Q/A with Caffeine Crawl Organizer Jason Burton

This weekend marks the 4th annual Caffeine Crawl taking place in Indianapolis. The crawl is a driving/biking tour of different local coffee, tea, and chocolate shops in the area. WIUX was lucky enough to grab a few passes for the second year in a row, so keep your eyes peeled for some delicious recap content over the weekend. Until then, we talked with Jason Burton, one of the Crawl’s organizers, about coffee culture, Indianapolis, and what coffee enthusiasts can expect from this year’s event!

The LAB is the company behind Caffeine Crawl, so can you explain what the impetus behind starting this event?

I was traveling around the country for work with two different food and beverage companies from 2004 through 2009. My position was marketing, or brand, director, but a lot of time was spent studying food and drink trends around the country, and observing the drinking experience for consumers at some of the best drinking spots. I noticed specialty coffee shops were at a disadvantage with service, and a connection to the customer due to background noise and expected speed of service. Beer, cocktail, and wine bars had an easier system. That was a big part of the origin for the Caffeine Crawl concept.

How did Indianapolis get involved in the Caffeine Crawl?

Indianapolis was underrated, and after being approached I went to check it out. I feel like that was 2012. Obviously, I had been there before, but not to just focus on the coffee, tea, and chocolate scene. I had read and heard about some of the movement, but seeing what was developing firsthand was crucial. Bee Coffee, Julian Coffee, and Hubbard and Cravens were three of the original roasters that helped make it all come together.

I rarely go into a café and order an ambiguous cup of joe anymore. Why do you think coffee culture has sort of taken on a life of its own in recent years?

Great question. A lot like craft beer, especially in Indiana, where there are some excellent breweries, specialty coffee interest has grown. The local companies have done a good job of educating their audience with a balance of curious consumers. Indy has a good blend of that, and it’s spreading to other metro areas of the state. Really, I credit the abundance of good colleges drawing students in from all over to help fuel this appreciation for coffee culture.

What’s new at this year’s Caffeine Crawl?

Several really cool things. A few new shops and roasters involved – Rabble Coffee, Liberation Coffee, and Uel Zing teaming up with Tinker. From what has been shared several of the drinks sampled will not only be new to that shop, but a few might be a first in this region. The event will wrap up with an After Party from co-hosts Brew The Way and Bites. More drinks, of all sorts, live music, and a lot of local good times. That event is free to Caffeine Crawl ticket holders.

This event is such a great way to highlight local businesses in Indy and other participating cities. Is there a selection process for the coffee shops and roasters that participate for the crawl?

There is a little formula we use. I could write a chapter explaining it, but basically here are some of the variables (not in order) – willingness to participate, quality of coffee, tea, or chocolate program, distance from other stops, attitude, and not a chain.

Just to get a sense of where you’re coming from, what is your go-to coffee order?

Everything I drink changes with the season. Right now I’ve been into 8 oz. lattes with an espresso that might be available for a limited time versus a year around blend. That’s partly due to the cooler temps, and the fact I have a lot of coffee at home to make my own pourovers. I like a good, single-origin Chemex brew if I’m low on beans at home, and I don’t have to taste 4 different coffees in a day. One downside of what we do is there are times we have to visit over 4 shops in a day, and you really don’t want to waste a drink. This is how I drink coffee, but I’m never trying to correct my friends if they think this is way too geeky. To each their own.

As an organizer, what do you think is the best part of the Caffeine Crawl?

The drinks will always be fantastic as a whole, but what has evolved into my favorite part is exploring the neighborhoods, and meeting so many people. I love listening to stories from locals about sports, schools, what’s changing, and other things that are important to that area code.

Tickets are still available for some routes and you can grab yours here.