Springbok Coffee owner Jason Bell roasts one of the best cups of coffee in Charleston, but you won't find a shop with his company's name on it. He and his brother Josh keep Springbok focused on a wholesale operation that caters to restaurants and coffee shops of all sizes, providing all the tools to offer top-quality, consistent coffee.
Springbok Coffee is a familiar name in Charleston, showing up on menus at several local coffee shops with roasts that please the masses and enthusiasts alike. More than just a hyper local premium product, Bell and his small team are doing everything for their partners, from setting up machinery to training baristas.
Bell started in the business at Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer in 2010, managing the popular downtown shop with his brother. After a year-long introduction to the world of coffee, Bell said they were hooked.
"After Kudu, Josh and I realized that we wanted to start roasting and that would be a good next step for us," said Bell. "We took a 45-hour class in Vermont at Coffee Lab International. That was great, but they were clear in the class that we would have to figure it out on our own."
Figuring it out was easier said than done. "I roasted a lot of bad coffee the first year. It was really rough," Bell said. "It was a steeper learning curve than I thought it was going to be."
Shortly after completing a licensing course at the Coffee Quality Institute, Bell found a formula he was proud of, and launched Springbok Coffee Roasters in 2015. Tucked away in a King Street strip near Graft Wine Shop and Maison, Springbok roasts 13 blends, supplying them to The Daily, Orange Spot Coffee, Baker & Brewer and Millers All Day, among others.
But what has made Springbok a go-to brand in Charleston? According to Bell, it's the benefits that come with a business relationship with the 5-year-old roastery. Partnerships with coffee and espresso machine companies like La Marzocco allow Springbok to supply wholesale clients with these products at a discounted rate. But that's just the start.
"We do machine installs for our wholesale partners. We'll take it and deliver it to them and make sure all the plumbers and electricians have wired everything correctly," Bell said. "We also do preventive maintenance for our wholesale partners and consultations for laying out a bar for a new client. If they're building out their cafe or redesigning it, we help them lay out how it works all the way from the time a customer orders to when they pick it up so there's a good flow."
Bell also offers baristas training to learn the ins and outs of their new machinery.
"We do all this so they don't have to worry about their coffee program," he said.
Bell's client list continues to grow, recently adding Sightsee Shop, Nosh Cafe and Off Track Ice Cream, a downtown shop serving scoops of "Springbok Cold Brew and Cookies." Bell said more folks have joined their roster after a trip to their warehouse, located at 708 King St.
"We've had some success with people just coming to our warehouse and tasting our coffees," he said. "A lot of times when you go try Springbok at a certain place, you're only trying one or two of our coffees and that may not be your preference as a customer. We've been able to bring people in, speak to them about our services and let them taste a wide variety of our offerings."
All Springbok coffee is roasted at the warehouse by a small team that includes Bell's brother Josh and production manager Laura Cergol, who started as a barista at Kudu before getting into roasting with Springbok.
"I'm not in direct customer service the way I was when I was a barista, but everything I do here is still about giving people the best experience with their coffee," Cergol said.
Cergol said she's hosted several cuppings — similar to wine tastings, but with coffee — that give her a chance to teach people about Springok's products.
"I do my best to answer any questions clients have about different kinds of coffee, where it's grown, how it's processed," she said. "Anytime you can learn something new I think that's a good experience, and it's nice to get to show people what we've been working on and maybe find their new favorite coffee."
Bell balances a desire to try new things with still brewing up a traditional cup.
"We're not trying to change people or tell them they're not drinking the right coffee, that's not my job as a roaster," he said. "If you like a darker roast, more of a traditional 'Folgers-style,' we have a dark roast for that person. My job is to try to provide as many coffees that make sense for us on an operational level that people will enjoy."