I got an email, about a month ago, from Greg Cohen (otherwise known as @coffeeguruapp) letting me know that he was going to be in my neighborhood during the week of the Fourth of July; asked me if I wanted to meet up for a cup of coffee. Who am I to turn down any reason to grab a cup of coffee? I replied, “Sure,” and asked him what he was going to be doing in my neck of Rogers Park, Chicago.
He was coming in from Philadelphia to visit family for the holiday, but he also wanted to meet up to give me an exclusive sneak peek at a mobile phone application he’s been developing for the past year or so.
I immediately got excited.
There aren’t many apps for the iPhone that are completely coffee-centric. There are a few, of course—ones that enable you to electronically record the coffees you drink, brew timers, even extraction measurers—, but none that are completely devoted to the specialty coffee industry.
The app that Cohen is developing is a direct response to that.
The day before our meeting, we communicated via email for a little while and agreed to meet at The Common Cup on Morse Avenue at 9am. He emailed me back a few hours later and told me that Common Cup was closed due to the holiday; he instead suggested Metropolis on Granville. Even better!
I biked over there first thing the next morning. Got a Clever-brewed Tanzania and sat at a table in the corner (of the cafe). He ambled in shortly thereafter and pulled up a chair.
“This is a pretty cool place,” he said.
“For sure! I love it here. Have you been here before?”
“Nope, first time,” he replied.
“Oh! Great. How did you find out about this place?”
He grinned; a grin that seemed to reply “Come on, Drew. Really?” I immediately realized how silly my question was.
See, the app that Cohen is developing, “Coffee Guru”, is a specialty coffee tracking device—kind of like Yelp. When you’re in a new city and you’re searching for a place to get a great cup of coffee, you use Yelp to track it down; of course, when you do that, you have to sift through all of the Starbucks, and Caribous, and Dunkin’ Donuts, and Paneras, and every single restaurant in the entire city that serves coffee to find what you’re looking for.
For all intents and purposes, Coffee Guru’s functionality puts the Yelp! application through a filter and eliminates all of those other places, displaying only shops that serve specialty coffee. That’s, of course, how he found Metropolis.
Cohen is a passionate person, a Renaissance man with a broad pallet of interests—photography, technology, good food, art, small business, ethics. He has been a wholesale wine seller and distributor for the past 15+ years and knows the business and the product inside and out; lately he’s discovered a new passion: specialty coffee.
Like all of us who got into coffee, he spent a lot of time researching it, getting to know it, studying it, and, most importantly, interacting with other people about it. Coffee is conversational, after all. He even went so far as to create an online newspaper, the CoffeeGuru Daily, where he compiles interesting coffee-related stories and reviews from professional news services and amateur bloggers like me.
“When I started discovering coffee, I noticed that coffee uses a lot of the same descriptors as wine, and that was fascinating to me,” he recalls. “I wanted to find an app so that I could find all of these great coffees, but nothing was out there. There was a hole there, and I wanted to fill it.”
The first step was to actually find those shops—the ones that serve specialty coffees. He hooked up with a programmer that helped him set up a database of over 3,000 independent specialty coffee shops all over the country, then spent the next three months calling every single one of them and fact-checking. He even called up hundreds of roasters across the country and requested their client lists to add more shops to his database.
All of the fact-checking led him to weed out a few hundred shops that had gone out of. Usiness or moved; he currently has over 2,700 shops in his database.
There’s only a couple requirements he put in place for a shop’s inclusion in this app: they have to serve fair trade or direct trade specialty coffees, and they must be a locally-owned store. No big chains, no corporations. As far as quality of the shop goes, he says, “That’s not for me to decide. That’s the user’s decision.”
Coffee Guru is going to be a user-driven application. The functionality of Coffee Guru, for all intents and purposes, nearly mirrors that of Yelp. There are nine options on the home screen that enable the user to:
- find “Nearby” shops—searches all coffeehouses that are 1/2/5/10 miles away
- make “Suggestions” to the developer—where you can suggest a coffeehouse for inclusion
- unlock “Badges”—users earn badges by reviewing and/or suggesting coffeehouses; there are nine badges total that the user can earn
- find “Direct Trade” beans—searches for local coffeehouses that us only DT beans.
- “Check In” somewhere—checks in at your location via Facebook/Twitter
- save “Favorites”—in addition to writing reviews of shops, users can also save any coffeehouse in favorites.
- “Search”—a general search platform
- look up “Info”—contains roaster information, a flavor wheel, and a section containing definitions of “Direct Trade” and “Fair Trade”
- adjust “Settings”—distance filters, Facebook/Twitter settings, etc.
Unlike Yelp, however, the user can interact directly with the Coffee Guru developers to notify them of changes to a shop’s hours, phone number, address, grand openings, and store closures and know that the developer will make the necessary changes in a timely fashion.
For example, if Joe’s Brew Shack in Small Town, Anywhere closes its doors for good, the user will be able to contact Coffee Guru, notify them of its closure, and it will be removed from the database within 24 hours. The same applies for a shop that opens for business: the user can contact Coffee Guru with the name of the shop and its address and it will be added to the database.
“I’m really hoping that this app will generate audience participation,” says Cohen. “Once people see that it’s something that they can interact with, that it’s something that is constantly refreshing and updating itself, I’m hoping that more and more people will gravitate towards it.”
Coffee Guru is slated for release within the next couple of months and it will cost $1.99 to download to your iPhone. Yelp is free, of course, but I’d much rather pay a couple dollars for an application that’ll enable me to immediately locate the very best coffee in any given city across the United States.
Next time I’m in Philadelphia, for example, I hope to return the favor and invite the Coffee Guru himself, Greg Cohen, out for a cup of coffee. And I’ll use his app to find Philly’s best cup.
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