Roasting Columbus: Upper Cup Coffee Co.

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From the February 23, 2012 edition

Coffee is part of life for Eritreans. Micael Habte can’t recall his first cup.

Growing up, he remembers that his mother would roast beans on a plate for special coffee ceremonies that preserved tradition when his family relocated from the African nation to Sudan, then to the United States.

Roasted beans were etched early into Habte’s life.

But love and tradition didn’t save the charming, laidback businessman from growing pains when he started Upper Cup Coffee Company, which was founded as a wholesale operation in January 2010.

“The learning curve was no joke,” Habte said. “We had a lot of burnt coffee sitting around the back of the garage.”

In an East Side warehouse, Upper Cup mastered roasting slowly.

Habte and his brother, Samson, learned timing and technique, how factors like humidity, temperature and bean type affected the roasting process. They distinguished global flavors and even visited a Costa Rican farm where some of their beans were sourced.

“I think it’s important to know all that [the farms] put into the coffee,” Habte said. “That’s a lot of prep for the barista to drop the ball at the last minute.”

With coffee, learning doesn’t really stop.

“You can never perfect it,” Samson Habte said. “You can never top out. There’s always more to learn.”

Upper Cup has continued to evolve and, since September, has operated from a retail space in Olde Towne East.

Defined by exposed brick, 20-foot ceilings and windows that overlook Parsons Avenue, the store has become a meeting place for a neighborhood in need of quality coffee. Customers come in to buy bulk roasted beans and to work via laptop while sipping handcrafted cups.

The roaster remains front and center, churning out batches of Harar from Ethiopia, La Minita from Costa Rica and Montanha de Diamante from Brazil.

“The neighborhood has been awesome,” Micael Habte said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to grow my business.”