Something bolder is steeping on the Kansas City coffee scene — pairing one of the metro’s most experienced roasters with a leader in local liquor.
“People have been really interested in [blended beverages] around here,” said Christopher Oppenhuis, founder of Marcell Coffee Projects — the year-old private label roasting operation that helps keep a slew of iconic Kansas City coffee shops caffeinated and specializes in barrel-aged blends with the city’s top distilleries.
With National Bourbon Heritage Month in full swing, Marcell poured its latest collaboration with J. Rieger & Co. Friday — marking its sixth partnership in 2020 and second for September, on the heels of a re-release of its blend with Union Horse Distillery.
Click here to check out or order Marcell’s latest coffee projects.
“We typically don’t consume [liquor] hot. It’s very different from coffee, so that’s kind of the first reaction when these things get brewed up,” he explained, previewing what customers can expect from their first mug full of the brewed blend.
“This one in particular is with coffee from Guatemala. It’s nice and balanced and has a kind of nice round body and chocolatey notes. Maybe a little bit of cherry sweetness and kind of a caramelized citrus thing going on.”
The speciality is rooted in various inspirations for Oppenhuis, who most recently served as director of coffee at Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters — the nomadic coffee group which rose to popularity with its popular bar concept in the Crossroads Arts District and where he and co-founders Alex Rea and Mark Sappington were first empowered to dabble with the blending of coffee and liquor, though a partnership with Amigoni Urban Winery in 2014.
“I love collaborating, I love sharing ideas with people, and ultimately if we can put our experiences together to create something new or interesting, that’s a win,” he said, recalling roasting experiences in Chicago, the friendly nature of Kansas City purveyors, and the metro’s fondness for the craft beverage business.
“Kansas City is a little bit more green in the craft scene, so it’s a great place to be,” he said.
“We’ve been doing a lot of awesome craft beers since the ’90s, late ’80s. We have great distilleries now, over the last 10 years.”
And while Oppenhuis appreciates the city’s commitment to booze, it’s the way he’s been welcomed into its competitive coffee culture and empowered to pursue his passion for percolation that means the most, he said, noting the way Marcell has spent much of the pandemic period emerging as an e-commerce brand.
“I think if we would have been a few years older, we would have had a lot more to lose,” he said of the company’s stage and its ability to take bigger risks in the launch of online sales.
“We never really got to officially launch our brand, but now people are starting to see Marcell much more like a retail brand. And in turn, we’re getting people showing up at our manufacturing space, looking for a cup of coffee — and we don’t offer that at all here,” he laughed.
Instead of standing in line for a latte, customers who want to taste the work of Oppenhuis and its years of experience roasting can order pounds of coffee online.
Click here to check out Marcell’s coffee and merch.
“It’s kind of interesting now that things are more public, because [the name] Marcell comes from my wife’s side of her family. So it’s a personal thing,” he said of bringing the brand named after his father-in-law to life and watching customers react to the concept.
“The more coffee I sell the more coffee I get to buy from my producers and that’s my biggest goal,” Oppenhuis said. ‘[I want to be] this really good piece that’s in the middle, connecting the growing side to the service side.”