Only two years ago, Steven Webb was like so many of us.
“Coffee was just a way to wake up in the mornings. I needed the caffeine,” Webb, 35, says.
But as the co-owner of Red-Headed Philosopher Coffee started to learn more about his morning cup, he realized he might be missing out on a better way to start his day.
“I learned that coffee could be a sweet beverage when fresh and I knew that hadn’t been my experience, but I wanted to find it,” Webb says.
He started buying green coffee beans online and found a popcorn air popper at a thrift store. He used the popper to roast beans three ounces at a time. Coffee gadgets – a scale and a burr grinder – began to fill the kitchen.
“When he got rid of the coffeemaker, I remembering thinking ‘this is too much.’” Shondi Webb, his wife and co-owner, says.
It was just the beginning. In 2012, Webb entered a home roasting competition at About The Coffee. He was shocked when his name was called at the shop run by Marti and Tooti Roe.
“I didn’t expect to win, but I remember it woke me up that this stuff can really happen,” Steven Webb says. “It wasn’t luck. It was judged by a panel of professional cuppers.”
Webb looked at his hobby in a new light: coffee could be his career. The only problem was that About The Coffee had placed an order for nine pounds of his Ethiopian roast for an event in a week’s time.
“We roasted coffee all week, 3 ounces at a time,” Steven says. “We had a little notepad that we marked. We were up until midnight some nights, but we got it done.”
Those nine pounds kick-started the new business venture for the Webbs. Shondi, an artist who works in acrylic, designed the label for their bags. They set up a store on Etsy to sell coffee online and in May 2013 began vending at the Badseed Farmers Market (1909 McGee).
More importantly, they invested in a bigger roaster. Webb purchased a brand new barbecue grill – fitting for Kansas City – and a conversion kit online that allows him to roast up to 12 pounds of coffee at a time.
“Freshly roasted coffee is the cornerstone of our business. Coffee is like any food item. It goes stale after time,” Steven says.
He roasts on Wednesdays for the downtown Friday market, giving the coffee a bit of time to rest. And while he has cream and sugar, he hopes you’ll try it black first. Ethiopian coffee will always be in the rotation, but Webb currently has a Peruvian coffee that he likens to “Mexican hot chocolate with a bit of malt powder and a red apple finish.”
Last summer, Steven left his job with Sprint to focus on the coffee business full-time.
“I get to share my coffee and my passion for philosophy,” Steven says. “I want to encourage people to be inspired and scratch beneath the surface of ordinary life.”
As part of that effort, Webb tucks an inspirational quote into each coffee bag. In addition to Bad Seed, Red-Headed Philospher’s Coffee is available at Nature’s Own Health Market and has been in the rotation at Alchemy Coffee in Lawrence. The Webbs are looking into opening a small pour-over bar, something along the lines of Oddly Correct in Midtown.
“This isn’t just a coffee business, it’s a chance to share our journey,” Steven says.