~ Cafes in tiny houses, family life & Colorado living with Carissa. ~
When we first heard about Story Coffee Co., we were more than a little intriguied - a coffee shop in a tiny house in Colorado Springs? Sold. Meeting Carissa at the U.S. Barista Regional Qualifying event in Kansas City was just another nudge, and Story was top of my list to check out on my next trip down to Colorado Springs. A great capp and a well-executed cold brew 'coffee old fashioned' highlighted a wonderful visit, and I was thrilled to get to chat with Carissa about life and coffee in the Springs! Enjoy ~ Sadie
The LAB: What's your favorite aspect of owning Story Coffee Co?
Carissa: Philip Pullman once said “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” At the risk of sounding a bit cliché, my favorite thing really is all the stories we get to hear and share about the coffee and roasters, and all the stories we get to know as people come in and share the moments in their day with us. I love a good story, and am so thankful I work in a field where everything I do really comes down to that.
The LAB: You have a beautiful family and a relatively new coffee company that's quickly gaining momentum - how do you balance work and family life? How have the two complimented or challenged each other in your experience?
Carissa: Probably a bit of both. My girls are amazing and really are able to adapt beautifully to what is going on around them. They also are pretty decent little baristas with good palates, so they really enjoy helping around the shop. As with any new start up business, family time together tends to suffer if you don’t prioritize it, so that is what we try to do. We have family dinner together most every night, and after dinner we hang out, play games, read, and just spend time together. If the girls aren’t in school they are always with either my husband or me, so we really try and take advantage of that time together.
The LAB: You lived in Portland before moving to Colorado and opening Story - what about life in Portland inspired or contributed to Story's creation?
Carissa: We moved to Portland to pursue coffee and learn more about it, and what we walked away with far exceeded our expectations. The people we worked with there, the training that Stumptown Coffee provided us, and the relationships within the coffee community there, all pushed us to become better and to care more. We met producers there, cupped their coffee with them and heard their stories. Those things, those stories, change your perspective and how you look at the world and your craft. Those relationships and moments have been some of the biggest inspiration in our pursuit of coffee.
The LAB: That's so inspiring! After that experience, why did you choose Colorado Springs?
Carissa: We lived in Colorado Springs years ago, and our original plan was not to settle in the Springs, but after spending over a year traveling the US and exploring some of the greatest cities around, we stopped here to visit some friends (now business partners). While here, we really started to love the city. A lot of great places are popping up and the coffee community is really accomplished and amazingly welcoming. We were sold!
The LAB: That's great to hear. We've focused the growth of Caffeine Crawls on many cities with 'under-the-radar' coffee scenes, and the Spring's first Crawl last year blew us away. We're so glad to see it continue to grow!
The LAB: We had a great cappuccino and a fantastic 'coffee old fashioned' when we visited - what are your thoughts on specialty beverages / mocktails in a cafe setting as they contribute to a well-rounded traditional espresso & brewed coffee menu?
Carissa: On our travels we encountered this trend off and on and had different experiences with it. I always love trying something a little different when a café is offering it. I think it can be a fantastic addition to a menu if it is thoughtful and highlights what is great about the coffee used in it. I love this part of the Barista Competitions, and I love that it is becoming something consumers can participate in as well.
The LAB: You were a judge for the recent U.S. Barista Championships Qualifying Event in Kansas City - what are your thoughts on the format this year compared to the previous regional setup? What changes would you see as being helpful for the future of the U.S. Barista Championships?
Carissa: In a lot of ways I really liked the format this year for regionals. I feel like it makes the event more sustainable financially and makes it a little less resource hungry. I am hoping in the future these events continue to become more of draw for the general public as well. I’m not sure how that will play out, but the more people hear the stories of these farmers and of the care that goes into specialty coffee, the better it is for our industry - from consumer all the way back to the farmer.
The LAB: What's an ideal 'day off' look like for you? Hobbies / favorite wind-down activities?
Carissa: I love being outside - hiking is something I enjoy a lot - but with opening a new shop, it isn’t something I’ve done much of recently. I’m hoping that changes this summer! I also love exploring cities, coffee shops, great restaurants. I love board games too! My girls are finally old enough to play some strategy games like Settlers of Catan, and I am loving that!
The LAB: Top three favorite music artists to start your morning?
Carissa: I wish I was cool enough to have a great answer to this question! In reality, I put on a Pandora station like the Oh Hello’s or The Lumineers and I’m pretty happy with whatever plays.
The LAB: No judgement here! If you're not drinking coffee, what's another favorite go-to beverage for you?
Carissa: There often seems to be a big divide between coffee lovers and tea, but I am a big fan of tea as well! I love a good green tea or as an herbalist, I love playing around with flavor profiles of an herbal tisane.
The LAB: Tell us a little about your roaster lineup - whose coffees do you serve and what do you love about them?
Carissa: So far we have had:
Stumptown Coffee Roasters from Portland OR
Bespoken Coffee Roasters from Corvalis OR
Brio Coffeeworks from Burlington VT
Onyx Coffee Lab from Fayetteville AK
Square One Coffee Roasters from Lancaster PA
Coming soon, we will be offering Sweet Bloom from Denver CO
All of these roasters are dedicated to the farmers they work with, and telling their story well. In many cases, they work directly with these farmers, and are paying premium prices for great work. They know the names of the people growing and processing their coffees. They are committed to quality and assuring everyone all the way down the supply chain is taken care of. Beyond that, they are all great people who are living a really great story themselves. They treat people well, are passionate about their craft, and overall just great to be around. They each bring a different voice to specialty coffee that has elevated the craft and lacks pretentiousness at the same time. They are super impressive people who roast really impressive coffees and we are so proud to serve them!
The LAB: We LOVE the tiny house concept and we're so intrigued by the conceptual adaptions that have turned Story into the cozy, functional cafe it is! What are the pros and cons of a tiny house cafe vs. a more traditional setting?
Carissa: A couple really basic pros involve cost and risk. A traditional café setting involves significant and costly build outs that tiny houses just don’t require. And as far as leases go, if a current location doesn’t work, there is an easy to way to relocate with minimal cost. Because our space is small, our menu is simple, so we can really focus on the quality of what we offer and making sure our selection is something we are really proud of. Also, the overhead on a shop like this allows us to do what we love and not sacrifice our family time, or have to add products just because of finances. We are dedicated to great coffee and this format allows us to spend our time focusing our energy there.
On the cons, it just hadn’t been done before, so figuring everything out was a lot of research, conversations, and sometimes just crossing our fingers. We are working on a deck with seating now, but when we get busy it can feel tight in here. It’s not a space designed for spending all day. It’s definitely a space to come, have an elegant experience with some amazing coffees and continue on your way. In a culture where the coffee shop has become a secondary work space for many, our place is a bit different. It also means that you meet people and make friends. The small space makes that happen pretty automatically, and that is something I just love!
The LAB: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Carissa! We're inspired and excited to watch Story keep growing.
Next time you're in Colorado Springs, drop by Story Coffee Co. and say hello. We'll be doing so frequently!