I love a challenge. I love to push my body and my spirit to the extremes to see what I can accomplish. Two Tough Mudders – Check. Going to Disney World without acquiring an assault charge against a sweaty fanny pack wearer – Check. Eating an entire McDonald’s Family Feast Box myself – better get my cholesterol checked.
The point is I’m up for a challenge, so when my new niece was born in Columbus, Ohio (a mere 217 miles from my home), I began looking into the challenges that the capital city had in store for me. Luckily, the plan became clear after typing in “Columbus” and “coffee” into the Ask Jeeves search box (you guys still use Ask Jeeves, right?): The Columbus Coffee Experience.
What is the Columbus Coffee Experience? It is a collaborate effort between the city of Columbus and 13 local coffee shops with 20 locations. As the caffeine fiend, my mission is to visit four or more shops within any time frame to claim my prize. In their infinite wisdom, the experience creators offer the only prize worth working for: a free t-shirt.
Sure. If I lived in Columbus the Experience wouldn’t be much of a task. I could leisurely approach each location when in need of a pick-me-up, but I was only in town for 22 hours. I had to act swiftly and exhibit all that my gastrointestinal fortitude has to offer. My Columbus Coffee Tour would impress some and disgust others.
Stop 1. Red Velvet Cafe
At 9:30 pm, I left my wife and kids in the hotel lobby to speed walk to Red Velvet, the closest shop on the tour, and luckily, one of the few shops that are open later in the evening. Outfitted with my backpack in full tourist mode, I bypassed a slew of cool spots like Mickey’s Late Night Slice and The 16-Bit Bar to exploit my singular focus: coffee.
I burst through the door like a bat outta hell to a super clean shop with an intricate cold brewer brewing and a one-man staff happy to answer my questions. On a 95 degree day, the main standout on the menu was a Vietnamese iced coffee. It was a great choice.
Made with condensed milk and hearty, robust beans the drink boosted amazing preparation as a layer of milk was added to a mason jar followed by a pour over serving on top. Transfer to a plastic cup filled with ice and I’ve got my drink. This drink was a shock to the senses. It was super sweet, super milky, and super strong. What more could you ask for?
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives Red Velvet 9.2 sleepless nights from caffeine intoxication out of 10.
Stop 2. Fox in the Snow
Stop two was the wife’s choice to get some breakfast while I downed my coffee. Fox in the Snow has it all – Communal tables, windows letting you peer into the kitchen, people wearing tight, black jean shorts that were once tight, black jean pants. No doubt about it, this is a hipster spot, which is a good thing because hipsters pay attention to their foods and drinks.
We had a selection of pastries, but the egg sandwich was the clear standout. Clean, simple, delicious. For my second coffee stamp, I went with the New Orleans Iced Coffee. The chicory-loaded drink wasn’t my favorite, but that’s what the Columbus Coffee Experience is all about in my eyes – a chance to explore new tastes and opportunities. Overall…
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives Fox in the Snow 9.4 hipsters out of 10.
Stop 3. Stauf’s North Market
A mere two hours after my New Orleans Brew, a stumbled upon Stauf’s in the North Market. When I say “stumbled upon” it is pretty literal because I walked past the location about 3 times as I was staring at the directions on my phone. The location is a corner space inside of the North Market, which is an indoor shopping area with merchants big and small peddling their wares.
Since my stomach was still reeling from my last experiment, I decided to play it safe with an iced mocha. The drink was nice with the rich flavor of espresso coming through, but it lacked some of the sweetness I was looking for and have grown accustomed, too.
The coolest thing about Stauf’s is their range of preparations. They offer drip, pour over, french press, and areopress. With those options, my choice of a mocha was pretty silly. Do yourself a favor and experiment with choices you can’t get most places.
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives Stauf’s North Market 7.8 minutes of being lost only feet away from my destination out of 10.
At this point, it’s not even 11 a.m. – about 6 hours away from our departure time and 5 hours away from the closure of the Columbus Convention Center where I pick up my sweet shirt to preserve my accomplishment. Piece of cake right? Make that coffee cake.
Then, my stomach began to fail me. The coffee, the delicious, delicious coffee, was taking its toll. It is hard to explain the discomfort from too much coffee. It’s not beer sick. It’s not an overeating sick. It’s not even like that time that I unknowingly ate those moldy sweet potatoes out of the fridge. It’s a warm heaviness in the pit of you stomach that sends a clear signal that “No Food Shall Pass” while holding a wooden staff in full Gandalf voice.
Did I mention my next stop was Schmidt’s Sausage Haus? Now, I’m sure that Schmidt’s is a fine establishment with an impeccable reputation, but in that moment, every sight, sound, and smell was deeply troubling. Imagine spending three hours throwing up Taco Bell (we’ve all be there) and then walking through a room of Taco Bell, or you know what, let’s cut out the middle man. Just imagine a Taco Bell. Pretty barf-inducing, right?
I ordered some pretzel bites to avoid yaking all over the other 10 people at the table as others happily down sausage, meatloaf, and spatzel. Freaks.
As the plates were cleared, Gandalf backed down and said it was okay to have my final drink. Luckily, right down the street was:
Stop 4. Winan’s Chocolates and Coffee
I went for a caramel latte, which was really nice but carried on the Columbus theme of lacking a strong, sweet caramel flavor that I have grown to depend on. The rest of the party was super-pleased with the selection of gummy bears and endless chocolate treats. The shop was busy, and the staff apparently overwhelmed. They did well to take their time with preparation, though and were not outwardly annoyed by my questions. Inwardly I’m sure my soul was being cursed to the nether regions of Mordor. I swear I’m not a nerd. I just know stuff about Lord of the Rings.
The best, and most enduring, part of the final stop was the half pound of Ethiopian whole beans I bought. Such great flavor from a mild roast that has been serving me well since in my cold brews and Moka pot.
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives Winan’s Chocolate and Coffee 8.1 decapitated gummy bears out of 10.
Final Stop. Columbus Convention Center
Before my wife could park the car, I bolted towards the door of the Convention Center, the home of the t-shirts. Beyond the door, sat a delightful older man. After the presentation of my coffee card stamped with four locations, the gentleman happily offered to get my shirt. He said, with the popularity of the tour, he has given away hundreds of shirt, nay thousands of shirts. But that shirt was my shirt. The large was just my size.
Climbing back into the car, I felt pride, satisfaction, unequaled pleasure, and an unyielding certainty that I would spend the rest of the weekend pooping my brains out. Thank you, Columbus. Thank you, baby niece.
- The staffs were very friendly overall, but the sense of collaboration broke down when some shops began smack talking on the shops whose stamps already made their way onto my card. Awkward.
- We stayed at the Westin downtown, which allowed easy access to many shops, but c’mon Westin! It is 2016, and I am expected to pay for wi-fi. Really Westin? Really? I could’ve had a whole month of AOL Online back in 1995 for the price of one night’s wifi.
- Columbus seems to have a lot of non-coffee-related events and activities to offer like a spray park that is run as strictly as a maximum security prison and roads that have more lanes than there are cars on the road.
- As of the writing of this post, my beloved Columbus Coffee Experience shirt is missing. Whoops. Despite that …
Consume.Review.Repeat. gives the entire Columbus Coffee Experience 9.9 reasons to come back to Columbus out of 10.