Courtesy of Missouri History Museum
By Kelly Moffitt
St. Louis has found itself squarely in the center of the startup revolution. Touting its affordability, entrepreneurs flock to the city to take the risk of founding a new company. The scene is cutthroat but collaborative. It is revitalizing the city. For every success story, there are dozens of companies that rise too fast and fall hard.
This has happened before in St. Louis. It was not with apps or biotech hardware but rather with a product that starts up most of our days: coffee.
At the turn of the twentieth century, coffee roasting and production in St. Louis had hit such a boom that it was almost impossible to keep track of how many roasters came into existence and folded in a single year, says Katie Moon, the exhibits manager and content lead for the Missouri History Museum’s new exhibition, Coffee: The World in Your Cup and St. Louis in Your Cup.
Katie estimates that there were around eighty different roasters in the city at the turn of the century and that, from the 1890s through the 1910s, St. Louis was the largest inland distributor of coffee in the world.
Courtesy of Missouri History Museum
“St. Louis Ranks As One of the Most Important Coffee Centers in the United States,” read one headline put forth by the Greater St. Louis Chamber of Commerce in 1920, estimating that the value of coffee output exceeded $20 million.
“Coffee has been here since St. Louis was founded,” Katie says. “Because of St. Louis’s location with the Mississippi River connecting us to New Orleans and, later, all of the railroads that lead to and from the city, it was really the perfect storm of access.”
Originally, St. Louis was the final point to pick up large bags of coffee for pioneers journeying west over the Rockies. After the Civil War, however, entrepreneurs in the region realized they could capitalize on the buying power of someone closer to home. Women had formerly been buying and roasting green coffee beans themselves, but as they started to enter the workforce, roasters began popping up all over the city to do the work for them— roasting, flavoring, packaging beans, and distributing them all over the country.
One of the most interesting pieces of the Missouri History Museum’s exhibit comes from this era: a Civil War rifle retrofitted with a coffee grinder on its side. The soldier, who had been stationed in St. Louis, crafted the weapon from scratch.
“It never took off,” Katie says. “You could only grind one to two beans at a time.”
Courtesy of Missouri History Museum
From the late 1890s to the 1920s, St. Louis’s most notable roasters sprouted up. Ronnoco and Chauvin still fill the streets of south St. Louis with the smell of beans roasting, and others—such as Old Judge, HP Petring Coffee Company, and Jas H. Forbes Tea and Coffee—are only remembered by the vintage coffee tins you can pick up at local flea markets.
Much like startups today, these coffee roasters were responsible for new workplace standards. Hanley and Kinsella Coffee, for example, was the first company to institute an eight-hour workday in the 1910s. From 1904 and 1905, Blanke Tea and Coffee was one of the top five employers in the St. Louis area.
The coffee roasters of St. Louis were also an innovative bunch. Brothers J.P. and James O’Connor felt their name was not exotic enough, so they simply reversed it to create Ronnoco Coffee. More than two hundred patents related to coffee came out of St. Louis during that era, and the National Coffee Association was founded in St. Louis in 1911 by lo- cal coffee merchants. It is now housed in New York City and serves as the main market research and lobbying arm of the coffee industry.
Courtesy of Missouri History Museum
The coffee boom era started to dwindle in the 1930s as the Great Depression hit, and the national advertising machine began to whirl and displace local brands with national favorites.
“Many local companies didn’t have the funds or vision to keep up,” Katie says. “They were thinking locally.”
That didn’t mean the coffee industry in St. Louis was dead. With personalities like
Dana Brown and his famous Safari Coffee television commercials and the advent of personal coffee machines, the hot caffeinated beverage stayed in the hearts and minds of St. Louisans but was never in such a boom again.
That’s all changing now, Katie says. She thinks the coffee scene is having another moment in St. Louis. She estimates that in 2015, there are about twenty different coffee roasters in the city, and the majority are smaller, independent operations like Blueprint, Stringbean, and Northwest Coffee. Katie even points to Bosnian immigrant Beriz Nukic, who claims to be the first person in the United States to roast and sell Turkish coffee.
“These roasters love the idea of the Midwest and St. Louis as being open to growing and learning more about coffee,” Katie says. “Like with other things, the region is a couple of years behind, but there is now this third wave of interest in fair-trade, independent coffee. People are now interested in where the coffee beans are grown, the lives of the people that grow them, and they’re willing to pay more for
This advertising card for John C. Salzgeber’s Patent Steam Coffee Roaster was printed in St. Louis at the Compton Litho Company around 1884 when the patent was filed.
a good cup of coffee. We’re re-exotifying the coffee process.”
Coffee: The World in Your Cup and St. Louis in Your Cup pairs a focus on St. Louis with an exhibit on the global history of coffee by the Burke Museum in Seattle. You can find both exhibits under a mosaic of the St. Louis skyline made from 275,000 coffee beans. The exhibit is open until January 3, 2016. Learn more at mohistory.org or call 314-746-4599.
St. Louis is not the only place to find small, independent coffee roasters. The state is rife with great coffee shops that feel cozy, yet subtly push the envelope, either through caffeine output or a certain sense of wired style. So wake up and get ready because Missouri has a plethora of such gems hidden throughout the state.
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When the folks at Blueprint Coffee talk about the loop, they’re not just talking about their brick-and-mortar store located on the Delmar Loop in University City. Their loop refers to a mutually beneficial relationship among their producers, vendors, wholesale partners, and customers.
That starts with featuring only four coffees at a time, all of which are single origin. Three of those coffees are generally made at Blueprint, which roasts coffees from El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Ethiopia in both caffeinated and decaffeinated varieties. The shop recently added its first blended espresso, the deliciously heavy and sweet Penrose v7. The expertly roasted coffee isn’t the only appeal.
College-aged hipsters flock to this quiet and brightly geometric coffee shop, whose walls are covered in barn wood and whose baristas spin vinyl in the background as they craft both pour-over coffees and frothy espresso drinks.
If you’re looking for the caffeinated heart of downtown Springfield’s wave of urban revitalization, look no further than the clean lines and natural light of The Coffee Ethic, located on Park Central Square.
Founded in 2007 by Tom Billionis and Jim Hamilton, the shop mixes finely roasted and brewed coffee with a goal of environmental sustainability. That means the shop uses biodegradable cups and coffee bags, employs local wind energy, roasts beans in house, and contributes leftover espresso detritus to local composting efforts. The shop also prides itself on serving fair-trade, single-origin coffees that are prepared by the cup and made-to-order. It is no wonder that Zagat named this one of the fifty coffee shops you should pay a visit to across the country in 2013.
Chocolate lovers have known that wine is a go-to pairing for years, and it is time that coffee lovers jump on the bandwagon. That’s the premise behind Cup N’ Cork, which sells both gourmet, brewed-to-order coffee and wine. The shop moved to an expanded location in 2014. A huge selection of wine covers one interior wall of the coffee shop. For those looking for something with a little more body than your typical latte or cappuccino, you could enjoy both wine and coffee while spending the day on a spacious patio outside.
This sweet little shop, Cape’s only hometown coffee establishment, is also known for its open mic night as well as hosting community conversations in partnership with KCRU, the local NPR affiliate.
The original incarnation of Java Jive was a pottery studio known as Fresh Ayers. In 1993, Steve Ayers decided to open a studio that in- cluded a small coffee shop with four tables.
“It was so new back then that the paper had to call to figure out how to spell cappuccino,” says daughter Katy Welch, who took over in 2009.
Located a block and a half from the banks of the muddy Mississippi, you’d be hard pressed to find a coffee shop with more charm in northeast Missouri. The shop changes out funky furniture regularly, and the walls are adorned with works by artist friends of the family. And the shop has been serving Chauvin coffee since it ope
53940 Main Street, Kansas City, Missouri 64111
The most rebellious member of Kansas City’s prodigious coffee family has to be Oddly Correct, located in the revitalizing Midtown area of the city on Main Street.
Gritty, unfinished, and spectacularly artistic are three descriptors that come to mind when thinking about the shop, which brews three new coffees per week; milk or sugar are not allowed. Owner Gregory Kolsto got his start in the coffee business by traveling all over Latin America for Krispy Kreme. However, he left to start Oddly Correct and turned his laser-focus to curating and roasting single-origin coffee in a building three doors down from the Oddly Correct shop. The shop offers cuppings and classes. If artisanal coffee tasting is not your thing, the quirky, hand letter-pressed sketches that adorn the coffee bean bags are worth checking into. They’re another product of Gregory’s off-the-beaten path genius.
It’s fitting that a place named for one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century is almost better known as a mecca for local musicians and artists than it is for its coffee. Picasso’s bucks the trend of local coffee haunts—which open early and close before the sun goes down—by keeping its doors open until midnight Thursday through Saturday and until 9 pm on other nights. The shop offers a healthy respite for coffee junkies in an otherwise crowded bar and restaurant scene on Main Street in St. Charles. Don’t be surprised if those behind the counter know your name after one or two visits. Featuring micro-roasted coffees from the St. Louis region and a variety of bakery items from the French pastry shop La Bonne Bouchee, this shop is so popular it re- cently expanded to a second location at 1650 Beale Street in St. Charles.
“It’s not your typical hipster place,” says Aaron Blaine, the owner of Polka Dot Fox, a small coffee shop and bakery located off the beaten path in Joplin.
While the heavily tattooed and bearded Aaron’s personal tastes may gear more toward industrial hot rod style, the sartorial tastes of his mother and principal baker, Michelle, do not.
This kitschy, cute coffee shop proves that it takes a family to make a good cup of cof- fee and bake some delicious scones and cinnamon buns. Aaron opened the Fox’s doors this past February and says he sees everyone from old church ladies to biker gangs come sip pour-over coffee that is brewed to European standards within the shop’s walls, which are emblazoned with every sort of fox picture his mother could find. Michelle is in charge of the micro-bakery and decor. His stepfather, Andy Johnson, is in charge of the shop’s branding. Through it all, Aaron serves as the shop’s barista and coffee taster.
“I’m the only shop in town serving serious coffee,” he says.
And soon it’ll be the only shop in town roasting its own coffee. Aaron recently began experimenting with roasting after the Flying Crow, the only local roaster in town, folded. He bought the Crow’s roaster and hopes to soon focus his efforts on roasting coffees under the Flying Crow brand name that he’ll eventually get to brew and sell at the Polka Dot Fox.
For Columbia coffee newbies, it is easy to get waylaid by the plethora of options that downtown’s Ninth Street holds. Take a slight turn off the main drag, down unassuming Alley A, though, and you’ll be treated to a hidden gem: Shortwave Coffee.
Named for the radio waves that owner Dale Bassham’s father and grandfather worked with as radiomen, this long, nar- row shop with walls covered in multicolored wooden panels has the feel of a speakeasy: hushed conversation rumbles among customers and gloriously low lighting glints off of the exposed ductwork. What’s not a well-kept secret is the baby blue San Franciscan roaster that sits at the entrance to the coffee shop. With ten years of coffee experience, including time as a barista at Kaldi’s in St. Louis, Bassham knows how to work wonders with the machine, both brewing the roaster’s yields in-shop and selling the coffees in stores around Columbia and online.
If you’re a coffee snob but still crave a less pretentious coffee joint, Vintage Paris Coffee & Wine Café, located in an inviting 107-year-old house in downtown Hollister, may be the place for you. All the coffee served at Vintage Paris is hand-turned and craft-roasted in a custom hand-built roaster on-site, and the lattes, mochas, and specialty pour-overs are all delicious. These are coffee drinks to brag about, but the feeling inside the shop is anything but braggadocious. Cozy couches and chairs paired with bistro tables, twinkle lights, local art, chess boards, and fuzzy rugs create an atmosphere that feels more like your best friend’s living room than a stodgy, modern coffee shop. Pumpkin carving contests, movie nights, and live music are commonplace at this coffee shop, which also boasts a large outdoor space for community events.
Walkabout Coffee Shop’s proprietor Jeff Cook knows what his shop isn’t.
“There are coffee shops into roasting, tasting, cupping,” he says. “I know. But we’re just a mom-and-pop coffee shop that makes a good cup of joe and has a very relaxing atmosphere.”
That’s half the charm of this Nixa coffee shop, which serves espressos, mixed coffee drinks, teas, and traditional Australian foods. The other half of the charm is Jeff’s Australian accent. He opened the coffee shop four years ago as an escape from his work in construction and as homage to his home country. The sign is emblazoned with a boomerang. Aquariums filled with fish sit against sunny yellow walls. Even the pastries have doughy kangaroos baked on top. The coffee matches the sunny disposition with two blends, Walkabout and Bourbon Pecan, which are roasted especially for the shop. The quirkiest bits of coffee fun you’ll experience in this shop, however, are the mixed drinks. Jeff will try to blend anything his customers ask for, leading to sticky, sweet, and delicious creations like the “Tumbulgum,” which is a latte that includes a mix of milk chocolate, white chocolate, pineapple, and coconut. It’s the “dinky-di,” or, the real thing, mates, as Jeff would say.
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