Interview: Sam Caster debuts Brass Ring Coffee at Iowa City Farmers Market

Brass Ring Coffee
Sam Caster of Brass Ring Coffee brews coffee to order at the Saturday Farmers Market. — image courtesy of Sam Caster

Sam Caster, a barista at Prairie Lights’ cafe, recently started a side project with his wife Emma: Brass Ring Coffee coffee stand.

They debuted Brass Ring earlier this week at the Farmers Market at Iowa City Marketplace (formerly Sycamore Mall), and starting this Saturday, their brewed-to-order coffee will be available at the Iowa City Farmers Market at Chauncey Swan Park.

How long have you been here?

I moved here in 2005, I believe. I was born here and grew up mostly in Cedar Rapids. Then I came back [to Iowa City] for college. I got my degree in English and started working with coffee right around then. I decided that I wanted to stick with coffee as much as possible, and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Where did you work first?

The first place I worked was a coffee shop in Cedar Rapids. It doesn’t even exist anymore. It was called Cedar Rapids Coffee Company. Then I worked for Java House for a great many years. And now I’ve been at Prairie Lights for more than a year and a half.

What’s the story with your new business?

My stand is called Brass Ring Coffee. We’re doing each individual cup ground and brewed on demand. I’m just passionate about coffee that’s really good. I think it can be transformative. People can be surprised that coffee can taste so good when you prepare something [fresh] like that for them, which is something I love and I’ve never gotten tired of. So yeah, we’re just doing coffee by the cup. Hot or iced, and that’s going to be it to begin with.

Was it you or your wife who came up with the idea to start a business?

It was actually mostly her initially. I’ve done most of the figuring out all that stuff, but it’s mostly been a collaboration. It was her idea to begin with, just the thought that it wouldn’t take that much to get a brewed-by-the-cup specialty coffee stand at the Farmers market. And the market always seems to do well, so it seemed like a great place for it.

What are your plans for the future of your business?

We’re hoping to branch out in a few directions. It’s just going to kind of depend on logistics and that kind of thing. Maybe we’ll start carrying some cookies or something like that, and tea is another option.

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What coffee roaster are you working with?

The coffee roaster we are working with is Sidecar Coffee Roasters out of Cedar Falls. I’m also a hobby roaster so we might sell my own roasted coffee in one pound increments at the stand as well.

Do you remember the best cup of coffee that you ever had?

Well this is a weird one, it takes a little bit of explanation. So there’s an international competition for baristas. Every year there’s a U.S. barista champion. So I got a chance to do a workshop with last year’s champion Katie Carguilo who works for Counter Culture Coffee. They make a signature drink, which is some elaborate kind of espresso-y cocktail thing that’s meant to highlight the various flavors and aromas and things that are in espresso. So she made all of us her drink that she won the USBC title with and that was pretty darn good.

Aside from coffee, what other hobbies do you have?

I always tell people I have my four favorite things: I like coffee, I like comic books, I like bicycles and I like punk rock.

How much coffee do you drink every day?

It’s not as much as people might think. I probably max out at about three cups.

What is your favorite way to experience a cup of coffee?

Have you ever heard of a caffeine nap? This is a study tip that people can use. If you’re really tired late in the day and you really just need a nap, if you have some coffee or an espresso, and you lie down for a nap, it takes about 10 or 15 minutes and the caffeine wakes you up. It’s really energizing because you’ve gotten a quick little bit of sleep and you also have the rush of the caffeine so it tricks your brain into thinking you’ve have a full night’s sleep.

If you were your own customer what you order?

The coffee that we’re offering right now is the Papua New Guinea Kunjin from Side Car Coffee. I think it’s awesome. I would probably order it iced now that the weather’s turned.