Pop-Up Coffee — Tacoma’s Answer to a Great Cup of Joe

If you’re anything like me, the first thing you do in the morning is shuffle, sleepy-eyed, to the coffee maker and push the brew button. That sounds familiar doesn’t it? Which makes “Great Coffee, Everywhere” a motto that virtually any Pacific Northwesterner can get behind. Our communities are abuzz with love of the roasted bean concoctions, an infatuation that has become a passionate love affair over the last decade or so. And though independent roasters are popping up from Seattle to San Francisco and everywhere in-between, one can often be left wondering, “Where do we get a good cup of coffee?”

Pop-Up Coffee may be the answer you’re seeking. Founded in fall of 2015, Pop-Up Coffee’s concept is a unique one, providing entrepreneurs the opportunity to craft quality coffee for consumers in an affordable atmosphere.

Founder Jason Atherton imagined Pop-Up Coffee as a potential solution to three problems, the first being that often asked question, “Where can one get a good cup of coffee?”

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Pop-Up Coffee is reinventing how Tacoma area residents enjoy their morning cup of brew. Photo credit: Lee Heath.

“You can go two blocks in any direction and get a coffee,” Atherton says. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about coffee, though. We wanted to provide a different experience, focusing on quality and education and avoid people playing mad scientists with their coffee. But what comes up a lot is condiments; people want condiments.”

In the beginning — on-site and on Pop-Up’s website — the vibe was “black coffee, slow bar only. Modifications politely declined,” a concept not embraced by all. Folks tend to like what they like and by default begin tossing in a splash of cream and two sugars before even tasting the coffee. Atherton tells me Pop-Up is about “good service, support and providing a great experience, which may even mean breaking consumer habits through education.”

As a former truck stop barista in high school, Atherton goes on to explain the second ailment Pop-Up aims to cure with the statement: “Coffee is just a cool industry.” He continues on, talking about his love of the business, the people, the product, the whole shebang — and he knows he’s not alone. Others are interested too and may not know how best to dip their toes into the roasted bean business.

Enter Pop-Up Coffee. The business model is simple, for under $1,000 an interested party can receive in-depth training and the equipment to launch a Pop-Up Coffee of their own, virtually anywhere, which leads us to a solution to the third problem. “Even in the best markets, there are lots of underutilized spaces,” Atherton explains. “Empty storefronts, bars that don’t open until after 2:00 p.m., lobbies of large buildings.” With the focus on pour overs and drip coffee available in Aero presses, anyone can set up a station just about anywhere using unique nooks and crannies and unused spaces to concoct quality caffeinated beverages for those in the area.

Pop-Up Coffee
Pop-Up Coffee strives to answer the age old question, “What makes a cup of coffee great?” Photo credit: Ron Swarner.

Since fall of 2015, several locales have put the brand and concept to the test and have proven, if anything, that the Pop-Up business model is flexible and successful. From September to March, Pop-Up perched in the Children’s Museum of Tacoma and became the most conventionally successful Pop-Up to date, while The Mountianeers Club on North 30th maintains the reputation of a hip gathering place for sippers who can enjoy their morning brew paired with Friday morning acoustic concerts. You heard me, morning acoustic concerts, every Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Atherton tells me this idea sprouted when he was reading an article about folks in New York and San Francisco who were having “morning raves” to start their day. Imagine, water and juice in hand, boogying the morning away before your Friday morning shift even begins. But it was was more likely that us in the Pacific Northwest would stand side by side, bobbing our heads and tapping our feet with a coffee in hand.

So, what next up for Pop-Up? National expansion. Atherton foresees several Tacoma locations cropping up over the summer but plans to see Pop-Up show up in cities like Seattle, Portland, Chicago and New York beginning in September. What that will look like will depend on where each locale is. The model is flexible by nature and can be adjusted to fit in with just about any coffee consuming demographic, the ambiance, vibe and bean will be different for everyone. In the meantime, the Pop-Up team will be dialing things in and figuring out how to best execute the business model and support satellite branches remotely.

Pop Up Coffee
Friday morning acoustic shows at The Mountaineers feature musical acts like Blake Flattley and Walker Sherman. Photo courtesy: Lee Heath.

Over an Americano sitting at a table in Bluebeard Coffee Roasters, I listen to Atherton boast about his supportive wife and phenomenal team, which is headed by Director of Coffee, Stacy Stevens, who has “filled in a million different roles and has been so flexible,” as well as the who’s who of Tacoma baristas who Atherton calls “the very best people.” And it’s clear that Jason Atherton has a true admiration of coffee and community.

Want to open your own Pop-Up Coffee and be a part of the craft coffee movement? It’s easy. Simply email hello@popupcoffee.co to get started.


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