Community-driven: Jarrett Mitchell jumped into the local coffee cup because the community asked for it.
“I bike as much as I can,” says Wake Up Iowa owner Jarrett Mitchell, with 30th Century’s bike trailer loaded up with coffee and Cobra Verde to deliver in Iowa City and Coralville. “I started bike deliveries last summer. Coffee’s a carbon-heavy thing, so it’s nice to dial it back. It’s good for me mentally, for the environment, for everything.”
Jarrett's roommate Ben started a coffee truck, Capulin Bean, in the parking lot at 30th Century Bicycle with the support of owner Steve Goetzelman. “Ben started this thing that was completely community-driven,” Jarrett points out, “it felt really connected to bike culture.”Jarrett filled in for Ben on weekends, but when Ben decided to sell his coffee truck to his dad for Ragbrai and use the money to buy a sailboat, the community clamoring for great coffee at 30th Century didn’t disappear.
Wake Up Iowa’s story is one of entrepreneurs being neighborly, and businesses working together instead of competing.
When we spend our dollars with companies that spread them locally, it makes for a greater local economy with room for more of us to spread our wings, making all our lives a little more interesting.
Jarrett rose to the occasion and started renting the coffee cart back from Ben’s dad: “At first it was just for fun – not a lot was put into the financial aspects of the business because it didn’t have to take care of anyone’s life,” Jarrett recalls, with a chuckle.
Livelihoods do need to be made eventually though – when local art and apparel store White Rabbit moved into a larger space and invited Jarrett and his coffee business to take up residence, he made it his occupation. “That was right before I ran for City Council and the idea was: Iowa City Needs to Wake Up. I don’t know if it did, but…” the name sure stuck, perfectly paired with the caffeination business.
Light Roast, Single Origin, Organic Coffee
“I learned to roast [coffee] on a popcorn popper with Ben,” Jarrett laughs, “essentially an air popper, a smaller version of the [professional setup] I use now.” Jarrett’s own palate determines what he produces. It's smart: what we love is what we do best. “I’m a light roast single origin guy – no blends. A lot of what blends are about is trying to create consistency. The only consistency I’m worried about is quality.”
Single origin means the coffee beans come from just one location, and “lets its original flavor come through. I’m not trying to be everything for everybody – that’s what I like about local roasters Café del Sol and Capanna being around.” [Also available at New Pi.] There’s a good fit for every palate, and “enough room for everyone to exist in their own niche.”
“I only buy organically farmed beans, and a lot of them are also Fair Trade.” Jarrett’s currently working on all the necessary paperwork, so “this year we’ll be a certified organic roaster!”
Jarrett’s coffee beans come in green from Royal’s Madison, Wisconsin, warehouse. “They’re one of the most reputable [green coffee importers], and a lot of west coast coffee roasters – like Blue Bottle and Four Barrel – use them.” When each burlap bag of green coffee beans arrives, “I’ll sample roast it to dark, medium, and light, and see where it tastes best. I get to bring my own art to it.”
In addition to the art of roasting, Jarrett has a masters in art, and “I do all the labels myself, except I had one guest artist,” local artist Thomas Agran, who painted the murals for New Pi Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. When a new coffee comes in, it’s go-time for Jarrett: “Get the scanner out, get the pen out.”
Greasy Gear Chain
One of his newest roasts, available just for a few more days, is in collaboration with Steve of 30th Century Bicycle. Jarrett’s letting Steve’s palate dictate its roast: “I really like light roast coffee,” Jarrett explains, “It’s my thing. Steve’s always trying to get me to roast dark.”
“A little darker please!” Steve chimes in. (Steve's on the left.)
So this one, Jarrett nods, is “the darkest roast I’ve ever done.” Before that, his darkest was Rip Van Winkle: “I always say I fell asleep on the roaster,” he jokes.
What Keeps Him Going? Cobra Verde!
Cobra Verde is Wake Up Iowa’s citrusy green coffee energy drink (made from unroasted, green coffee beans). “It’s unlike anything you’ve ever had; even your all natural energy drinks have two to three times as many ingredients,” Jarrett points out. “It’s as clean and simple as it can get. It’s delicious. It’s ice cold, it’s super great, don’t drink it after 2PM.”
“It’s something we started developing while we were at White Rabbit,” he notes. “Eric [Creach, New Pi Coralville Store Team Leader]’s prompting really got it going,” encouraged by “watching people come back every day for it at White Rabbit.”
Try Cobra Verde as a Mixer... what?!
“It’s like a sour mix,” Jarrett points out. Try it in a whiskey sour, or make a Cobra Verde Margarita with tequila and fresh lime.
After moving out of the space at White Rabbit to refocus his business on roasting and making Cobra Verde, Jarrett initially used the certified kitchen at Trumpet Blossom for the Cobra Verde. He’s just found a new space he can devote to both projects. This summer, Jarrett’s “essentially taking the biggest risk I’ve ever taken,” working with Co-op Partners to get Cobra Verde into 160 co-ops across the country. “I’m trying to make this thing happen on a bigger scale,” while keeping the coffee roasting local. “It’s so exciting.”
He wouldn't be where he is "without Ben Hansen, Steve at 30th Century, Cortnie Widen and Luke Tweedy at White Rabbit, Katy Meyer at Trumpet Blossom, and certainly the New Pi community."
“It’s been great watching Wake Up grow over time,” Steve adds.
“I take the business side of what I do very seriously,” Jarrett mentions, as it has to “sustain not only myself but also my employees.” You, lovely readers, play a part in this: “It’s New Pi and its owners: those are the people who made this happen and continue to make it happen. I’m so thankful for that.”
Want more Jarrett? Check out his Brand Damage Podcast, recorded locally at Flat Black Studios. Recent appearances: local poet Lauren Haldeman, Tim Sullivan at the Crisis Center, and local musician William Elliot Whitmore.