ST. PETERSBURG — What started as a small gathering of friends is now a growing business that has people hyped about St. Petersburg specialty coffee.
Brendan Smith has worked with coffee for years as a barista, manager and consultant. Now he's using his knowledge, combined with his love of St. Petersburg, of which he's a native, to put together tours of the city's specialty coffee shops. Simply called St. Pete Coffee Tours, the pub crawl-style event happens once a month and hits three coffee shops over a span of three hours.
It's a lot of espresso.
The first tour was in December, when Smith, 35, got a group of friends together to check out some of his favorite spots. After being met with an overwhelming response, he decided to make the "espresso crawls" a monthly affair.
"(I'm) trying to do something cool in our city that no one else is doing," he said.
The goal, Smith said, is to "connect people to good products, connect them to the vibe of the city."
When choosing bars to stop at, he looks at the quality of the coffee the shops serve, logistics (where they're located in relation to each other, when they open, etc.) and ways that he can showcase their specialties.
On the list of shops he likes to choose from: Bandit Coffee Co., Southside Coffee Brew Bar, Story Brooke Craft Coffee Bar, Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails, the Bikery and Craft Kafe.
Smith, along with the business owners, creates a dialogue about coffee throughout the tour. Each stop is tailored to a specific shop's strengths, letting them highlight what they're good at while educating "tourists" on everything from different brew methods to different roasters across the country.
On the most recent tour May 20, Jason Waits at Craft Kafe talked about Kyoto-style slow-drip cold brew, a method that uses a tower contraption to brew coffee one drop at a time for an almost syrupy, sweeter cup. At the Bikery, owner Neal Norton made espresso panna cotta and talked about Onyx Coffee Lab, a roaster from Arkansas that he swears by.
And at Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails, the last stop on this particular tour, baristas made espresso mint juleps to show off the different directions coffee can go.
No tour is the same, said Jesse Wolf, a friend of Smith's. Wolf said he has gone on maybe four or five tours.
"It's something nobody's doing, but it makes perfect sense," he said. "I learn something new every time."
Ultimately, that is Smith's goal. Whether talking about seraphim technology — a brewer that heats water beneath the counter to lower the barrier between barista and customer — or washed versus natural processing — two different ways of removing the coffee bean from the surrounding cherry — Smith is constantly engaging people in conversation.
He's like a bridge, Wolf said, between the consumer and a scene that might otherwise be intimidating. He might ask you which coffee, out of a flight of samples, you like best; what flavors you pick up on. He might set up a demonstration or even invite you to a group lunch afterward.
"It's very social," Smith said, adding that he hopes every person walks away with a little bit more knowledge.
Contact Carlynn Crosby at firstname.lastname@example.org.