'I'm a Coffee Roasting Nerd': Umble Coffee Roasts Award-Winning Beans in Starkville

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'I'm a Coffee Roasting Nerd': Umble Coffee Roasts Award-Winning Beans in Starkville

Umble Coffee focuses on making healthy and flavorful coffee by sourcing specific beans lightly roasting them into award-winning coffee.

Dr. Kenneth Thomas' day job is physician, but a few years ago, he decided he needed a side-hustle, and started brainstorming with two things he loves—beer and coffee. This was right around the time that "everyone and their mama" was beginning a brewery, he said, so he decided coffee was the better choice.

Another thing that happened around that time is that his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away six months later. That got him thinking about what we put in our bodies daily.

"I definitely don't think that if my mom had switched to a different type of coffee that would have prevented her from getting pancreatic cancer," he said. "But I do think if you can make a product that tasted just as good or better to the consumer and it's good for them, then to me that's a win-win."

When he decided to start Umble Coffee, he found was that Mississippi is something of a "coffee desert" in that it doesn't have that many great local coffee roasters, so it was a field where he thought he could succeed. He also found that by roasting coffee well, he could also do a little good.

"Coffee itself is actually way more healthy than people realize; it's just traditionally never been marketed like that," he said. "On a given day, you, hands down, are going to get the highest amount of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that go into your body in the coffee you drink."

What about red wine, chia seeds, blueberries, green tea? Sure, they've got them, but not like coffee, he said.

With a chemical engineering background, Thomas said he enjoys going deep into what makes coffee taste better—and what makes it better for us.

"I'm a coffee nerd; well, actually, I'm a coffee roasting nerd," he said.

As a roaster, Thomas says he's researched how to ensure his coffee has high nutritional value. He studies elements such as the elevation of the bean's farm and the density of the soil. Even how lightly he roasts his coffee can offer more health benefits. And he's found that a dense coffee bean also makes the best tasting cup of coffee.

'I'm a Coffee Roasting Nerd': Umble Coffee Roasts Award-Winning Beans in Starkville

Thomas says a big part of making great coffee is known where and how the beans are grown.

To do things right, Thomas went off to Portland, Oregon, for a week of roasting with a master; he's since not only come back to ply his trade but to win awards from his coffee-roasting skills.

"Umble Coffee usually places in the top 15 of coffee roasters nationally, and that's including the big guys like Starbucks and Caribou," he said. "We can go head-to-head with them."

One thing that has surprised Thomas on this journey is the volume of wholesale orders from coffee shops and other retailers. He thought Umble Coffee would mostly make money by selling online subscriptions directly to consumers. But local coffee shops appreciate the opportunity to buy Mississippi-roasted beans. He says the majority of his sales are wholesale, and he's enjoying working with retailers to further Umble Coffee's reach.

"We've been around long enough that people in different cities are starting to recognize the name. They see it as a Mississippi-based company, and there's support for that," Thomas said. "As we continue to grow, on a national scale, we want to continue to develop that niche of being the preeminent ‘healthy coffee.’"

Thomas has a small team right now—one person focused on wholesale accounts and deliveries, and another "jack-of-all-trades" who helps with roasting, videography, and whatever else the company needs. Thomas says that Umble Coffee focuses on educating people on great coffee, almost to a fault.

'I'm a Coffee Roasting Nerd': Umble Coffee Roasts Award-Winning Beans in Starkville

The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel help you explain exactly what you’re tasting in gourmet cup of coffee.

"Maybe we love education too much," he laughed. "We do spend quite a bit of time on our end telling our customers what they can do—and what we do—to make the best coffee. But we like that kind of stuff."

Thomas said that the next hurdle for him is finding the right investors to help him grow into a national brand, and the right team members to take it to the next level. He says in places like Washington State, there's more infrastructure for finding investors for coffee roasting, whereas in Mississippi, he's had to seek it out. But he feels ready.

"On a national, competitive level, as a roaster, I'm already there," Thomas said.

What has he learned as an entrepreneur? "Every opportunity for expansion does not mean you have to expand,” he said. "You always, as a business, need to look back and see if something fits your vision statement."

He says if your vision statement gets out of date, you may have to revisit it, but if you genuinely want your business to scale, you have to "stick to your guns.”

McLaughlin PC

McLaughlin PC

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