Escaping corporate life in New York, Jason Burton moved to Kansas City in 2004 and began pouring his work into a new passion.
As a marketer for Kansas City’s Roasterie, Burton soon recognized coffee and tea lacked the social component of events and festivals that are more associated with specialty beverages like beer and wine. His marketing firm, The LAB, concluded the industry lacked opportunities to showcase coffee and coffee shops, he said.
“Consumers were having to rely on really digging for education online or really bugging a barista or owner when there’s a long line or they’re trying to pump out drinks or you’re trying to talk over a loud espresso machine or grinder,” Burton said.
In response, he developed a “caffeine crawl” concept to bridge the gap, providing a platform for businesses to promote themselves and educate the public in a short amount of time, he said.
Steeped in KC’s flavors
The concept debuted in September 2011 in Kansas City. It expanded to St. Louis, Indianapolis, Indiana, Boulder, Colorado, and Vancouver, British Columbia, the following year.
Caffeine Crawl next returns to the City of Fountains in April with three days of tour routes.
Kansas City’s eclectic array of cafes and tea shops make it an ideal spot for “crawlers,” Burton said. The metro has so many options — roasters, tea producers, juiceries and chocolatiers — per capita — even compared to Portland, Oregon — that Burton organizes the event in Kansas City twice a year, he said.
Similar to pub crawl-style tours, a Caffeine Crawl gives consumers the opportunity to learn about and experience a variety of shops, hearing directly from the tea soms, coffee roasters, chocolatiers and other local, artisan producers who power the city, Burton said. Each of the nine unique routes in the Kansas City area take participants through a mixture of small businesses; no two routes are the same, he added.
“The cool thing is there’s a lot of sneak previews of things that shops might test out, but they haven’t put on the menu,” Burton said. “There’s really high-end exclusive tea or coffee that might cost, if you buy a bag, something like $30 to $50, and you get to sample that. Just a lot of unique rare opportunities that you wouldn’t get if you just walked in the coffee shop.”
The Caffeine Crawl model doesn’t always translate with more expensive cities, Burton said. For example, he’s invested a couple of years in trying to launch Caffeine Crawl in cities like Chicago and Portland, and it just isn’t profitable, he said.
Mapping out caffeine connections
A love for the taste of coffee — and not necessarily the caffeine rush — drove Burton’s desire to launch Caffeine Crawl, he said.
He also savors the sense of community that Caffeine Crawl builds with each route, he said. He’s seen friendships and romances spawn from Caffeine Crawlers who meet for the first time on a tour, he added.
“My favorite things about the Caffeine Crawl are the people that go because you learn so much from them,” Burton said. “Everyone’s from all over the city; you get to hear all these cool stories. You get to see people interact, and the Caffeine Crawl explores the city. We’re going to so many different neighborhoods in any city.”
Participating shops don’t have to pay to play, he added. Caffeine Crawl is typically sponsored by local roasters. The Roasterie, for example, is a Kansas City sponsor for Caffeine Crawl, he said, though such businesses as Made in KC Cafe, Crows Coffee, The Sundry, Christopher Elbow Artisan Chocolates and the Filling Station also are featured.
Burton is getting ready to launch guides and maps of coffee shops, tea shops and chocolatiers for each Caffeine Crawl city, he said.
“We’re trying to be super positive, so it’s not a review or rating site, but it’s more of a map and info guide,” Burton clarified.
The Caffeine Crawl map of Kansas City will be ready to view by the end of April, he said.