Field Trip: Blueprint Coffee
Posted on December 9, 2013
I worked in the specialty coffee industry for quite a long time and to finally have an article about a shop, especially one to which I have several connections, is pretty cool for me. I was visiting family in St. Louis over the Thanksgiving holiday and got the chance to visit Blueprint Coffee which was started by my friend and former bandmate Mike Marquard along with several other folks we knew from Kaldi’s Coffee and elsewhere. There’s been an influx of new coffee companies in St. Louis over the past few years; when I was getting my start, I worked for Kaldi’s and at the time they were the only show in town. Most of the new shops are fantastic and do a great job of curating a diverse coffee offering along with creating a pleasing atmosphere in which to enjoy said coffee. Blueprint, in my opinion, does this the best of all of the new shops and they roast their own coffee which gives them a massive leg up in the branding department. Some of the best coffee shops in the world sell other roasters beans but there’s something special about the shop/roaster combo that buries its way into people’s hearts. Blueprint’s clean aesthetic reminds me of some of the great shops around the country (Four Barrel, Stumptown, Intelligentsia, etc.) while pulling a color palette and geometric accents that are uniquely their own. Click here to view all images and read the interview.
Blueprint is located in the University City Loop. For those of you unfamiliar with the St. Louis area, the Loop used to be a dump that was brought back to life, most famously, by a developer named Joe Edwards 20+ years ago. Staples of the area include Blueberry Hill (venue/restaurant and Chuck Berry haunt), The Pageant (major concert venue), Cicero’s (pizzeria/italian place and venue), a multitude of restaurants, small shops and more. The area is also fed by a constant influx of Washington University students, whose campus is less than a mile away and many students live in the Loop neighborhood. WashU happens to be building an upscale loft-style student housing building just down the street from Blueprint which could mean great business for the shop down the road.
Andrew Timko, ex-Kaldi’s Coffee, co-owns and roasts for Blueprint and does a stellar job sourcing great beans for use in the cafe. Wholesale is another business avenue that keeps the doors open for roasters and while roasting and the cafe are of equal focus for Blueprint at this stage, wholesale business is picking up as restaurants begin to latch onto the new roaster/cafe’s great product. While I tried everything they were serving, my favorite was the Aramo Grade 1, a washed-process Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. Picked up a bag of this and brewed it at home on the Chemex, Hario pour over dish, and AeroPress (the Chemex was the best by far). You can purchase all of their currently available coffees and a range of coffee-making products from their website here. The pastries in the cafe are baked by Comet Coffee, another shop neighboring Forest Park just a few miles away. They have a selection of killer breads by Breadsmith along with house-made spreads, featuring my favorite: tomato jam.
I’m going to go out on a limb and call the interior aesthetic “science-chic” (bring on the hate, I’m sticking to my guns on this one). The chairs and stools are the same ones you’d find in a laboratory or high school art room. The tables are either reclaimed wood or computer tower cooling parts encased in glass. All coffee is served in a glass Pyrex beaker with rubber stopper on a tray that could either be made for baking tiny things or dissecting frogs. Poured concrete floors and the omni-present but never exhausted white subway tile accent the room along with salvaged wood trim and cabinetry. It feels just as cozy as it does durable. The roaster is prominently displayed in the back of the shop, adorned with the Blueprint Coffee insignia at the top.
I visited the shop after hours and chatted with Mike while snapping some photos:
Talk about how Blueprint came to be and the idea behind the image of the brand.
Blueprint was born as a simple idea between two roommates that were managing other coffeehouses in St. Louis. They had the simple desire to open a service-oriented coffeebar that also displayed quality in a very transparent way. As they started to share that idea with other coffee folks in St. Louis, the team and idea began to bloom into something bigger. Before long, it was pretty obvious there was a quiet desire among a handful of coffee professionals in St. Louis that would allow the simple concept of Blueprint to turn into a multi-faceted company. It is still focused on delivering great service with every cup, but now also includes roasting, online, consulting, and wholesale components. Our brand stems from that original concept of designing a simple space modeled around service and quality. A blueprint seemed to parallel our ideas. It is an intelligent drawing that lays out details for how an actual structure and spaces comes to be. We view our company as an intelligent layout for both guest, owner, and employee satisfaction and enjoyment.
Talk about your experience as an entrepreneur in St. Louis/University City.
Being an entrepreneur in St. Louis has been fairly easy thus far. We have had incredible support and encouragement from our commercial and residential neighbors in the loop. The food and dining community has made it even easier. Our idea encouraged by chefs and baristas before we even broke ground. I’d say that the local food and drink community makes up around 50% of our current retail business and 90% of our wholesale business.
Talk a bit about your food offering.
Our approach to food has been straightforward. We don’t want it to distract from the flavors of the coffee. We also want people to be able to stay for coffee and a snack. Among our ownership group, we all enjoy food with our coffee and we also saw an opportunity to break from the common St. Louis coffeehouse offerings of grilled sandwiches and a large selection of sweet pastries. Our offerings will evolve, but we currently focus on simple pastries from Comet Microbakery and rustic breads from Breadsmith. We craft a number of jams, cream cheeses, nut butters, and compound butters in-house. We feel we can use a variety of flavors in these spreads that will complement the coffees. We also feature cheeses from Marcoot Creamery in Greenville, IL. They’ve demonstrated a craft and passion that is so similar to ours. We are all huge fans of their cheeses and feel they are a unique offering for us.
What’s the best thing you guys are roasting right now and where else can your coffee be found?
We will start roasting Karimukui AA Top, Kenya this week. It is an awesome treat heading into the holidays. It’s a combination of Kenyan complexity and east-African acidity: cherry cola, lime, blackberry. Currently, you can find our coffee at Half & Half, Comet Coffee, Mudhouse, Blank Space, Six North (downtown & Ballwin), and The London Tea Room.