By Maddie Garret
“We filter coffee, not people.” This phrase decorates the wall behind the bar of Rohs
Street Café. It truly exemplifies the attitude of the baristas there; their mission is to tangibly care for everyone who walks in the door to the café and to provide a space for relationships to flourish.
Rohs originated from a group called Grounds for Thought. Grounds for Thought served as a meeting place for creative individuals to come together for casual conversations about music, art, and religion—all over a good cup of freshly brewed coffee. They hosted local performances and artists, and brought together a community of creative people monthly, in the basement of University Christian Church. The central theme of every meeting was a love for quality coffee. The individuals attending these meetings eventually wanted to create a more permanent space so that they could invite more people into their conversations, and this was the start of the café. Since the space they were meeting in, University Christian Church, was undergoing renovations at the time, they decided to partner with them and create a coffee shop that was connected to the church. Rohs Street Café was born. Rohs and University Christian Church now share a building and a mission: to love the community around them in every respect.
Rohs is located on the corner of McMillan and—you guessed it—Rohs Street in Clifton. Bordering the campus of the University of Cincinnati gives its staff the unique opportunity to welcome college students by creating a warm and friendly place for them to do homework, meet up with friends, or have conversation with one of the baristas. The employees at Rohs are big fans of creating spaces where local community can thrive and grow, which is evident in the way they treat their customers.
On any given day, a wide array of activities will be happening in the café, from students doing homework, to church meetings, to casual concerts or poetry readings. This is a space that is used well, and here, UC students feel at home in the café. “Rohs is unlike all the other coffee shops around,” says Lily Steiner, a fourth year at UC. “You don’t feel like you need to buy a drink to hang out there. You can just sit and do homework or hang out with friends without feeling any pressure.” Many UC students share a similar view of Rohs Street Café, contributing to its success.
When students step into the café, it is evident how much care the baristas put into making it feel like home. “We strive to give customers the best coffee experience possible,” says Emily Heckman, a barista at Rohs. “We want people to feel at home in our café.” The environment is casual and relaxed, and warmth radiates throughout the space, which is quite large and filled with an eclectic mix of wooden tables and chairs. “There are so many tables and chairs that I never feel rushed to give up my table,” says Lily, “I can always take my time doing homework or relaxing drinking my coffee.”
The linchpin to all of this, though, is the baristas; they are always willing to strike up a casual conversation about music, science, gardening, literature, religion—and of course, coffee. Patrons sitting at the bar can expect these conversations to come naturally. Baristas value time in conversation with customers over making drinks and taking orders, and their space is set up to optimize these conversations. Their beloved espresso machine has been placed on the bar so that baristas can make coffee and drinks without interrupting conversations with customers. The value baristas place on forming relationships with customers of the café is why people keep coming back.
“As a Christian café, we strive towards loving our neighbors as ourselves. This means loving our customers as well as our coffee growers across the world,” explains Emily. One of the ways in which Rohs supports their coffee growers is by selling only fair trade coffee. “Fair trade” has become a trendy expressions recently, but at its core, it simply means paying coffee farmers fair wages for the coffee beans they grow. Rohs Street Café’s main source of coffee beans is Deeper Roots Coffee. Deeper Roots is a Cincinnati-based coffee roasterie that was also born out of Grounds for Thought. They are one of the largest sellers of Fair Trade coffee in the Cincinnati area.
Deeper Roots is connected at the core level to Rohs Street Cafe through University Christian Church. Every year, all three of these organizations team up to visit Deeper Roots’ main coffee farm in Guatemala, Santa Maria de Jesus. This farm grows the coffee beans for one of Deeper Roots’ cornerstone offerings, La Armonia Hermosa. About twenty individuals, including baristas, members of University Christian Church, and many college students travel to Guatemala every year to work on projects in villages surrounding the coffee farm. While they are there, volunteers have the opportunity to work beside people who live in the villages and learn more about their lives. They all work together to build sustainable water purification systems, as well as stoves. These resources are invaluable to villagers and contribute to lasting economic growth in the community. The combination of fair trade coffee growing and assistance in building key resources has enabled this village in Guatemala to improve its quality of life and become more economically stable.
Leslie Hall has been a barista at Rohs for five years and she’s had the opportunity to participate and lead many of their Guatemala trips. “It’s amazing to see the direct economic effects the coffee we use in the café has on the village it comes from,” Leslie said. The majority of the coffee sold in the US today is not fair trade, meaning that coffee farms are being financially exploited for the beans that they grow. This exploitation leads to poor economic growth in surrounding communities because the coffee farmers are not receiving just payment for their product. “Paying coffee farmers fair wages for their product has a ripple effect on the surrounding community,” Leslie explained. “Quality of life increases across the community.” The price of fair trade coffee may seem slightly steeper than people are used to, but the benefits far outweigh the cost
The partnerships that Rohs and Deeper Roots have crafted with their coffee growers has also resulted in the production of a higher quality of coffee. Deeper Roots has been able to work with its coffee growers to implement systems at their farms that simply produce better coffee. The expertly trained baristas at Rohs will tell you how every step of the process affects the taste of one’s coffee, so these new systems are key to better-tasting coffee.
The mission of Rohs Street Café is to love the local community by providing a relaxed environment for relationships to flourish. This is built on carefully crafted and ethically sourced coffee that improves the lives of its growers and their communities. Their mission is tangibly met every day, not only through the way they care about their customers, but also in how they care about their coffee growers.