I'll Have What I'm Having
Watershed Distillery cofounder, Greg Lehman, sat down with John Bartley of Ramble Coffee to find out more about this independent coffee roaster with a teardrop trailer, a love for good coffee and a passion for adventure.
Greg: John, thanks for coming in today! I know we talked a little bit about it, but we are pretty excited about what you’re doing! One of the most fun parts of our job is collaborating with other entrepreneurs in the community … we are so excited about the project we are working on with you for the Kitchen & Bar! Today we really just want to learn about Ramble Coffee - the guy behind it, why you’re doing it, what inspires you - so maybe just start by telling us a little bit about starting Ramble.
John: yeah for the most part it’s been a pretty natural progression for me, an evolution. I’ve been a lifelong coffee drinker, daily drinker-
Greg: Right outta’ the womb!
John: Right outta the womb, every day, yeah! It’s been an on-going process, just learning more about coffee, discovering new things, and eventually started roasting my own. I’m just kind of trying to make the best beans possible, roasted fresh every week. Tried some experiments, roasting in the oven…lot’s of smoke.
Greg: That sounds like us getting started. You make a lot of mistakes in the beginning!
John: Yeah, a lot of mistakes; a lot of learning. Eventually it sort of just evolved into something a little more tangible. A lot of that had to do with friends and family. People were curious … “tell me more about this, can I try some, can I have a bag?”
Greg: Talk us through your sourcing process … how do you find beans?
John: There are a few importers that I work with, and they’re super helpful. The get us information, send samples and a lot of times, we’ll put together a cupping to try out the other coffees. From there, we kind of select one.
Greg: I love coffee, but I don’t know much about picking beans; what do you look for, what are you asking them about? Is it origin, where their grown, how their grown, what’s important to you?
John: Off the bat, just to get a good line going, we try to focus on a diverse range of different coffees - different tastes and profiles. One thing that is very important to us is to try to find fair trade coffee - coffee that hasn’t impacted the environment adversely – and paying more of a premium, to make sure that farmers are getting adequately compensated.
"My goal is always to bring out the innate qualities that are inside the bean already, being careful not to over-roast, or hide, but to highlight them as much as I can."
Greg: Walk us through what it takes to put a good cup of coffee in front of someone.
John: My goal is always to bring out the innate qualities that are inside the bean already, being careful not to over-roast, or hide, but to highlight them as much as I can. Some of that comes from just rolling the dice and experimenting. tasting every day, that’s a big part of it. Roasting, making copious notes, recording all your data points, the next day trying it out seeing what you like, what you don’t like about it, then from there going back, and trying to figure out what was working, what wasn’t what kind of things change.
Greg: Is there such a thing as a great bean, or a bad bean?
John- there’s definitely a high level of quality that I look for in a bean, a lot of that comes from different environmental conditions, the commitment that the farmers are putting in to the work that they do makes a big impact as well, processing methods, there’s a whole wide range of different factors that play in to that.
Greg: what inspires you to do this? What drives you to wake up every morning, I know you love coffee, is there more to it than that?
John: a big part of it for me is just the sense of being a part of something bigger than myself. I love the spirit of experimentation, learning; that’s a big form of expression for me. To be able to learn something new every day - endless possibilities. The more I learn about the entire supply chain, and all the different things that can impact it, the vast culture, 10 million rural farmers making their living, on down through the roaster, and even the barista side of things. It’s also a very ritualistic sort of way to start my day, I go to bed with the taste of coffee in my mouth, I’m dreaming of that cup. There’s the level of community, and meeting with people, conversation. there’s the whole culture of coffee – all of that is very intriguing and inspiring to me.
Greg: So what’s next for you guys? What are your immediate goals for Ramble?
John: We’d like to get more, and more involved in the community. We’re starting up this Spring in the farmer’s market scene - doing nice pour-overs and some nitro cold brew.
Greg: Will you get the Teardrop (trailer) out for that?
John: Yeah, we’ll bring the teardrop out for that! Deck out the back, and set up a little pour over stand back there.
Greg: Tell us about the teardrop, it’s even in the logo. What’s the story there?
John: We sort of designed that as sort of a romantic symbol of spirit and of adventure, of travel, and exploring the world. With coffee, we explore the world with each different cup, but the teardrop is also a tangible vehicle that we sell out of and dream to use for different events, farmer’s markets and stuff like that. We are definitely working toward having the brick and mortar one day, but we are taking things one step at a time. The camper I built a couple of years ago as a project with my family, with my wife and 2 kids. We were out there every day, long weekends building it out. It’s fully powered, it’s got all kinds of gadgets and lights and stuff, we put all that in, sort of learned it as we went. It has a queen sized bed in it, and there’s a loft space above my feet where my two kids sleep. We went on a big road trip across the country. From that trip, we got a lot of ideas about what we wanted to do next with our lives. Just trying to find a way to combine all the different passions that we have, whether it’s carpentry and building, or coffee, learning, explorations…that’s sort of where the brand came from as we try to marry all those things together.
Greg: To me, there is something very inspiring about that. I feel that everybody, well maybe not everyone, but I personally would love to take a trip out west, or a trip anywhere, where we’re driving and trying to figure out what we want to do, who we want to be, what makes us happy, how do we take what we are passionate about, how do we do that every day. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you don’t take a moment and think about that, you get too caught up in your day to day, I think.
Greg: What do you see going on in the community that you’re passionate about, what do you see that excites you?
John: For me, we’ve taken a huge amount of inspiration from people we meet in our communities. You know, we’re very much in our infancy stage as a company, and as a brand, so having the support group of all these really smart, passionate, driven entrepreneurs, is very nourishing for us. Which makes me all the more excited to give back as we grow as a company, and be able to pass that on in some way.
Greg: We definitely feel that spirit of small business owners, and small business managers - just people in the community helping other small businesses. Even if it’s not small, if it’s local, people like helping people in Columbus, in Ohio. It seems like people are really passionate about supporting others and being part of their success, and it’s made it fun for us at Watershed.
John: I’ve definitely felt that and noticed that. I’ve come from other big cities where it’s not the same, it’s different here.
Greg: So we’re working together, which is cool. Why don’t you talk about what we’re doing!
John: When you guys approached me about doing a coffee for Watershed Kitchen & Bar, my goal was to add a natural processed coffee to our line-up that has more of the fruity kind of flavors in the tasting notes. We put together a nice big spread at the restaurant and did a cupping with Chef Jack and Alex Chien. We had a great time! Jack very much wanted something unique, and distinct that you couldn’t get anywhere else but with a broad enough taste range that you can appeal to everybody in the restaurant. We did make a pick- we picked the Papua New Guinea and are developing a custom roast for the kitchen and bar.
Greg: I like the way you’re sourcing it, it’s responsible, you’re looking for stuff that’s raised sustainably, and fair trade, and it makes me feel good about a community that we’re supporting somewhere else, because we’re so passionate about the community here. It ties in really well with what we promote as a company, and I think that’s the responsible way to do it.
John: That brings up something big to mind. It’s a goal of ours to be able to insert ourselves further back in the supply chain as we grow, visiting farms and doing more of the hands on things, to learn more and more.
Greg: I think that’s fascinating to be able to do, sometimes I feel that’s why people are so passionate about local business. Not just the fact that it’s down the road, that’s great, but being able to walk in and shake the hand of the guy that’s making it, that’s doing it. If it’s great you can pat them on the back. If there’s an issue you can talk to them about it. That’s part of why I think you see so much support for local business, whether it’s local here, or local somewhere else in the world - it’s just fun to be able to connect with that other producer/entrepreneur.
John: Yeah, totally, see things from their point of view, very true.
"My wife, Sara and I with this company, are just sort of following the bread crumbs, and taking it one step at a time"
Greg: As an entrepreneur I feel like we all come up against road blocks; unique, sometimes they’re huge, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they kill a business completely, sometimes it’s just something annoying that you only think about for a moment. Any big challenges or road blocks for you with Ramble so far?
John: We’ve been fortunate enough not to have any major ones, but of course there’s the day to day aspect of not having enough time in the day to finish all of the things that you want to do. My wife, Sara and I with this company, are just sort of following the bread crumbs, and taking it one step at a time - gradually building, and of course there are set backs and failures, and you know, smoke in the kitchen, but whatever the case may be…
Greg: I feel like as small business owners, there’s so many times when a little turn in the road that you don’t expect, helps define so much of what we become, it’s amazing when you look back and you think “ah man, who knew that moment was going to cause so much influence down the road?”
John: Right, every little decision becomes a major pivot point.
For more information on John Bartley and Ramble Coffee visit www.ramblecoffee.com and follow Ramble on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date on where the teardrop trailer will be this year!