Charlotte brews more than beer: A conversation about our city’s coffee evolution

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We’ve come a long way from just waiting in line for that old cup of joe – that black, syrupy cup from who-knows-where as morning fuel. We drank it without thinking twice. Fast-forward to today and now we ask questions like “Who’s the roaster?” and “Is this a single origin espresso?”

Looking back a mere five years will uncover part of Charlotte’s coffee history that is utterly utilitarian. There wasn’t much innovation happening around town, nor was there a yearning for something greater (at least not on a large scale).

However, just as the brewery boom started to take shape, something sparked for coffee as well.

I had the chance to sit down with two of Charlotte’s coffee moguls to gain some perspective on what it’s like to own a shop in the QC. Both of these guys are people I consider close friends and our first interactions started over (you guessed it) a cup of coffee.

First on deck is Jimmy Kleto of Central Coffee Company.

You take one step into this shop and you’re pummeled with the smell of fresh-baked EVERYTHING. Scones, cookies, muffins, baklava, koulouraki, paxamathi (you call it biscotti) and, of course, a litany of coffee/espresso beverages.

Jimmy opened Central Coffee’s doors to Plaza Midwood back in 2009. He recounts, “There really wasn’t much happening for coffee here. There were about 10 Dilworth Coffee locations and not much else.”

central-coffee-nick-and-jimmyPhoto via Central Coffee Facebook page.

Central has grown quite a bit in 6+ years and the line of products and flavors has grown vastly. “All of our regulars and many transplants from Brooklyn or Portland continue to help us grow as a business. That’s what gave us the chance to launch our bottled cold brew coffee a few years ago.”

@nodabodega we’re on our way to restock your cooler!

A photo posted by @centralcoffee on

Owning a business of any kind requires a stout heart and quite a bit of know-how. In our conversation, Jimmy mentioned, “You have to know your community. When someone comes in to buy a drink, they become a business partner.”

lattePhoto via Benjamin G on Yelp.com.

You Have To Order: The Central Shorty – Jimmy’s signature 6oz latte with a hint of vanilla OR Cold Brew with lavender vanilla simple syrup.

James Yoder of Not Just Coffee is next on our list.

If you’ve ever sat at the bar of the 7th Street Market or Atherton Mill location, you know the name says it all: there’s way more to this place than coffee. It’s an experience, a culture, something bigger than just a transaction between customers and baristas.

Beautiful lighting at our Atherton bar. (Photo by @tannermorita) A photo posted by notjustcoffee (@notjustcoffee) on

The business has some humble beginnings as a small shop at Area 15 in NoDa. It wasn’t something that just burst out of the gate, either. “It was super underground at first. It was one person at a time telling their friends,” tells James.

not-just-coffee-charlottePhoto courtesy of Tonya P on Yelp.com.

James’ focus has always been on top quality and there’s no denying the attention to detail in his craft. He uses the best equipment, serves atop a beautiful handcrafted bar and brews artful beverages with Counter Culture Coffee.

@counterculturecoffee organic La Voz brewed up on the V60. Good morning! (Thanks @basicwild for the shot)

A photo posted by notjustcoffee (@notjustcoffee) on

“There’s a value to the customer having an experience with the product,” he notes. “The learning curve is steep and the man power is expensive to run a shop like ours, but it isn’t about the bottom line. It’s about a better product.”

Pulling shots. #BigTrouble

A photo posted by notjustcoffee (@notjustcoffee) on

You Have To Order:  The Caramel Latte made with house-made caramel.

—–

Both of these gents have built the pillars that Charlotte’s coffee scene stands on. We can tout a living, breathing community of locals who are die-hard supporters. Plan to attend a Thursday Night Throwdown (Latte Art Competition) to see who turns out. You only get to this spot with tons of hard work and even more love for coffee.

Next time you’re thinking of ordering your regular whatever from Starbucks, think about what these local minds and deft hands have done to elevate our coffee scene. They’ve paved the way for more than just a beverage. They offer a conduit for relationships. Friendships. Memories. Stories you can’t wait to tell your friends. And, of course a damn fine cup of coffee. Well played, gentlemen. Carry on.

Other Coffee shops/biz/pop-ups to keep on your radar:

The Daily Press
HEX Coffee
Feel Good Coffee Co

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Ben Getz
| @benjamingetz |
Beard, bread, Battlestar Galactica.