Thunderkiss Taking Local Coffee to the Next Level
Most coffee in Columbus sucks, and Jason Valentine isn’t afraid to say it. Two years ago he launched Thunderkiss Coffee, a new small batch roastery that could wholesale its products to other local businesses, improving the quality of coffee to be found throughout the region.
Thunderkiss is one of the roasters that will be present at the North Market Coffee Roast on Saturday, March 31st. We recently spoke with Jason to find out more about how he got started in the coffee business and what he hopes to share at the upcoming event:
Q: With a background working in the construction industry, how did you make the jump to coffee roasting?
A: In late 2010 I decided to start a side business roasting coffee as a backup plan. I purchased a vintage roaster from a bar in Houston Texas, and started roasting coffee. I created an attractive, memorable brand name and logo and started slowly building relationships with businesses.
Q: What types of services do you provide the business you work with?
A: I ship and sell direct. I wholesale to restaurants, food carts, stores, and other businesses that are compatible or that I admire. I am also collaborating with other businesses to create new products using Thunderkiss coffee like coffee meat rub by North Market Spices and coffee cheesecake by Batch.
Q: Where do your source coffee beans for roasting at Thunderkiss?
A: I purchase unblended, arabica coffee from the origin where it was grown. It’s important that I know the story behind the coffee, the people that grew it, and the region it came from. I look past certifications to find more information. For example, one farmer gets goats and manure fertilizer from the mill that sells her coffee in Rwanda. She’s not certified organic like a larger farm, but there’s nothing more organic than goat poop for fertilizer. I typically have at least four coffees. I purchase whatever is from the most recent harvest. I sample at least ten coffees when I order, roast them to 5 different roast levels, brew them all week, and order the standouts.
Q: Your business has both a unique name and a unique brand. What goes into marketing your coffee to make it stand out from the competition?
A: First, the coffee has to be awesome, it has to be fresh, and roasted well. Then your branding needs to be attractive. When I drew the logo for the Thunderkiss “eye”, I was hypnotized right away. You know you’re off to a good start when more people recognize the stamp on your coffee bag than have actually tried your coffee. I use Twitter and Tumblr to give updates and build relationships. Supporting and helping other businesses is also a great marketing tool. Growing cities that have successful businesses and food scenes have businesses that support and encourage each other.
Q: Do you think that type of mutual support between businesses has affected the customer experience and helped to improve “coffee culture” in Columbus?
A: There is excellent coffee available in Columbus, but you have to know where to find it. But there definitely isn’t a culture of coffee in Columbus right now. For example, Portland has a smaller population than Columbus but has hundreds more coffee shops and more than twice as many roasters. The Pacific northwest definitely has a coffee culture. They drink more coffee and know the value of high quality, fresh roasted coffee. Fresh roasted coffee from the best roasters in that region sell coffee for wine prices. You would have to seek out shit coffee in Portland or Seattle, but you can swim in it in Columbus.
Q: Ha! Well, the North Market Coffee Roast should have a lot of great coffee all under one roof. What can we expect from Thunderkiss at that event?
A: I have no idea what I’m going to do. I keep thinking about filling super soakers with coffee and soaking people, booth decorations, and other stupid stuff. I’ll probably invite a bunch of friends to help brew a bunch of coffee several different ways. I hope there’s a good turnout and some long lines. There will definitely be great coffee there.
More information can be found online at thunderkisscoffee.tumblr.com.