It was an epiphany. One triggered by an intense pour-over of Ethiopian sidamo, with its deep winey-chocolatiness and citrusy bright acidity. I sat with Leon and Roseanne McIntosh on bar stools in the front window of the thronged South Tampa Buddy Brew and talked about their year-old venture, Tampa Coffee Club.
The first wave of American coffee enthusiasm was when Peet's and Starbucks made us reevaluate those tubs of Maxwell House. The second was when roasters began to go out into the world to create direct trade relationships with growers. And we are smack-dab in the middle of the third wave, driven by small-batch, artisanally roasted beans as well as new brewing technology and expertise.
Leon, 31, and Roseanne, 30, have capitalized on the dozens of micro-roasters that have set up shop in the Tampa Bay area in the past few years, debuting a coffee-of-the-month club that celebrates the depth and breadth of the local scene.
High school sweethearts from J.W. Mitchell High School in New Port Richey, the McIntoshes went to the University of South Florida together. Now Leon runs a web development agency and Roseanne is a teacher with Florida Virtual School. They are serious runners (Leon does triathlons), and in January they will be featured on HGTV's House Hunters. So what prompted this young Westchase couple to take a deep dive into the complicated world of small-batch roasting?
Here's the epiphany: WiFi.
If you went to college in the 2000s or before, you studied in the library or your dorm room. Maybe you took a coffee break, murky joe jetting out of one of those wall dispensers or poured by a disaffected waiter from an industrial Bunn machine. But now? Studying is untethered, laptops wandering from coffeehouse to cafe, free Internet broadening the notion of study hall nearly infinitely.
Most of the biggest trends of the moment share a common theme: small. Microdistilleries, craft beer, artisanal charcuterie, hipster Korean-taco food trucks, farm-to-table restaurants and tiny-batch coffee all have a similar aesthetic. They are all about celebrating local product, building a loyal audience and embracing the kind of plucky DIY spirit that cuts out the bankers and suits. But the nuances of the Colombia Timana Tobo from Patriot Coffee Roasters in Lakeland or the cold brew blend from Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters in Hernando? Those are uniquely appreciated by those who sit and sip while getting a little work done (or pretending to).
Leon still works many days in area coffeehouses, a habit started in college. His and Roseanne's business idea started around the kitchen table during a Sunday family dinner. They asked themselves how they could get all the exciting local coffees they were drinking into the hands of other local people. Tampa Coffee Club launched in June 2015 with seven roasters on the roster.
"Now we're at 30 roasters and we get emails from prospective roasters once a week, even from out of state," Roseanne said. "So we can be more selective."
With a big push in December 2015 as a vendor at the Junior League's Holiday Gift Market at the Florida State Fairgrounds and an assist from social media, the McIntoshes have slowly built a list of subscribers and roasters.
"We've tried to stick with regional Florida coffees," Leon said. "Part of it is that we want to support the community we live in and help the coffee scene grow."
"And we want it to be an experience to open the box," Roseanne added. "The first box had three bags of coffee, but we were getting killed on the shipping. We had a come-to-Jesus moment and decided we wanted it to be a learning experience for subscribers, but it has to work for us financially."
Each box comes with a card that describes the month's two coffees: tasting notes, level of roast. Flip the card over and you'll find brewing tips because, as Roseanne said, many people are confused even about how much coffee to use. You can buy a single month, three months or six months for yourself or as a gift, and there are options to purchase more of the coffees you've particularly enjoyed.
Leon, Roseanne and Leon's parents, Bill and Mariann, form an assembly line on the last business day of the month to fill orders, their aim to have coffees roasted and shipped within 48 hours.
While Leon said that every month they try to offer two very different coffees, from different regions and with different roasts, it's the roasters themselves who create variety.
"If you gave every roaster the same beans, I guarantee every coffee they make will taste different," he said.
There have been some coffee samples the McIntoshes haven't loved, and they certainly have their own tastes — for Leon, a top brew is the Volcanista Sumatra Mandheling, while Roseanne's fave is a Tanzanian peaberry. But their burgeoning relationships with local roasters, from the Lab to Zeal and Blind Tiger, has given them front row seats to the area's increasingly rich and busy bean scene.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.