A Chicago-area coffee company called U3 Coffee launched this month with ambitious plans to connect consumers more deeply to the coffees in their daily cups.
Coming out of the gate with a wealth of engaging content and multimedia, U3 is building upon the traditional direct-to-consumer roaster model, offering coffees under its own name while also selling roasted coffee and related equipment from other brands.
With a national focus, the company is currently building out a roastery in Forest Park, Illinois.
The primary forces behind the startup are the wife-and-husband team of Kristi and Craig Ross, who decided to join entrepreneurial forces after cultivating successful careers in finance and healthcare/pharmaceuticals, respectively.
“We wanted to do something that matters to both of us and that we bond over as a family,” Kristi Ross recently told DCN. “It sounds plain, but we love coffee and felt it was something we could do together.”
In creating U3 Coffee, the couple knew they wanted to use their media and storytelling acumen to build the brand and create an online “ecosystem” of coffee for consumers and professionals alike.
Kristi Ross, who co-founded the financial media company Tastytrade, which sold for $1 billion in 2021, has been helping to lead the new company’s media efforts, which include instructional videos, educational blog posts and video interviews with coffee professionals, such as recent guests Ildi Revi, Brandon Bir and Sara Gibson.
“The media arm is meant to amplify stories of the farmers, the coffee entrepreneurs, and the customer,” Ross said. “t’s what the three [in U3] stands for – uniting the world through coffee.”
The online marketplace, called the U3 Coffee Exchange, currently features a single-origin Costa Rican coffee under the U3 brand, as well as coffees from eight other specialty coffee roasters. The goal is “to highlight and uplift” other roasters, many of whom are featured in the video series. Said Kristi Ross, “We want to showcase their products alongside their story for a deeper connection.
The marketplace also includes home coffee brewing equipment, gift sets and other merchandise.
Beyond acting as a third-party seller of coffee and equipment, U3 is hoping to help fuel innovation and entrepreneurship in the industry through its U3 Coffee Bank, a charitable component that might take the form of angel investments or sponsorships. In October, U3 Coffee partnered with She’s the Roaster (Instagram) to sponsor roasting professional Zee Suphisara’s attendance at the 2023 Coffee Roasters Guild Retreat.
Once U3’s physical location opens, the company hopes to facilitate a way for guests to tip coffee farmers, much like they might tip baristas.
With a Loring machine at its center, the roastery is currently scheduled to open next Spring. The Rosses hope to use the space not only for production roasting, but for coffee education and experimentation. They also plan to offer internships to local students regarding coffee and business.
“Opening the roaster, getting entrenched here and then figuring out how to amplify — it’s a good place to start,” Kristi Ross said, noting that she and Craig have been diligent in their research and approach to entering the coffee space. “I’m checking all the boxes… but in the end, there are so many things that will change once I get closer to the customer.”
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Jen Roberts is a Paris, France-based writer and avid coffee drinker. She’s currently writing a book on women in coffee.