By Tegan Burkhard
Once a year, caffeine aficionados sweep through some of the metro’s finest specialty coffee shops in a matter of hours. As an official Caffeine Crawl destination, Oklahoma City highlights a collective of more than ten local roasters, tea or coffee shops and chocolatiers.
On Saturday, March 11, 175 crawlers will choose one of five routes, containing five to six pit stops. Twenty to 40 guests will crowd into each location for a 20-minute educational engagement, paired with a creative tasting.
“There’s a ton of really obsessed coffee enthusiasts who come,” says Steve Willingham, Clarity Coffee owner and former Elemental Coffee Roasters roaster. “Those are the people who wouldn’t miss it. And then there are a lot of people who are just wanting to try a really weird event that’s going on, and they just want to see what everybody’s doing.”
At Elemental Coffee Roasters, groups will sip on cortados mixed with a stout syrup. Meanwhile, barista trainer Scott Worley will explain how he reduced Black Mesa’s Los Naranjos stout, made from a coffee roasted at Elemental, and transformed it into a thick vanilla simple syrup.
“I wanted to be able to make that whole circle of all of the really amazing things that happen here in Oklahoma City, like the brewing and the coffee,” Worley says. “Because I think that’s what makes Oklahoma City cool and unique.”
Local collaborations seem to be the norm among Oklahoma City’s beverage businesses, from Clarity Coffee’s red tea lattes incorporating teas from t, an urban teahouse to the Black Mesa Brewing-Elemental Coffee Roasters stout.
“That collaborative thing that Oklahoma City does, you guys do it really well,” says The LAB founder Jason Burton. “I feel that’s something OKC needs to hold onto and keep doing.”
The community feel continues among coffee shops, too, with roasters transitioning from shop to shop or using skills learned at one shop to open their very own. Baristas from various shops in the area all point out the metro’s close-knit coffee community.
“I think we use that same energy that could foster competitiveness to funnel it into a more collaborative work,” Worley says.
Local shops often team up for coffee summits and classes, as well as community events to share their knowledge not only with each other but also with coffee drinkers around town.
“I think the main thing is that we are all obsessed over the same thing, and so like a bunch of nerds, we like to get together and talk about that thing,” Willingham says. “…People around here who enjoy the coffee shops really love the coffee shops, and the people who work in them have tons of enthusiasm, which is just infectious.”
The LAB hosts Caffeine Crawls across the country, giving coffee lovers, caffeine newbies and local coffee industry experts the chance to converge and converse over cups of tasty coffee (and tea) creations.
Burton also recognizes that the Caffeine Crawl creates opportunities for participants to widen perspectives for each other, as well. He says at first, individuals tend to keep to themselves at the first stop.
“But once that caffeine kicks in, I think those barriers break down,” Burton says.
Burton brought the Caffeine Crawl to Oklahoma once he noticed the natural coffee hub of Oklahoma City, as well as Tulsa. Since 2013, Oklahoma City has remained a key player with consistently sold out routes.
“The Caffeine Crawl really plays into city pride. We do best in cities that if the people love their city, the Caffeine Crawl has a lot better chance of working,” Burton says. “And I see that with the people there [in OKC].”
In Oklahoma City, guests pay a visit to a variety of shops from Second Wind Coffeehouse in Norman to the centralized Oklahoma City core, up north to Cafe Evoke in Edmond.
“The only obstacle we’ve ever had, which OKC embraces it, is the fact that out of all the crawls we’ve done, the OKC crawl has the longest average mileage per route,” Burton says. “But no one really seems to be bothered by that.”
Those who prefer keeping mileage to a minimum can opt instead to join a smaller group of bikers hitting up shops within a 2.25 mile radius. Head to Cuppies and Joe before testing out t, an urban teahouse, Junction Coffee and Elemental Coffee Roasters.
“A lot of our shops either sponsor or have huge ties with bike teams,” Worley says. “And I love that the Caffeine Crawl is able to implement that passion for bikes and combine it with people who are passionate about coffee because that’s kind of a thing in Oklahoma City.
For the final leg of the biking route, step inside Coffee Slingers Roasters in Automobile Alley, and experience a coffee cupping with a lesson on sensory lexicon. Take in smells before bringing a complex coffee drink to your lips, and note hints of ingredients wafting up from the cup.
“You’re really training your palate to pick up on nuances that can be overlooked if you’re not nerding out with it,” says Kalee Jones, Coffee Slingers barista.
Whether embarking on a driving route across town or adventuring along the shorter bike route, Caffeine Crawl participants are likely to notice the diverse array of drinks at each stop, despite the collaborative nature of the Oklahoma City coffee culture.
“Even from the same ideas from the same shop, you would think everyone would be the same cookie cutter,” Worley says. “But I think what’s really cool is with the facilities that we have, we’re able to let people adventure on avenues that they want to explore, and they can go learn about something and then bring it back and tell us all about it.”
It’s this same newfound knowledge and love of coffee Jones hopes to pass on from her own experience as a self-proclaimed “cream and sugar girl” to someone who realized, “If you brew it correctly, it’s a beautiful thing all by itself.”
“I hope that they’re delighted by learning something new or discovering something unexpected or seeing coffee or tasting from another way that maybe they haven’t before,” Jones says. “I hope that they leave with a yearning to know more, taste more, smell more things, even if it’s not just coffee.”
Oklahoma Caffeine Crawls 2017
March 10: Tulsa, 3 routes, $27-$32
March 11: Oklahoma City, 5 routes, $31-$35