Ask any craft coffee lover in Chattanooga what the best locally-roasted java in the city is, and they’ll give you one resounding answer: Velo. For all the cultured linguists out there, you may know that velo is the French word for bicycle. This is no coincidence.
You see, Velo Coffee Roasters isn’t just a company committed to producing perfectly roasted beans—although they certainly do this—it is a company committed to sustainability. And as such, the founder, Andrew Gage, not only holds himself to meticulous standards when it comes to roasting, but also in the way that he delivers his product to various buyers across the city.
He bikes. He loads up the back of his bicycle with 5 pound bags of freshly roasted beans, and he bikes—hand-delivering small-batch, specialty roasts to local coffee shops and markets all across the city.
Of course, lugging cart-fulls of coffee across a hill-strewn city such as Chattanooga is no walk, er, ride in the park. But then again, physical endurance is nothing new for Andrew. Prior to opening Velo in 2010, he backpacked over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine on a thru-hike of the heralded Appalachian Trail. And on that trip, while he may not have learned how to operate a drum roaster or how to cater to the endless ins and outs of running a small business, he did gain valuable insights into the kind of work-life balance he'd like to have for himself once he got off the trail.
He also learned that he could grow a pretty astoundingly impressive beard. We’re talking a Paul Bunyan Chia Pet kind of beard. In fact, five o’clock shadow for Andrew typically occurs around 10:00 am, just as the doors to the Velo retail store open to the public (with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays, that is).
This retail store—1,500 square feet in size—triples as a roastery and coffee bar, a basic bike maintenance shop where all sorts of hip single speeds and retro road bikes hang from wooden racks on the walls, and also as Andrew's home where he lives with his wife/fellow co-founder Jessica and their 3-year-old son.
The result of such an eclectic, yet simultaneously simple layout is a relaxed and casual atmosphere where the coffee-conscious citizens of Chattanooga can gather together and learn about various brewing and roasting methods all while getting pleasantly caffeinated. People don't visit Velo to sit in a corner and stare at their computer screens all day. They come here to have conversations with friends and baristas over really good coffee.
And how could it not be good? It’s roasted, ground, brewed, poured, added to freshly steamed milk, added to soda water, injected with nitrogen, and the like, all within about a 10 foot radius. That last one—the one injected with nitrogen—is particularly worth mentioning. The Niterider Nitro , as it's called, is an innovative new cold brew that's about to take the Southeastern coffee scene by storm. Tough to put into words for describing how delicious it really is, the Nitro is somewhat similar to a Guinness in terms of color, body, and frothy head, yet wildly different in terms of taste—in the most positive way possible. Creamy and sweet, yet only made with coffee, water, and nitrogen, it's an indulgence without the negative side affects. And of course, all the other coffee staples like the cappuccinos, lattes, cortados, and seasonal espressos from the Modbar are all of the most top notch quality.
While Velo's retail space is only open Wednesday-Saturday from 10:00 am-6:00 pm and Sunday 10:00 am-3:00 pm, that's part of what makes experiencing the place so special. You know, the whole "want what you can't have" conundrum. Fortunately, the days that you can have Velo outnumber the coffee-less days that you can't. And even more fortunately, if you don't happen to make it to the retail space, chances are you can still find Velo beans in most other coffee shops around town, and if you're really lucky, you may even see Andrew and his gang biking around town with a keg of Niterider Nitro hitched to the back of their bikes, ready to blow all previous perceptions of what coffee can be right out of the water.