The air is finally getting a little chillier. All Hallow’s Eve is near. And there’s a coffee shop in South St. Louis with a logo that features a bearded Jolly Roger (a closer look also reveals a coffee branch and a portafilter replacing the usual crossbones).
Sump Coffee was opened in December 2011 by co-owners Scott Carey and Marz Yamaguchi, and it’s Carey’s beard that lends an added inspired quality to the shop’s intriguing logo. And then there’s the name…
“Sump is kind of a dangerous, risky name,” Carey notes. “It’s a tie-in to a feeling of wanting to create something.” He explains that Sump’s first graphic was inspired by what he calls ‘Mid-Century graphic design,’ dating back to old oil cans that featured the color scheme of red, black and white. And then, at the same time he was going through this creative process, he had a motorcycle that was having some mechanical issues. “It was putting out a substance that almost looked like an espresso crema—and that’s called ‘sumping’—so I played off that with the coffee imagery. And with the logo (regarding the coffee branch and portafilter, which is used with espresso,) the theme includes the idea of bean to cup, something that is thoughtfully grown to thoughtfully prepared for our customer in our shop. So, it’s full circle.”
But at Sump Coffee, it’s not really about the logo. According to Carey, the shop has one focus, and it’s coffee. “There were a lot of places around St. Louis, especially about 20 to 24 months ago, with the word ‘coffee’ in their names, but then you would go in and find that they were really lunch places. The focus wasn't on the coffee—they weren't trying to highlight it and help people to differentiate between coffees, their seasonality, and how it’s processed at origin.”
Carey grew up in St. Peters and left St. Louis in 1991 to attend college and later law school. He moved to New York in 1999 and returned to St. Louis in 2010 when his brother was diagnosed with cancer. Carey found a second-floor apartment for the two of them that was conveniently located in an area where his brother received his treatments. The ground floor had a commercial space, and Carey thought he could put it to good use.
“The thing that I missed most from New York was the coffee,” he recalls. “Feeling this absence in the St. Louis marketplace (for a shop dedicated to coffee), I decided to create something that I had bonded with strongly in New York. That, coupled with my brother being sick and the desire to build a space for him, I really wanted to create something. Call it a midlife crisis—call it whatever you want—but up until that point in my life, I had really only crafted paragraphs. I had never built anything. And I'm not just talking about creating a product—I wanted to create the space around it, too. So it was the combination of those factors that brought about Sump.”
And with Sump Coffee, Carey could now elevate and focus on his passion. “Our shop just offers coffee,” he says. “Sometimes, we will have a single pastry available, but that's not something that should be relied on. It's an idea that evolved from my time in New York. I don't believe that we do the same style of coffee as those places; but New York, because of the population density, has shops that just do one thing. And in turn, it creates this ecosystem.” Meanwhile, he notes that St. Louis is a ‘destination city’ where people drive to get what they need. “But people tend to double up stops when they go to a single destination. We just do coffee, and I believe we do it very well.”
Carey points out that Sump Coffee uses fine premium specialty coffee that is typically purchased before it’s available in the U.S. “All coffees don't come to harvest at the same time,” he explains. “So, we sort of chase the sun around and book the coffees as they hit the States. We don't blend our beans, and we don't use a number of different roast levels. We roast the coffee to a level that we think tastes best, and that typically ends up being very light.” According to Carey, Sump does this to highlight the source of that coffee and respect the farmer. "We're trying to highlight that experience and process; and by roasting it lighter, we are highlighting that specialness in the cup.”
And because Sump buys the freshest beans available, the offerings are always changing. “Right now, we have some Kenyan and Ethiopians coffees,” Carey says. “If you know the harvest times, you'll see those coffees on our menu.”
Green Gourmet Note: On sumpcoffee.com, watch the blog for upcoming Coffee Cupping & A Movie at Sump Coffee nights, as well as details on food truck collaborations—like one with Lulu’s Local Eatery beginning in November.