Americans are obsessed with coffee. However you take your cup of Joe (or espresso), you are one of more than 100 million Americans who regularly enjoy this caffeine-filled bean.
Birmingham seems to have caught coffee fever as coffee shops pop up all around town, which isn’t such a bad thing considering that local independent coffee shops, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, generate $12 billion in annual sales.
Homewood is a part of the Birmingham area, for example, that has recently seen a burst of coffee shops opening within the city’s limits. O’Henry’s Coffees — a staple in downtown Homewood, having been in operation more than 20 years — now neighbors new coffee shops, such as Seeds Coffee and Octane Coffee. These new cafes change the landscape of local coffee.
Founded by local orthodontist Dr. Henry Bright in 1993, O’Henry’s Coffee opened with the hope of filling a niche that was then largely untapped in the area.
“O’Henry’s was started with the idea of community at the forefront,” O’Henry’s General Manager Sarah Portella said. “There wasn’t a place at the time to go and feel at home and enjoy a fresh-roasted cup of coffee. People who otherwise wouldn’t know each other have become great friends from standing in line at O’Henry’s. It’s important because people can truly connect here.”
O’Henry’s has seen different coffee shops in the area come and go, but with Birmingham’s love for coffee at what seems like at an all time high, competition was bound to arrive. Portella insists, though, that O’Henry’s will just keep doing what it has always done.
“We don’t try to be something we are not,” Portella explains. “There is always concern when a new place — that does what you do — opens nearby. But we will continue to do what we have always done: roast and brew great coffee, be a warm, inviting place for the community and look for the opportunity to brighten the day of each guest.”
While being in the community for 20 years has helped O’Henry’s put their mark on the local coffee scene, some of the new coffee shops in town are looking to make their own distinct imprint on the community.
Octane Coffee came into town after merging with Birmingham’s Primavera Coffee in 2011. With established locations in Atlanta, Octane Coffee was looking for a strong community vibe for their Birmingham locations. They found exactly what they were looking for at 2821 Main Street in Homewood.
When hunting for the location, the neighborhood atmosphere of Homewood was attractive, but the central location to the greater Birmingham area was also a key.
“We really liked what was happening in that section of Homewood with Little Donkey and Steel City Pops and felt that our concept would fit well there. Homewood is a great neighborhood that has a large customer base but also works as a destination point for people all around Birmingham,” Octane Manager Joseph Yancey explains.
Octane serves all your regular types of coffee, such as lattes, mochas and cappuccinos, but also serves craft beers and cocktails such as a signature drink called the Horse’s Neck, which consists of rye whiskey, bitters, lemon and ginger ale.
Above all, Yancey stresses about how important the community is to Octane Coffee and its growth here in Birmingham.
“Creating community is deep in the core of what we strive to do. Coffee spots tend to be the hub of activity for the neighborhood. We embrace this and want to foster and support the local community in any way we can. We support and buy local wherever we can and try to contribute in a positive way,” Yancey said.
Octane’s downtown Homewood location is around the corner from O’Henry’s. Octane Coffee is also opening a location inside the new Westin Hotel in Birmingham’s new Uptown District.
Seeds Coffee Co. has been roasting and selling bagged coffee since 2012, but is now currently holding soft openings for the company’s first storefront, located at 174 Oxmoor Road — in Homewood. One of the main things differentiating Seeds from others shops around town is this shop’s faith-driven mission.
Seeds Director of Development Taylor McCall and his partners John and Brett Huey, all pastors in Birmingham, were looking for a new way to interact with the community.
“We started to think, ‘What are some things that really connect to our culture?’ and we ended up with music and coffee. We just really want to connect with people. We love people, and we love community. Community is something that just fires me up,” McCall said.
McCall realizes that some may feel weary because of the message behind Seeds, but really wants the shop to be a place where “people feel like there is peace.”
“The gospel is so much more than ‘Hey, come to my church and let me tell you how to be good,’” McCall explains. “We want to be in the lives of people. I was told one time that being a barista is like being a hipster bartender. I like that. You get to talk to people and hear about their stories, good and bad.”
When asked about what Seeds will be doing to try to differentiate themselves from other coffee shops, McCall responds, “Are we trying to compete? No. We are just trying to make a really good cup of coffee. People want to go where everyone knows your name. People want to be loved, and if you love selling a product, then they are going to pick up on it.”
With coffee shops opening regularly here in town, one has to wonder if there are enough coffee drinkers to support the growing market, but Octane and Seed both think that the influx only brings good to the community.
“We don’t want to overdue it in our city, but I actually think we need a few more local coffee companies that are trying to do a good job,” McCall said.
“We [Octane] are big proponents of other great coffee spots around town. and hope to add to the coffee culture,” Yancey explains, “With a healthy coffee culture, we all do well and the customer and communities win.”