Revelator Coffee Company’s corporate headquarters and roasting facility downtown is 10,000 square feet of bright, squeaky-clean white space. It makes you question whether any real action takes place in the gleaming juggernaut. However, the tell-tale aroma of coffee lingers pleasantly in the air and a pile of burlap coffee bags hint otherwise. A gathering of folks begin to trickle into the main space — a hip crew that seems to collectively embody an intriguing mashup of fashion-forward and brainiac.
At first, they appear to just visit with each other until you realize they’re adding items to a table — spoons and clear glasses filled with coffee grinds. One removes the labels of foreign countries before each cup, replacing them with the letters, A, B, C and so on.
Unannounced and almost instantly, the mood changes from chatty and easygoing to silent, reverent, focused and entirely intentional. They begin shaking and sniffing the dry grounds, taking notes on their phones, adding boiling water — careful not to agitate the grounds — waiting as they exactingly measure the temperature, smelling the aroma as the crust of grounds is broken atop the coffee, removing the grounds and then slurping the coffee to taste and taking notes again.
Sarah Kluth, Revelator’s executive director of coffee operations, later explains that the quietude in the cupping process preserves the integrity of each taster’s evaluation. “Coffee changes hands over 15 to 20 times before it reaches your morning cup, so lots of people’s livelihoods and economies rely on a cupper’s feedback. If that cupper is distracted, in a bad mood or not paying attention, it bears real consequences on the supply chain,” says Sarah who leads the coffee sourcing for the company, as well as the roasting, production, logistics and quality control. “In our sector of the industry, it’s quality-heavy. In other words, we pay more for better-tasting coffee. That’s real money we’re talking about, so we need to take that responsibility very seriously when we’re tasting and evaluating quality.”
Sarah says that an ideal cupper should have the ability to respectfully detect, discriminate, determine and communicate the coffee experience with their audience. And with 17 years of coffee experience from Chicago and Seattle to Los Angeles and now Birmingham, Sarah deftly tackles the responsibility of clear communication with coffee farmers and importers across the globe, speaking fluent French and Spanish. “Swahili is on my bucket list!” she adds.
This youthful company started in New Orleans several years ago when the specialty coffee market was in the midst of a boom. The founding team quickly realized that there was tremendous potential for Revelator to establish itself across the Southeast. And Revelator President Josh Owen, originally from a venture capital background, had the capital to quickly pursue that goal — and pursue it they did. Revelator is now adding their seventh and eighth coffee shops in Charleston and our own Mountain Brook Village to a roster that includes spots in New Orleans, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville and, of course, Downtown Birmingham where the company planted its roots.
“Birmingham is exciting for two big reasons,” says Meredith Singer, the company’s executive director of marketing. “First, the city makes a tremendous amount of sense for our operation. It’s centrally located to our current locations and wholesale partners. Second, Birmingham is just a fantastic city with so many things currently happening and in development. It’s one of the best food cities in the South and our shop downtown is neighbors with the beautiful, historic Theatre District, which is back in lights and growing more and more vibrant each day. We feel grateful to be a part of this downtown explosion.”
The location downtown displays Revelator’s break with coffee shop convention. You won’t find cutesy sayings on the wall or shelves jam-packed with merchandise. It’s an uncluttered, serene space. “We are about creating beautiful and relaxing environments, inviting spaces for people to gather, meet and collaborate,” says Meredith. “And we focus on exceptional hospitality and high-quality coffee, tea and food offerings — simple concepts done extremely well.”
Being that coffee is an agricultural product, the coffee offerings are constantly rotating to keep everything super fresh. And Revelator partners with local vendors, such as Birmingham Breadworks and We Have Doughnuts, to provide fresh baked goods, breakfast boards, daily deli sandwiches, salads, the ever-popular avocado toast and plenty of other fun snacks to pair with your beverage of choice. “Our granola parfait is delicious,” says Meredith. “We use a little quinoa and blend lemon ricotta into the yogurt to make it fluffy and bright. Birmingham Breadworks provides the granola. It’s a fan favorite.” While lesser known, the tea lineup at Revelator is also fabulous. “We have one of the best sweet teas I’ve ever tasted, and we’re bringing on some beautiful teas from overseas,” says Meredith.
But the wheels would come off without the folks who wake up before the sun rises to open the doors and set the aroma of coffee to waft, like a siren song, in the air. “The baristas are the heartbeat of our company and we’re so proud of them,” says Meredith, adding that, whether a coffee professional or new enthusiast, every barista trains on the espresso bar and learns how to prepare exquisite pour-over coffees and teas. “Coffee is a beautiful thing. It has a tendency to ignite a passion in you that you didn’t know existed,” says Sarah. “Most of the people I know in coffee began as baristas and just couldn’t get enough. It’s an industry that opens up many doors when you’re passionate and curious.”
Even some Revelator baristas have joined the cupping team at headquarters. “Most places have a lead or principal cupper who makes the final determination,” says Sarah. “But all voices deserve to be heard at the cupping table, no matter how new or seasoned the cupper is.” And this inclusive approach extends not only to Revelator’s baristas and cuppers but also to their customers. Whether a customer wants to have an espresso and discuss the origin and subtleties of the bean or to simply enjoy a latte and a quiet moment, Revelator meets each guest where they are with a relaxing space, a friendly smile, a bite or a sip and a moment to visit with friends or quietly reflect. And in today’s frenzied pace of life, we think that is a revelation unto itself.
Revelator is located at 1826 Third Ave. N., Unit #101, Birmingham, AL 35203 — and be on the lookout for their brand-spanking-new location at Lane Parke in Mountain Brook Village. Hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily. To learn more, visit revelatorcoffee.com.
Thank you to CW Newell Photography for the awesome images of Head Roaster Cameron Heath roasting beans in the Revelator roasting facility.
And thank you to Reed McCoy for the fabulous images of Revelator’s coffee shop in Downtown Birmingham’s Theatre District.
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