When Matt Ludwikowski looks at a cup of coffee, he doesn’t only see something that’s giving him caffeine.
“I see something hundreds of people have invested in,” he said. “[I see something] that has literally thousands of variables where this coffee could have gone wrong.”
Ludwikowski recently opened his new coffee shop in Warehouse Row’s North Building at 1110 Market St.
Ludwikowski is a barista whose craft-brewed coffee won the Southeast Regional Brewers Cup in 2012 and scored in the top six in the National Brewers Cup competition.
The importer and roaster of international coffee uses beans grown at about 20 different farms from four different countries, such as El Salvador, and he will be adding a fifth country soon, he said.
He’s a self-proclaimed coffee nerd. He loves creation and process.
He’s been interested in coffee for about 10 years, but about four years ago, he observed changes in the industry.
“I started noticing a few companies engaging with coffee on a farm level,” he said.
And he started thinking more.
“How did it come to be that this cup of coffee is before me?” he said. “How did this coffee get here?”
So he traced it back.
There are three basic steps to creating coffee. Many people know about brewing and roasting, but before that is seeding.
“[Seeding] means taking a fruit that grows on a tree, removing its seeds, drying it out and processing it in a certain way that it can be exported to another country,” he said.
Because of a random meeting with a man from Maryland who was doing humanitarian work in El Salvador, Ludwikowski took his first trip to Central America.
He’s now been to El Salvador 21 times.
While he had a full-time job in Atlanta, he took his weekends to travel back and forth to make his mission happen.
He negotiated land-use terms so he could set up a mill for coffee seeding. He hired employees to run the mill. He developed relationships with farmers.
And he floundered some during the process. He produced 2,600 pounds of coffee and lost two-thirds of it to mold.
As with most all farming, many variables-bacteria, a farmer’s training, rainfall, people stealing from the farm-impact plants that produce coffee beans.
So in the past four years, he’s learned. And he’s still learning, he said.
But he takes pride in the fact that he’s helped introduce Chattanooga to unique coffees.
His 1,089-square-foot space in Warehouse Row is accessible through both a Market Street storefront and an interior entrance, and it’s filled with natural light.
He said his first week open was a solid one. He’s had a Chattanooga presence since January, when he brought a pop-up cart to town.
At least one customer and Warehouse Row employee questioned the cost and size of the portions, but Ludwikowski said prices aren’t outrageous and range from about $2.50 to $4.
Warehouse Row employee Ron Ramsey said via Twitter that “the pricing isn’t bad, and the atmosphere is awesome.”
The new shop has three employees.
“We are gaining regulars,” he said. “I’m hoping that over the next month, I’ll see a shift with people coming to love the space. We have been fortunate to create a space that people can truly make their own, to create coffee that is beautiful and delicious and to hire people that are genuine.”