When a friend suggested that St. Pete native and coffee connoisseur Brendan Smith organize a local “shop-to-shop” tasting tour of specialty coffee around the city, he couldn’t get the idea out of his head.
It sounded like the perfect idea at the right time, the local coffee industry was booming. It started small, but like all great ideas, it quickly took root. “I created a small Facebook event for some friends and after a few months, the responses were overwhelming,” Smith said.
A successful private tour in 2015 led Smith to publicize it one year later, with more dates as the demand grew. “It became clear that this was not a good thing for just the people who came on the tour but also for the businesses we visited,” said Smith. “We were visiting coffee shops that were relatively new, that people hadn’t heard of yet.” Smith was, quite literally, opening doors and introducing consumers and producers.
The idea developed into the St. Petersburg Craft Coffee Tour, a weekly “espresso crawl” event that visits three coffee shops over a span of three hours. Smith, who has worked as a barista, manager and consultant combined his knowledge and his love for coffee to offer coffee novices and professionals a one of a kind experience.
In the last three years, the landscape of St. Pete’s craft coffee offerings has changed drastically. New shops and roasters have popped up left and right, focusing on bringing costumers unique flavors and blends.
Smith tries to showcase the offerings of each of the shops, diversifying the tours every week. Repeat customers are a good problem to have. “I try to change it up and keep it fresh because I do have a lot of people that come back and do it again,” Smith said.
On various occasions, a couple will book a tour, and the previously less-enthused of the two will end up developing an appreciation for coffee that they hadn’t had before. Soon, he’ll see them back on the tour again. Others want to share the experience with family or friends that didn’t come along the first time around.
Every tour tends to vary. When choosing shops to make a stop, Smith looks for ways he can showcase their specialties, so his tou groups can not only taste the coffee, but learn about the brewing method. Some of Smith’s favorite stops include Bandit Coffee, Co., Craft Kafe, the Bikery, Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails and Southside Coffee & Brew Bar. Each tour, Smith prints out maps of the locations and tries to keep the distances between each shop short.
And he delivers. Last Saturday’s tour ended at the training labs of Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, tucked away just off of Grand Central District. It is one of the largest specialty companies in the United States. The visitors had the opportunity to witness the roasting process and drink the final product afterward.