How Iowa craft beer inspired me to start this company

So here I am, sitting in Virginia this week for my other job, thinking about - what else? - coffee. Specifically, Iowa Coffee. Or as I like to say on Instagram, #iowacoffee.

But what do I mean by that? Well, let me tell you about #iowabeer...

From 2008-'12, my family moved from our native Iowa to Virginia for my wife and I to attend grad school. When we left in 2008, there were hardly any craft micro-breweries in the state to speak of. (Millstream being one very notable nearby exception!)

Upon graduation in 2012, we decided we wanted to move back home to the green, low, rolling hills of Iowa. Imagine my delight as a craft beer enthusiast when I discovered that craft beer had exploded in the four years we were gone. It had gone from a sleepy niche movement to a full-blown industry with a measurable economic impact in the state. And four more years down the road, craft beer shows no signs of slowing down and there are breweries cranking out some exceptional craft beers.

I've written a few articles recently (here and here) about starting Ross Street Roasting Company as a craft coffee roasting business in a small, rural community, and the unique challenges that brings. Basically, I started roasting coffee because there wasn't much good, Iowa craft coffee to speak of, specifically in the emerging Specialty Coffee segment. (Sidecar Coffee Roasters, being one awesome nearby exception!)

And as I started following more and more Iowa craft breweries on social media, drinking more of their beers, and noticing the things the Iowa Brewers Guild were up to, I thought, "I want to see Iowa coffee roasters and cafe owners start behaving like this!" - Pushing the ball forward on quality and consumer preferences has worked tremendously well for Iowa craft brewers and Iowa beer consumers have benefited greatly. I believe Iowa coffee roasters & cafe owners may be poised to push something similar in our industry. And consumers will appreciate it and benefit.

Coffee, like beer, has suffered in the past from the "commodity problem." Both are ubiquitous beverage products that saw massive centralization and production over the latter half of the 20th century. People got used to drinking the mass-produced crap that giant companies were pushing on them, and diversity of styles and flavors was eradicated and consumer tastes followed.

But whereas the big beer companies are now following/reacting to the explosion of their craft industry, the coffee industry has a ways to go. Bad coffee still prevails and the "coffee is coffee is coffee, gimme a damn coffee" is still the default mode in a lot of the Iowa market. 

So what I hope for with #iowacoffee is an emphasis on quality (high-quality, ethically sourced coffees) and craft (an artisan's touch on the roaster, with attention to each coffee's unique qualities). That's on the roasting side. On the cafe/coffee shop side, I hope to see more amazing speciality shops like Brewhemia in Cedar Rapids, Mars Cafe & Coffee Bar in Des Moines, and 392 Caffé in Clinton - shops that are pushing the envelope on the barista side of the coffee experience, pulling amazing shots on quality espresso machines, doing pour-overs, cold brewing, siphons, etc.

Let's do this, Iowa coffee peeps.

Posted on August 15, 2016 .