Roasting Columbus: Thunderkiss Coffee

John Ross, Columbus Alive

Jason Valentine's head-turning coffee company, which has been inspiring people to rethink their drink and even attempt roasting at home, actually started with a drawing.

The business-school graduate with an interest in branding doodled a large eye in a storm cloud framed by lightning and a shower of coffee beans.

It was a cool design, maybe even a potential brand. Valentine just needed a business to go with it.

For that, he turned to a favorite hobby.

Valentine had purchased a five-pound coffee roaster in November 2010 from a guy in Texas who turned his gas station into a bar and lost the roast bug. Experimentation was underway soon after, as Valentine got to know his Diedrich IR-7N in a Clintonville garage.

"I've f---ed up a lot of coffee to get to this point," Valentine said.

It wasn't long before he started turning out quality roasts stamped with Thunderkiss Coffee's unmistakable logo. Java drinkers geeked about his subtle roast style and the single-origin beans he procured from across the globe.

"The goal is to find the really good stuff, find the really unique characteristics and present it to the people," he said. "I want everybody's coffee to be good."

For each variety, Valentine discovers the roast level that brings forth its best flavor, acidity and body. He's the kind of roaster who will pick out berry notes in an African roast - then wait patiently until a customer tastes it, too.

By day, Valentine sells and rents scaffolding equipment for commercial building projects. He remains a part-time roaster and sells his product in small batches at places like Fresh Street, Till Dynamic Fare and Easton's Celebrate Local.

Yet he has ambitious goals for local coffee. He wants fresh, quality merchandise to be available to people who aren't big spenders, and he encourages them to compare flavors from different beans. He works eagerly with Columbus businesses to bring artisan coffee to a wider audience.

"Scaffolding is a bid-to-get-the-job industry," he explained. "In the food industry, it seems like you're going to have more success and build your company by partnering and nurturing other businesses."

Thunderkiss Coffee

Name: Jason Valentine

Age: 34

Day job: Sales rep, Klimer Platforms

Neighborhood: Clintonville