Tastemakers 2021: Brandon Bir, Director of Sustainability at Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea

Beth Stallings
Brandon Bir, director of sustainability at Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea

On a rainy Friday morning, Brandon Bir is like caffeinated sunshine. He bounds into a local coffee shop with “goodies” for the barista—beans that involve cinnamon-processing and carbonic maceration and that Bir describes as “bonkers” and “fire.” He’s like your favorite college professor, cool and approachable, even when spouting jargon, and always looking for an opportunity to share knowledge. And this teacher knows the ins and outs of the coffee trade better than anyone else around.

Supporting Farmers

As director of sustainability for Crimson Cup, Bir has traveled the world building relationships with farmers. His work means new and unique coffee beans are finding their way into Columbus cups. But what he does is far more layered than a shot of espresso. He’s a living linchpin for the coffee world—constantly networking to connect emerging farmers to the resources they need to be able to grow with quality and sustainability in mind. That might be raising funds to build a drying facility for a farmer producing amazing gesha in Peru. Or building roads in remote villages in Africa. “We secure really great coffee and invest in getting more of that coffee,” Bir says, “so that the farmer can sell more, and for a higher price.”

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Columbus’ Coffee Somm

Bir’s knowledge and palate are renowned the world over (with too many awards, nods and honors to mention). In 2016, he passed the master-sommelier-level Q Grader exam hosted by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. He remains one of roughly 4,000 in the world to hold this title. He is currently working to become a Q Instructor, a yearslong process that involves palate calibration, references and mentoring. His goal: to learn as much as he can so he can teach as much as he can and find more ways to improve the industry.

“I want to share my experiences,” Bir says. “I know not everyone gets to travel the world, have conversations with coffee producers, take classes at certain places. I want to bring all those experiences to the people who are closest to me.”

In the near future, he wants to focus more on inequities in the coffee world, especially when it comes to the knowledge gap between consumers, roasters and producers.

Find more of Columbus' Rising Culinary Stars:Tastemakers Class of 2021

Speed Round

Age: 39

Hometown: Huntington, Indiana

What did you learn during the pandemic? “True character [shines] when the heat is turned up. I am trying to be better. The things in life that are important have come to the surface. And I want to focus on those.”

What does Columbus need? “We need more inclusion and less national presence­—chains. We have such a great population of Somali, Eastern European, West African nations. All these places have different cultures and foods. We need to be more open-minded to trying new things to create a more diverse food scene.”

Podcast recommendations: In Good Taste, A Better Table and No Free Refills

This story is from the December 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.