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Oklahoma City is home to a growing craft coffee culture

The Oklahoma City metro area is now home to several craft coffee roasters, including Elemental Coffee Roasters downtown and Mariposa Coffee Roastery in Norman.
By JAMES PEARSON, For The Oklahoman Published: June 26, 2014
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Brandon Lehman started with tea. His uncle lived in Seattle in a house overlooking Puget Sound, and as a child the Oklahoma City native would visit his uncle and sample various teas while looking out over the water.

“I loved the ritual of it,” Lehman said. “I had a great little tea pot and cup, and I loved trying all the different kinds of tea — Earl Grey, Orange Spice. I didn’t like them all, but I loved trying them.”

He enjoyed investigating the flavors in his cup and seeing how they changed with changes in brewing.

“I geek out over stuff like that,” he said.

His palate and curiosity made him a natural aficionado. Near the end of college, he fell in love with the complexities of Scotch and later started crafting his own cocktails.

“My friends and I have a signature Old Fashioned that we make with brown sugar cubes,” he said.

But it wasn’t until a trip to Coffee Slingers shortly after its 2008 opening that Lehman started geeking out on coffee.

Lehman had enjoyed coffee for its caffeine boost since college at Oklahoma State University in the mid-90s, frequenting local coffee shops in Stillwater and later in Bethany, and eventually becoming a regular Starbucks customer when the coffee giant moved into Oklahoma City. But he never thought much about how it tasted.

Coffee Slingers changed that. He had heard about the new craft roaster and stopped in one day to see what the fuss was about. He ordered a straight espresso.

“I was amazed by the flavors,” he said.

Melody Harwell, co-creator and roaster at Coffee Slingers, said that in 2008 Oklahoma City was just at the tipping point of craft coffee appreciation, but it wasn’t clear which way it would tip.

Harwell grew up in Washington state, America’s craft coffee motherland, and lived in Hawaii and China before landing in Oklahoma City, where her mother had moved.

She worked at Will’s Cafe (now Lobby Cafe), and her customers told her how much they appreciated the coffee she made. She started eying a place in Automobile Alley, which at the time was still struggling to develop, and finally opened Coffee Slingers, to mixed reviews.

A small core of people loved it, she said, many of whom were transplants from places where craft coffee was established. But many failed to see the value in smaller, more expensive coffee drinks.

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