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Crimson Cup Still Growing Strong After 18 Years

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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The Crimson Cup store in the Clintonville/Beechwold area has only been open for about a year and a half, but this local company’s roots are actually spread out all across the country and their story goes back nearly 20 years in Columbus. We recently sat down with Anna Harper-Hess of Crimson Cup to learn more about them.

Q) Crimson Cup has got a deep history with Columbus. Can you tell us a bit about how the company got started and how it’s evolved over the last two decades?

A) Crimson Cup was started in May 1991 by Worthington HS & Harvard grad Greg Ubert. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in economics, he took a job working for a software company in Chicago and hated it. He decided to quit the job, move back to Columbus and begin his own company. He wanted to start a business where people are excited to come to work and passionate about their jobs. Coffee was something Greg has always been passionate about, so he decided to start a coffee company.

In 1992, Greg met Armando Escobar (our Chief Espresso Officer). Armando was opening a coffee bar on OSU’s campus and Greg was attempting to sell Armando his coffee. The first day he attempted to approach Armando, he happened upon a line of about 20 students/professors waiting to get coffee. At that point, he figured he had no chance of meeting with him that day, but to his amazement the line of customers diminished in about five minutes. Greg had never seen a barista produce that many drinks, that fast. This was a life-changing moment for Greg. He realized there was a lot more to specialty coffee then he realized.

Shortly after this meeting, Armando joined the Crimson Cup team. The rest is history… once Armando was on board Chris Lamb (our Roast Master), Greg, and Armando created our signature blend of coffee: Armando’s blend. Armando’s blend is used as our drip coffee and our espresso.  Since then we’ve been building a community of coffee houses where the owner/operator practices our business curriculum while having a passion for serving their community. In September 2007, we opened our first retail store in the Clintonville/Beechwold community.

In addition to helping independent coffee houses open up, we also provide coffee and products to grocers, colleges & universities, grocers and food service operations. In total, we have a network of over 350 independent coffee houses, grocers, colleges & universities, and food service operations across 25 states.

Q) For all of the coffee-aficionados on Columbus Underground, what sorts of flavor profiles should people be looking for when tasting some of the Crimson Cup offerings?

A) All of our coffee/espresso is roasted and packaged within 72 hours in Bexley, so the coffee you purchase is really fresh.  We use Specialty grade, class 1 beans, which are the top 5% of all coffees in the world. Our beans are even in texture and size, not broken, and larger then other grades of coffee. Coffee growers take a lot of care to ensure we receive high quality beans so we take the time to ensure we roast in a high quality way.

We offer a variety of coffees, but for our purposes I’ll discuss Armando’s Blend. Armando’s Blend is not only our signature blend, but it’s also our most popular blend. When used as a drip coffee or as an espresso Ablend strikes the perfect balance between body and acidity. In coffee terms, acidity does not refer to PH. It refers to a lively/sparkling/clean quality. Armando’s Blend is well rounded and smooth with sweet and nutty tones, and has a nice finish (meaning there isn’t an unfavorable aftertaste). Used as an espresso Armando’s Blend pairs really well with milk and has a chocolaty quality to it.

Q) What can you say that Crimson Cup does differently when compared to other shops; both chains and locals?

A) In terms of our coffee house, we fresh roast our coffee locally and we have the advantage of having over 18 years of experience in a building about 20 minutes away, so we can help the coffee house staff as needed.

In terms of our headquarters, we have a public open door policy meaning, we’ll give anyone a tour of our roasting facility at any time. We want the general public to see what we do and how we do it. We’re really proud of our coffee and our company, and we want to show it off!! We develop our own products. Our chocolate sauce, tea, etc is unique to us and we spend years developing these products. We only put out products that meet our specific quality standards, which sometimes means it takes 3 years to develop the right product. We design and produce our marketing materials in house and provide them to our community of coffee houses at zero cost. We’re a small company (20 people), so we operate more like a team. We support one another in our respective jobs and in our lives outside of work. We are also a very fun, casual group of people. We are encouraged to find and follow our passion, which is very different from a lot of companies.

Q) Can you tell us a bit about some of the coffee shop partnerships that Crimson Cup has throughout Columbus?

A) Java Cyber Espresso Bar in Gahanna is one of our oldest partnering accounts. They’ve been with us since 1997. Erich, the owner, also owns a coffee bar in the Convention Center downtown. Originally, we were approached about opening it, but we didn’t have an interest so we asked Erich if we wanted to use the space.

OSU is one of our large accounts. Every year we hand out samples to students and staff. We give away thousands of drinks and it’s amazing seeing everyone’s face as they taste our product. A lot of “non-coffee” drinkers will try the frozen coffee drink and be converted to coffee drinkers.

Recently, we helped Upper Arlington High School open up a coffee shop called UA Rise. Armando was the person who trained all the students and he had a blast. The students who are in charge of the coffee house have been very passionate, respectful, and interested in taking on the responsibility. The dedication ceremony was beautiful, and Armando had everyone sign his UA t-shirt.

We’ve also been a partner in the Hill’s Market since 1993 (when they opened).

Q) Nice. So what does the future hold for Crimson Cup? Anything exciting coming up this year?

A) Lots of things! We’re continuing to grow, which is something not a lot of businesses can say in this economy. This month our coffee (in our new 12 oz packaging) went into all the Ohio Whole Foods Stores and Jungle Jim’s (famous Cincinnati /Dayton grocer). On May 7th we have our grand opening for our Kroger Coffee Bar in Toledo. For this grand opening we will be giving a way a free bag of coffee to the first 1000 people who purchase a reg or large drink. This is the second coffee bar we’ve put into a Kroger store, the first one is in the Stoneridge Kroger in Gahanna. On May 12th we will be celebrating our 18th anniversary with $1 lattes and mochas all day at our coffee house in Beechwold/Clintonville (4541 N. High Street). There are many other projects in the works. It’s a really exciting year for Crimson Cup.

For more information please visit the Crimson Cup Website or Blog.

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