they get splashed on your crossword puzzle

Laid back and soft spoken, you’d never know Ubert deals in caffeine. From Worthington to Harvard to a lucrative coding job in Chicago, Ubert found that his fire wasn’t being fueled in his chosen field of computer software. With his whole career ahead of him, he turned his back to the windy city, and headed home to the heart of it all to hit the books and the streets.

“In 1991, it was nothing like it is today. But with what Columbus had, I knew it was going to get here eventually. [It had a] really good school system, the Capital is here, [there are] businesses of all sorts, a great entrepreneurial spirit, and a culture of giving and sharing, which I think is really important. I’ve come to understand that we kind of take it for granted being here but that’s not exactly what happens in other parts of the country.”

The idea for coffee shops came to him while relaxing with some joe in a California cafe. Much like the software and code he was used to, he wanted to know every bit of information that went into the coffee buying and selling process.

“I wanted to understand the wholesale aspects of the business. So I was traveling from Omaha to Boston to Bar Harbor, Maine. Because there weren’t that many coffee houses around at that time. I tried to go to as many places as I could to find out ‘why are some places succeeding and why are some places not?’ So I learned that in the 90’s, and wrote a book about it (“Seven Steps to Success in the Specialty Coffee Industry.”) I realized that just supplying customers great products didn’t necessarily ensure them success. So that’s when we started the teaching and training aspects in the 90’s. And now you see (he gestures around to classrooms and the laboratory) the latest of what it is we do and how it is we teach and train and continue to innovate.”

When Ubert refers to his customers, he doesn’t mean the individuals who purchase cups of coffee at Crimson Cup locations. He’s referring to the owners of the shops (Crimson Cup franchises, as well as independent shops) that buy their beans wholesale from him. Ubert resides a few links back in the supply chain, ever the man behind the curtain.

What sets Crimson Cup apart from other coffee shops and suppliers is its relationships across the globe, and the research they do. The Innovation Lab is a brain trust of testing and teaching. There are classrooms, stocked to the gills with all the bells and whistles of brewing, open to the public, offering all stripes of coffee curriculum. From basics to roasting and brewing, anyone with interest in growing their barista skill set can enroll. There are 19 such Specialty Coffee Association-certified facilities in the country that can offer the same high levels of training, but Crimson Cup stands out. The company was named one of the 25 Best Coffee Roasters in America by Men’s Journal, and 2016 Macro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine. Lining the walls of the classrooms are at least a dozen fluttering, full size flags from countries all over the planet where Ubert buys coffee at a fair price, only from farmers who agree to treat their workers and the earth with the deepest respect.

“Not every farming community believes that it’s a good thing to do positive things with the environment [and] to produce better quality coffee. The harder part is us finding that community. And then continually working with them on that. It’s a challenge, but it’s also the fun part. It’s no different on the coffee house side.”

And work, they do. Brandon Bir, director of education and sustainability for Crimson Cup, has his feet on the ground regularly at growing facilities the world over. Being that coffee is a tropical plant, Bir finds himself in exotic locales on a regular basis. Asked to list off the places he’s been, he squints as he counts equatorial countries on his fingers.

Bir hails from Indiana farm land, where his fascination with biochemistry and botany took root. His face betrays a childlike enthusiasm as he explains the oxidation of tea leaves. Bir grins from behind the bar as he asks slyly:

“You want to see my UV light?”

In the lab, Bir fires up a scientific grade UV light, and demonstrates how it highlights microorganisms often found hitching rides on coffee beans.

Photo by Collins Laatsch

“We’re trying to find defects in green coffee under UV light, and apply that to origin. Under UV, bacteria turn up at different colors… So we’re experimenting to see if taking those defects out that light up under UV are actually going to reduce negative effects in the cup.”

Crimson Cup wants their growers to have a fair deal. They offer a good price for their wares, plus innovation and improvement to their crop. But there are standards the farmers must rise to in return. As Ubert stated, great coffee isn’t all that goes into what they are selling. It’s the beating heart at the center of their philosophy that guides their business practices, from ground to mug. Bir is often the face that communicates these needs directly to the growers:

“We built a survey to make sure people are doing what they need to be doing. It’s a safety thing. Make sure there are covers around belts at mills, make sure there aren’t children working in the fields… You should have clean water available. It’s super important to be open and honest and have that as a foundation… I have three group texts going about different coffees, different farms, with different farmers. So accessibility is there. It’s pretty amazing that you can get internet in the middle of the jungle of Ethiopia.”

But travel doesn’t come cheap. As the president, Ubert signs off on each and every plane ticket and per diem.

“Someone might look at our expense report and say ‘what are you doing? It doesn’t make any financial sense at all to be doing that’ and they may be right… We just have a different point of view. What we want to do is have an impact with our customers, with people here at Crimson Cup, and with our farmers.”

“It’s not just caffeine and black juice in a cup.” Bir concurs “[There are] tons of people behind this. We should appreciate this, and do it right, and serve the highest quality beverage we can possibly serve.” •

For more about their operation, visit crimsoncup.com.

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Food & Drink

Italian Lebanese hybrid restaurant coming to German Village

Regina Fox

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What do you get when you cross Italian food with Lebanese fare? Bistrolino.

The new hybrid restaurant will take over the spot formerly occupied by Harvest Pizzeria at 495 S 4th St. in German Village. A December open date is expected.

Columbus Business First reports Bistrolino is owned by Samer Chedid and Francesco Todisco, who worked together at Aladdin's Eatery. As immigrants, Chedid will bring is Lebanon roots to the concept, while Todisco will contribute his Italian influence.

Todisco told Columbus Business First the menu will be small, offering single-serving baking dishes including zucchini parmesan, braciola, and a Lebanese flatbread called man'oushe.

Keep an eye on Bistrolino's Facebook for updates.

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Food & Drink

Taft’s on Draft: Cinci Brewporium opens first Columbus location in Franklinton

Linda Lee Baird

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After hearing all the hype about Cincinnati’s up-and-coming Over the Rhine neighborhood a few years back, I went to see it for myself. The first stop was Taft’s Ale House, a gigantic brewery inside of a church originally built in 1850, fully renovated for guests’ reveling pleasure. After spending the next few hours sampling beverages and snacking on beer cheese pretzels, I was inclined to believe the neighborhood hype. Did I fully explore OTR that night? I don’t actually remember. But I’m certain that I had a great time at Taft’s. So when I found out that Taft’s was coming to Columbus, the news sounded even sweeter than their Maverick Chocolate Porter.

Taft’s Brewpourium Columbus spans nearly 6,000 square feet in the Gravity development, including over 2,000 square feet of patio space. Like the development itself, Taft’s is building an artistic theme into its new offering. “Our actual design is going to be kind of focused on ‘80s/‘90s pop art,” said David Kassling, Managing Partner for Taft’s Brewing Company. “Being that Franklinton definitely has its art roots, we think that’s a great way to ingrain ourself in the community.”

Kassling said that the word brewpourium literally means the place where the brew is poured. That they’ve chosen to make “brewpourium” part of their name tells you everything you need to know about what Taft’s wants to be known for: its carefully crafted suds. The brewpourium will have at least 10 taps serving Taft’s original varieties, including its signature Gavel Banger IPA, which was voted best beer in Cincinnati last March by the city’s residents.

Taft’s will offer a full food menu as well. Kassling is particularly proud to introduce New Haven-style pizza to Columbus. “We’re recreating a style that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Ohio,” he said. (The style is also known as apizza, which is pronounced "a piece," as in, I’d like a piece of that crisp coal-red cheesy goodness right now, please.) Kassling describes it as a cross between New York and Neapolitan style. Taft’s version features our and tomatoes imported from Italy.

Rounding out the menu is another ‘90s-inspired treat, this time in dessert form. Remember Dunkaroos, those cookies that came in a package with icing designed for dipping, perhaps consumed while you watched episodes of Saved By the Bell? Taft’s will serve up Taftaroos, its unique take on the snack.

Kassling plans to use the brewpourium’s large space to offer patrons activities beyond food and drink. The stage will be open for games of darts when not in use for performances. On the floor, guests will find shufflepuck and Killer Queen, an arcade game utilizing 8-bit graphics in line with the old-school theme. Video game fans will also find gaming stations inlaid in the bar, with several retro options to choose from.

With three Cincinnati locations in operation, Kassling is not new to the business. Even so, expanding to Columbus marks a milestone, and one he wasn’t always seeking to meet. “We didn’t necessarily look at this as we needed to expand to a new city or we needed to expand to Columbus,” he said.

But when the opportunity to join the Gravity Project presented itself, Kassling said it proved too good to pass up. “We’re really excited, not only because of the nature of the building being so modern and unique, not just to Columbus, but to anywhere. But also the shape of our space is funky, and that led to different ideas in what we wanted to do with our build out.”

Kassling acknowledged that in coming to Columbus, Taft’s is joining a few of our communities: the community of Franklinton, to be sure, but also the well-established community of independent breweries operating across the city. An installation built into Taft’s countertop will pay homage to this fact, incorporating crushed cans and packaging from breweries like Seventh Son, Land-Grant, and North High. “It’s gonna be totally an art piece,” he said.

Rather than focusing on the potentially competitive aspect of the brewing scene, Kassling emphasized the camaraderie and common goals within the industry. “At the end of the day, craft beer is a great way to bring people together,” he said. “And at the end of the day, we’re all preaching community and good times.”

While Taft’s new location may not be in a church, Kassling’s words are the type of preaching that I can get behind.

Taft’s Brewpourium Columbus is located at 440 W Broad St. in the Gravity project. For more details about Taft’s, visit taftsalehouse.com.

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Food & Drink

New “relaxed” wine house now open in Dublin

614now Staff

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Next time you're in Dublin, make sure to stop and smell the rosé at the city's newest wine bar. Coast Wine House recently opened at 75 S High St., offering a contemporary wine bar + bottle shop inspired by a blend of the spirit of coastal California and traditional wine country cafés, markets, and bodegas, according to the website.

Coast assures they don't take themselves too seriously "in contrast to the conventional wine world," describes the website.

"The mood is decidedly relaxed. The wine is pleasantly chilled," Coast says.

The wine bar is run by Dustin Snow, who his wife, Molly, believes brings a "warm and relaxed" feel to Coast.

"A visit to our house is by no means fancy, but Dustin makes it special, because he genuinely wants to make you feel at home," she wrote on Instagram. "And since Coast is an extension of our home you will have this same warm and relaxed experience."

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2r1Q5OgbAT/

Coast is open Wednesday and Thursday from 12pm- 9pm, Friday and Saturday from 12pm- 10pm, and closed Sunday through Tuesday. To learn more visit coastwinehouse.com.

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