Newport, Ky.’s, new coffee bar, Carabello Coffee, features all of the amenities of a neighborhood craft coffee shop: exposed brick walls, granite tabletops, Clever Drippers aligned on the countertop, hipster clientele and Indie Rock music playing in the background. Yet, this isn’t your archetypal neighborhood coffee shop.
Husband-and-wife owners Justin and Emily Carabello roast and sell their coffee on the premises but they’re also entrenched in local and international philanthropy, giving much of their profits to Third World coffee regions in Nicaragua and Kenya.
Justin is a former teacher and Emily still teaches part time, but their vision is to use coffee as a means to help others. “For me, seeing where coffee grew and seeing the people who grew it totally changed the way I felt about it,” Emily says.
The couple has visited African and Central American coffee farms, where they source their beans — roasts like Ethiopia Konga and their signature blend, Tres Fincas, from Nicaragua. With their magnanimity, they’ve helped purchase school uniforms for Nicaraguan children and, locally, they’ve helped organizations like Ohio Alleycat Resource raise funds through selling coffee.
“I love roasting coffee, but if we weren’t giving money away and we weren’t helping people, then I wouldn’t do it,” Justin says. “I didn’t leave teaching to open a coffee shop.”
Their vision started four years ago when, on a whim, Justin started home-roasting a pound of beans at a time inside a popcorn popper.
“I had a friend show up at dinner with his wife and he brought this coffee in a bag that he had roasted at home in a popcorn popper,” Justin says.
“I was really, really skeptical about the fact he did this. What really shocked me was it was better than what I was spending good money for.”
Through a combination of autodidactism and training from roaster Mike Persicano, owner of the now-closed Newtown Coffee Underground, the roasting business developed and they rented a 100-square-foot space inside Florence’s Velocity Bike & Bean cyclery and coffee shop but inevitably outgrew it. In April, they found their current spot off Monmouth Street in Newport, a former photography studio. They signed a lease in July and officially opened on Sept. 17.
The success of Carabello adds to the current boom of craft coffee in Cincinnati and Newport, something that the Carabellos approach devoid of pompousness. They want to draw all walks of life into the coffee shop, especially those who have never experienced an Italian espresso done right. Neophytes to the craft coffee culture movement will come in and order a caramel macchiato and expect a Starbucks-sized drink, only to be pleasantly surprised with a miniature version.
“That’s what I love about the craft coffee movement in general. It’s really a lot about let’s create a conversation, let’s talk about what this really can be,” Justin says, “and educate people and empower people so that they understand, ‘Oh, I know why I like what I like.’”
Justin points out how in the ’40s and ’50s coffee “just got homogenized and turned into this swill, black drink.” Before the Industrial Revolution, people had to roast their own coffee beans at home; today, a lot of people don’t even realize all coffee is roasted, even Folgers.
“We want you to feel like whether you know anything or nothing, we’re here for you and we want to make this a great experience,” Justin says.
Part of that experience includes cold-brew coffee on draft — a first for the Cincinnati area. Cold brewing is a special process in which whole coffee beans are ground and then steeped in cold water for 12-20 hours. After the steeping process is complete, the grounds are filtered out of the water, creating a smooth, sweet concentrate. The concentrate can then be diluted with water or cream. People can purchase a growler and get 64 ounces of delicious liquid gold to transport home.
And starting next year, the shop will host tastings and classes, and will roast about 15,000 pounds of coffee. But don’t expect mass-produced coffee from them.
“We want to go slow and make sure we’re really doing it right,” Justin says. “Then our brand and our story has substance to it.”
Visit Carabello Coffee at 107 E. Ninth St., Newport, Ky. More information: 859-415-1587 or carabellocoffee.com.