By Abby Hoover
The Caffeine Crawl began in September 2011 in Kansas City with three events, and they went very well.
“We had five the next year, with KC and Denver being repeat markets,” founder Jason Burton said. “Our first KC Crawl was one day with about a dozen shops. Now, in 2022, we’ll have over 50 places for a spring and fall Crawl combined over six days. This weekend’s Crawl is number 122.”
Burton attended Lincoln Prep and spent many of his teenage years in Northeast, playing sports and hanging out with friends.
“I love seeing neighborhoods have access to activities, food, drink, etc., that brings joy,” Burton said. “Especially at a cheap cost, which some might say a $4 coffee is a lot, but you are supporting a local business sourcing ingredients and creating in some of the very best ways. Plus, as a parent you can take a kid to a coffee shop for under $10. That’s a steal to create a special memory or moment. My big thing is for no one to get misplaced, or kicked out of these neighborhoods, but instead embraced. That is a challenge, and I’m hoping Northeast and other neighborhoods are doing their best at that.”
He feels like after quick growth in the mid-2000s, Kansas City’s coffee scene is where it needs to be – especially with two years of COVID, and the growth in the city. Burton said a lot of cities modeled their coffee scene off Kansas City’s, whether they knew it or not.
In a nutshell the Caffeine Crawl is educational, tasty, and fun, Burton said.
“One of my favorite elements is that people literally put differences aside, and the energy is great,” Burton said. “People connect, learn, and feel a connection with baristas, roasters, and shop owners. It adds a layer of respect for the occupation. In return, it allows coffee and tea pros an opportunity to highlight ideas and more about their business. There’s really no time for that when you stop in coffee shops.”
At each stop, visitors were provided a drink sample while a coffee professional gave a short presentation.
In 2009, Burton started The LAB, which is a marketing company for the specialty beverage industry.
“I was working on all segments, alcohol and [non-alcoholic],” Burton said. “The Crawls sort of organically took over in time and in my heart around 2016, and that’s 75 to 80% of the focus. I always have a client or two we are working on marketing for, too.”
The connections and growth that have come out of the Caffeine Crawl over the years are some of Burton’s favorite variables.
“We don’t put it out there often, but every month, if not week, we are connecting shops, consumers and suppliers, and almost all of that is from the Crawls,” Burton said. “A big part of the core of what we do is community and highlighting these industries doing amazing, local stuff.”
Although these days there’s a lot of flash in the coffee industry due to social media, Burton said getting to decide for yourself where a great fit is for you by experiencing behind-the-scenes – and not just based on Instagram – is genuine.
“I’m picky about this being run with harmony, and the main reason we don’t do more Crawls each year,” Burton said. “The backend time is pretty crazy.”
Participants had eight different routes to choose from. Each route had a different lineup and time period to give them more choices on what works best for them, plus a bike-friendly route on Sunday.
Participating shops and roasters highlighted what they have been up to, specialty drinks and different roasts.
PH Coffee at 2200 Lexington Ave., has recently revamped its coffee program, making it easier for customers to figure out what they like. PH Coffee continues to roast at Hammerhand Coffee in Liberty.
“So we’re going to go through how we’re categorizing styles of coffee to help make it easier, not just for our staff to guide people toward the coffee that will fit what they’re trying to do, what they’re after, but also so customers can start getting accustomed,” Coffee Program Director Holly Bastin said.
Whether Unicorns, Daily Doses, Common Grounds or Takes All Kinds, PH Coffee has something for every palate.
“One of the things that we noticed in coffee in general is a lot of times it gets compared to wine nowadays, trying to make it super fancy,” Bastin said. “But I think, in the United States especially, it’s more like beer, like it’s for everybody, an accessible kind of beverage.”
They’ve set out to bridge the gap between what the coffee industry has been doing and something a little more fun, explaining it all with colorful new infographics.
Eleos Coffee at 3401 Independence Ave., which celebrated its 10th anniversary last fall, has participated in four Caffeine Crawls, owner Dan Smith estimates. He appreciates that the Crawl brings Kansas City’s coffee lovers to the East Side.
“I love it. The coffee scene in Kansas City is amazing, so many incredible shops and roasters, and it’s just really neat to see the coffee culture interacting,” Smith said. “We always love to find out from people that came here, where they’re from, what they experienced, what they liked. It’s just a lot of fun.”
The Eleos crew shared four different single origins with visitors, having them guess which was which.
“We let them try each one and they have to guess which origin based on the profile description that we give to them, and then they could win a coffee mug or something, depending on how many they get right,” Smith said. “We’re also going to be highlighting our incredible chocolate coffee cake, too, for that. Something sweet to enjoy.”
Core Coffee at 546 Olive St. – formerly Splitlog, but we’ll share more on that soon – presented visitors with a unique cold brew featuring a carefully curated combination of house-made syrups.
“I’ve created a cold brew today and it is a blackberry, lavender, lemon, ginger brew made with oat milk,” owner and barista Deana Bellamaganya said. “I mashed the blueberries and dried lavender, added fresh ginger and lemon extract. I boiled it, steeped it, then strained it and it’s super good.
She chose blackberry because of the chocolate flavor it brings out in coffee, and then featured lavender since Spring is approaching. She plans on featuring more specialty drinks in the future, and is experimenting with more house-made syrups. Core Coffee is now open Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and every other day 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Caffeine Crawl event continues to grow annually, and is one of the most anticipated coffee events in the state for coffee and tea business veterans and newer faces to the scene.
After five years as a graphic designer and art director, Burton followed his craving for beverages. His first taste for specialty coffee came early in 1996 while in college in Missouri where the local roaster and coffee shop became a homework spot and meeting place for him.
In 2004, Burton entered the beverage industry, working as Marketing Director for The Roasterie in Kansas City. He later switched to the fine dining experience with an emphasis on craft beverages for Houlihan’s Specialty Concept restaurants through 2009. During these early years in the industry he also contributed articles to several food and beverage publications, worked on regional drink competitions, and spoke at national conferences.
Burton started The LAB in the fall of 2009 out of his home. The LAB offers services including graphic design and branding, social media management, consulting, staffing, PR and networking, copywriting, events, product launches and signature recipe creation.
Almost two years later, the Caffeine Crawl was launched. The Crawl was developed to give enthusiasts of quality-driven coffee, tea, and chocolate a one-of-a-kind experience, giving visitors an opportunity to learn, share, and experience what the passionate baristas, tea soms, coffee roasters, chocolatiers, and other local artisan producers bring to the table.
Each Caffeine Crawl host area has anywhere from six to 30 locations selected for Crawl attendees to visit, but routes visit only four to six of those locations. The Crawl has expanded to San Diego, Houston, Oklahoma City, Northwest Arkansas and beyond.
Learn more at caffeinecrawl.com