(above) Chattanooga Coffee Company/ Chattz Photo by Steve Carr
EW/Chattz: A consolidator provides our coffee, and most of it comes from South America, Central America, or Africa. Coffee is an agricultural product, so the coffee itself is influenced by the environment it’s grown in and the soil it comes from. We always purchase the highest quality beans, and we blend and roast them in a variety of ways.
ML/Brash: We get our coffee directly from farmers. I go to different places where I know good coffee is grown— just like everything else, there are certain environmental conditions that are necessary for growing great coffee. Once you find that, the most important thing is finding good people to work with. And then we do whatever it takes to process and export that coffee. Isolating and understanding good locations for growing coffee and determining what types of coffee taste delicious are the two things that contribute most to the quality of a cup of coffee.
EM/BonLife: We have relationships with farmers in a dozen countries and source seasonally based upon what’s fresh and fantastic in each origin. Some of our favorites are Ethiopia and Haiti. We choose the very best coffees we can get from the very best people we have met in coffee-growing countries, and then we build on those relationships by buying from them year after year and helping them improve quality each season. It’s special because the ongoing relationships mean we can tell customers about the fantastic processing methods and people who work with the coffee, and we can also continually reinvest in people to see lives changed.
JS/Stone Cup: At International Coffee Group, we offer top-quality, specialty-grade coffee. As an International Cup of Excellence Judge and one of 1,000 people worldwide who is a Licensed Quality Grader, we direct source. I travel to coffee-growing regions such as Mount Kenya and central Guatemala to meet with producers. Additionally, we are selling micro-lot and auctions-lot coffees in New York City. Often the farmers send me samples directly, and I’ll test them in our lab to see if they’re a good fit for the Stone Cup brand. We take an artisanal approach, and it’s our job to bring in great coffees and roast them so we’re getting the best out of them. We constantly taste our coffee to make sure we’re consistently getting those flavors and providing the freshest product possible.
MG/Rembrandt’s: We source our coffee from all over the world – basically from every coffee-producing country that we can get our hands on. We have coffee coming from Indonesia all the way throughout Central America and Africa. We’re really trying to create a diversity of origins. Our methodology when roasting and choosing coffee is to let the origins of the coffee show. We want those aspects to express themselves.
EC/Revelator: We source coffees from all over the world. We celebrate sense of place and variety. We try not to get in the way of the coffees, and by that I mean we roast to enhance their inherent characters. We keep our selection super fresh and seasonal, and don’t cut corners on quality.
HR/Mayfly: We’re very particular about our sourcing and we purchase either direct from farmers or through non-profit co-ops that guarantee that the farmers and the farm are getting paid minimum wage and is certified fair trade. So we’re very particular about our sourcing from an ethical standpoint. As far as countries of origin, we get our coffee from places like Indonesia, Africa, and South America. We work direct with purchasers, and they’re at the forefront of touring the farms, meeting the people, and sending us back that information along with samples.
How would you describe the vibe of your stores?
EW/Chattz: We have three locations now, and while each is customized to the area of town it’s in and the clientele it serves, you can go into any of the stores and know right away that it’s a Chattz. Exceptional customer service and a quality product is always our goal.
ML/Brash: A major focus of ours is the quality of coffee, but equally as important is developing strong, lasting relationships that develop and create community. The feeling around Brash is one of community. This industry has the tendency to turn customers into friends really quickly, and we see that happen all the time in our shop.
EM/BonLife: We try to maintain a few consistent themes throughout: we want the coffee to be serious but the people and space to be fun. There is no reason not to have a great time when you’re enjoying a handcrafted coffee, grown by great people, roasted locally, and brewed to perfection.
TD: Eclectic. We have a diverse mix of customers with different backgrounds and interests who share a common bond: coffee. The atmosphere itself is happy, friendly, and comfortable. A majority of the customers are on a first-name basis with the baristas—there’s definitely a community coffee shop feel.
JS: The foundation for this brand is twofold: amazing quality coffee and a sense of community.
MG/Rembrandt’s: We’re a European café. It’s upscale, with a pastry kitchen, a chocolate kitchen, and a café, all in one.
EC/Revelator: We wanted to build an American shop, with an aesthetic that is very bright, open, and ethereal – something to cut through the noise and distraction that, I think, a lot of people experience in their day-to-day lives. It’s very clean and uncluttered. A respite in a hectic and often distracted life.
HR/Mayfly: We’re a super, super relaxed company. It’s a very small business; there are four of us total. I think we’ve found ourselves in the position that we’re kind of an outdoor company that sells coffee. When people meet us, I think they’re always surprised that we’re in the coffee industry. We have really wild interests or hobbies outside coffee that help define us as well, so we bring a lot of those passions. I think that really carries through to our shop.
Why is Chattanooga right for a craft coffee scene?
EW/Chattz: When we first opened, people would say, “We don’t drink coffee, we drink sweet tea.” But as people have been exposed to coffee — more people are traveling, and more people are moving into our city from other parts of the country — it continues to expand. Part of what makes it work, too, is that we’ve never felt threatened by the other coffee companies that were already in the mix or the companies that have arrived since. Everybody does it differently, all the stores have different environments, and people find what they like. There’s room for everybody.
ML/Brash: We have a very strong connection to farming in Chattanooga, and when people enjoy fresh, local food, they appreciate it and know the difference. The same is true with coffee. When everything is done well, consumers appreciate it.
EM/BonLife: Craft coffee is blowing up as people discover that life’s not all about drive-through caffeine and flavor syrups. East Tennessee, more than most places, appreciates things that are made with care and craftsmanship, and this lends itself to well-roasted and meticulously brewed coffee. I believe you’ll continue to see the roasters and brewers of this region take steps to push the movement forward, and that’s great for local coffee drinkers.
TD: More and more people are drinking coffee than ever before—it’s become such an important aspect of peoples’ lives. And there are a lot of people who have moved into Chattanooga from other areas who are looking for a “home” coffee shop.
JS: Chattanooga is very entrepreneurial, and people who are entrepreneurial tend to be more open to new ways of doing things. We’re bringing in new ways of making and serving coffee not for the sake of novelty, but to help people experience the taste of coffee in different ways.
MG/Rembrandt’s: It’s because of the community of coffee lovers who are beginning to really appreciate the differences and beginning to really invest in the coffee establishments that are here.
EC/Revelator: Chattanooga is one of those cities that is on the rise. There are a number of shops that have been in Chattanooga for some time, doing incredible jobs with their coffee. So that really helps when you already have a culture and consumers who are open to a specialty coffee approach. We’ve been really fortunate in the sense that we have a strong base that is engaged and interested in an elevated, yet approachable, coffee experience.
HR/Mayfly: I think it’s because people really like getting together and conversing together with coffee. There are really nice, beautiful shops all around here. Some of the most talented people making coffee in the South are here in Chattanooga, and it’s pretty awesome to be around it.