It’s hard to overstate how far American coffee culture has come. Before the dizzying array of new drinks ending in -cino and -atte, before Kona and Yirgacheffe became household names, before the Beyonce-crashing-your-birthday-party excitement that precedes the annual onslaught of pumpkin spice, the American coffee scene was driven by tin can coffee brands, ground months before and brewed in stovetop percolators and overnight drip machines. If it wasn’t burnt or sludgy, you were good to go. American coffee has evolved from a thin, stale, bitter caffeine delivery system to a synecdoche for the way authentic craft can transform our daily lives with memorable, even transporting, moments.
The Morning Gods
The fine art behind the commercial ‘craft of coffee’ culture is far more complex than what meets the eye. Baristas drive the experience with their natural air of nonchalance, a cooler than cool vibe that has no textbook. The behind-the-counter ballet is beautiful to watch, but there’s a method to their moves: everything is perfectly timed, expressing a complex knowledge and a love for the art of crafting beverages that consistently maintain the highest level of quality. The milk must be steamed to perfection, the shot pulled at the most opportune time to deliver consistency, and the brewed coffee tested before it’s served to those bottomless cup folk who just never seem to get enough of the rich, dark, liquid intelligence.
I thank the gods every morning for these thoughtful baristas, because without them I would be completely brain dead. I don’t really like making coffee at home because I prefer to get out of the house as soon as possible – my numerologist tells me this frenetic energy in the morning is because I’m a Pisces. So, I depend on my local coffee shops, and my morning routine follows a utilitarian path, to the amusement of my household: until I have my Cheapside latté, or Pleasantry Summer Punch, I’m a shell of a man. Coffee is my life’s fuel, and without it, I’m a skyscraper with no elevators, a murmuration crashing to the ground.
Who Runs the World?
The craft and culture that create this sacred beverage have become a passion of mine over the past two years. What began as a simple quenching of my caffeine addiction has morphed into a desire to understand more deeply how the business of coffee works and explore the extraordinary passion that has elevated this once-routine commodity.
I can often be found sitting at Cheapside in downtown Cincinnati in the early mornings, or at Pleasantry in the afternoon, and have the opportunity to watch the symphony that surrounds such a deceptively simple business. One morning, while at Cheapside, I chatted up Ryan Doan of Deeper Roots, who agreed to sit down with me to share the inner workings of his business, a respected player in Cincinnati’s local coffee scene.
Deeper Roots, founded by Les Stoneham, Ryan Doan, Courtney Robinson, Adam Shaw, and Jon Lews, has been roasting coffee for the Cincinnati market since 2012. What began as a team of passionate coffee lovers immersed in the local maker scene has emerged as a holistic business that serves the craft as much more than a roastery. In addition to perfecting the beans brewed at Pleasantry, 1215 Wine & Coffee Lab, Collective Espresso, and Cheapside, to name a few of the city’s top purveyors, and running a comfortably simple coffee shop in Oakley serving beautiful concoctions that revolutionized the way I view coffee (more on that later), Deeper Roots provides expert barista training and offers sales, maintenance and repair services for their preferred, Italian-crafted La Marzocco espresso machines – a leader in the industry since 1927.
Deeper Roots goes beyond ethical sourcing via the nonprofit Deeper Roots Development, which supports economic empowerment for the farmers who produce their beans sustainably in iconic coffee regions - think the lush, forested landscapes of Guatamala, Ethopia, and Costa Rica. Then, they roast on the West Side, Mt. Healthy (Cincinnati) to be exact, within a former dairy farm whose two barns and main building house their business offices, roasting equipment, and mechanical room, where espresso machinery is maintained and repaired for coffee shops across the region. The roastery’s pristine bucolic flair gives me the feeling that at any moment Zsa Zsa Gabor from Green Acres will greet me in a clean, crisp pale pink long oxford shirt with a Broadway song fest that even Nathan Lane and Betty White would envy. The barn behind the facility even has a small Alpaca enclave! If you go, be sure to meet Spike - he’s a stud.
On a perfect spring afternoon that requires a cardigan, but is just bright enough to give you the perfect tan, I waited for Ryan. A scheduling mishap on the event invite through our emails had caused a bit of confusion: I had ended up at the Deeper Roots Oakley location, while Ryan thought we were meeting at the Mt. Healthy roastery and distribution center. No worries, though, Ryan was accommodating and even chipper when he walked in the door. We immediately launched into a discussion of the company’s complex business structure, but I will admit, I was intrigued by the opportunity to have a coffee pro lead me through his favorite drinks. When was the last time you had anyone give you a brave dose of coffee knowledge? I drink plenty of coffee, but have little time to break down what I’m tasting and why it could or should be important. So, we started with his recommendation to try their iced coffee from their Kegerator.
For those of you who are new to the multi-dimensional world of coffee, as I am, the Kegerator is one of those new-age applications that gives coffee a new life. It’s coffee in a keg, of course, but the flavors are a bit more complex (and botanical, to my palate) as the coffee isn’t heated during the brewing process. It’s rounder, and like sipping sweet complex tobacco through a straw, which I really enjoyed. I added the smallest bit of cream to take the edge off and was transported by the sense of terroir, of the very specific global locale where the beans were grown, and of the great care taken in bringing them to my cup.
Hoping to stump the expert, I challenged Ryan to share something so innovative that I’d find it nowhere else. He conversed with the barista and out came the most perfect answer: a small glass cup with chilled coffee that was strained, no ice, a hint of cream, fragrant with cherry blossom essence. The glass was garnished with a perfectly cut lime wedge, which he suggested I squeeze into the coffee. I did so, sipped, and was blanketed in blossoms, transported to a hazy April morning among the famous cherry trees in Washington, DC - a place I’ve yet to visit.
That’s when I realized that coffee could be more than a mechanical tool to keep my brain churning through life’s roller-coaster challenges and mundane commitments. Maybe coffee could be a new way to experience the world’s offerings right here in Cincinnati. It’s the ultimate trip in a glass.
Q&A with Deeper Roots Co-Founder Ryan Doan
WHAT IS IT ABOUT COFFEE THAT MADE YOU SO PASSIONATE TO LAUNCH A FULL-FLEDGED BUSINESS AROUND IT?
Coffee was the perfect fit for me to blend my sensory way of relating to the world and my hope to do something that made lives better somehow. I love doing business that really affects so many lives on a daily basis. Then feeling like we needed to start something new. We already were doing training, equipment work, and development work with farmers so roasting was a way to unify those.
DEEPER ROOTS IS A MULTI-FACETED BUSINESS WITH A LOT GOING ON, HOW DO YOU BALANCE OPERATIONAL NEEDS WITH YOUR CREATIVE DESIRES?
With so many possibilities and needs in a day we have to rely on our team to help take care of customers which is my first priority. Our greatest asset in this business is our people. Not just our group of five main owners, but also the rest of our team. This group is able to fuel creativity that helps us grow our brand that is what we hope to be valuable and approachable.
THE BUSINESS OF COFFEE APPEARS TO BE VERY LABOR INTENSIVE, WHATE DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
This answer would be different for all owners I think, but for me it’s all about our wholesale relationships. These are friends of mine and genuinely great people. I really enjoy this small business network that is constantly growing in Cincinnati and creates a collaborative energy that makes our days worth while.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR DEEPER ROOTS?
Lots actually. The most current is our bottled cold coffee is what we hope to be the first of a family of bottled beverages. This has been a real learning experience that we hope can reach consumers that our whole bean coffee probably never will. We would love to see this in drink coolers all over the place and the best part is we hope to use this as another chance to use our brand to do something more than sell coffee. Find out more at coldblack.co
Coffee Shops I Love – In No Particular Order