East Pole Coffee Company, located in lower Buckhead (at the cross-section of Armour, Brookwood Hills, and Piedmont Height neighborhoods), is becoming one of the favorite coffee spots in the Atlanta area. And for a good reason.
East Pole has many elements that make it one of the top coffee destinations in the greater Atlanta area: an incredibly bright and spacious interior, floor-to-ceiling bleachers in the lobby of the building, a cohesive and beautiful theme (read more about it under “The Nautical Theme” heading in this blog post), very friendly and knowledgeable staff, and of course, incredible coffee. (Seriously, it’s some of the best coffee I’ve had in Atlanta). The coffee is roasted in-house at East Pole, so the coffee shop is also a coffee roaster.
I’ve visited East Pole several times in order to write this more comprehensive post. This post is organized into three parts:
Photos of the East Pole exterior and interior, including some details from inside the shop.
Photos from a cupping event I attended in February.
Interview with Jared Karr, one of the co-owners of East Pole Coffee Company, about the shop’s history, design, coffee partnerships, and more.
Located at 255 Ottley Dr NE, Suite #105, East Pole Coffee Company is located inside a retail/coworking space (the Coyote sign up front is just as prominent as the COFFEE sign in front of the space). Readers familiar with the Atlanta beer scene will be happy to learn that East Pole is located several hundred feet away from Sweetwater Brewing Company. There is plenty of free street parking across from East Pole or in a dedicated retail lot adjacent to the building.
The Nautical Theme
One of the unique elements about East Pole is the prevalent theme found throughout the shop. A brief backstory: Jared Karr, one of the co-owners of East Pole, was living in Indonesia with a friend; they hosted a video blog to just their friends, their church, and their family what they were up to in Indonesia. They repeatedly called Indonesia “The East Pole” because… it was the farthest east they had ever been. The name stuck and became the name of the coffee shop we know today.
As for the interior, it’s a (subtle) theme on a nautical universe. There is the diver helmet, squid paintings, and bluish tones throughout. Read the Q&A with Jared at the bottom of this post for more details.
The drink menu at East Pole Coffee Company is straightforward: six to seven coffee drinks (with coffee beans roasted in-house, of course), plus tea. The seasonal drinks change every quarter or so; the current winter seasonal drink is the “Winter Citrus” latte, which consists of blood orange, dried chilis, sage, and black corns. East Pole is partnered with Atlanta’s The Chai Box if you want to try out some authentic Chai.
The food options are also light: waffles, energy bites, danishes, muffins, and a sweet potato biscuit (a personal favorite!).
Coffee Cupping Events at East Pole
East Pole offers free coffee cuppings every Saturday morning at 10AM. Their recently published blog post explains what happens during this event:
A coffee cupping is a universal baseline for evaluating coffees. We add 13 grams of medium-fine ground coffee to a 7.5 oz. cupping bowl and we fill it to the brim with ~200 degree water. Three to five minutes later, we will use specific deeply-concave spoons to break the crust of coffee grounds, and evaluate its aroma. As the coffee progressively cools and the grounds sink to the bottom of the bowl, we use those spoons to take tablespoon-sized slurps of the coffee, evaluating its quality: flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, uniformity, and cleanliness.
We cup coffees multiple times a week to know what to buy from farmers and importers, what to tweak, what to feature, and… what to take home for ourselves!
I went on one of these coffee cuppings myself, during which the theme was Guatemalan an Ethiopian coffee varieties and the differences between them. This coffee cupping session was led by Whit who is a guru in all things coffee. I and several other attendees asked him a few questions during the event and he had thorough responses for every question.
These coffee cuppings events at East Pole have been going on for over a year. I inquired more about the cupping events, and they may range from the very novice (i.e., you’re totally new to coffee and don’t know that it’s a plant) to intermediate coffee drinkers (you know the various coffee separation techniques, can differentiate various subtle flavors among coffee beans, etc.). The serendipity in what you may learn from these events is very cool.
Interview with Jared Karr, Co-Owner of East Pole
I have been so intrigued about East Pole Coffee Company and wanted to get some additional information about the company, the background and design elements, and more. I reached out to Jared Karr, one of the co-owners/co-founders of East Pole Coffee Company, about an interview. Below is a slightly edited transcript of this interview. [Editor’s note: don’t miss the question and answer about one amazing customer experience near the bottom of this post!]
Question: In my conversation with Whit [during the coffee cupping event], he mentioned that your path to coffee was very unconventional -- you went overseas and were training to become an FBI agent in Indonesia. Can you share a bit more of that story? How did you go from there to becoming a co-founder/co-owner of a coffee shop?
Jared: I wanted to work for the FBI. I was not training for the FBI! After graduating from The University of Georgia with a major in International Affairs I was eager to apply for the FBI. I noticed at that time that they had a high need for someone who was fluent in the language Bahasa Indonesia. During my time at Georgia, I had studied that particular language and had even been to the country Indonesia on a missions trip with a local church and had established some relationships there. In order to hone in on my language skills I decided it would be a good idea to go live in the country for 6 months to really get immersed in the culture and the language with the intentions of returning home to apply for the FBI being fluent in Bahasa. I reached out to a company that I visited once and asked for an internship, to which they agreed. I was working for this company and was also sent by my local church (which is how I was able to afford everything!). I lived there for 6 months and during my time there I was thrown into all kinds of wild adventures. One of which was helping the company pioneer a new partnership with coffee farmers. We were set to pay local farmers a higher price for their product than what they would get at a local market. Small gig really. Because of this I met with a lot of coffee farmers during my time there and every encounter left me a little more eager to learn more about this world of coffee. The farmers were incredibly kind people, generous in sharing information as well as their homes and meals. I slowly fell in love with coffee and decided by the end of my time in Indonesia that I wanted to work with farmers all over the world. And in order to do that I would need to start a roastery. I returned home to the states and started working in coffee to get a feel for the industry. I worked at a roastery and then moved to strictly a coffee bar in Atlanta. From there I roped in a couple of my good friends Jules Tompkins and Matt Chesla to help me start what is now East Pole.
Question: According to a few previous stories, the name East Pole is a nod to a video blog you hosted while in Indonesia, "the East Pole" of the world. For the very curious people of the world, are there archives of this blog still available on the web?
Jared: The name certainly comes from what I called Indonesia! I was living there with a friend of mine and we would host a video blog mainly to just show our friends, our church, and our family what in the world we were doing there. We continually called Indonesia The East Pole because, well, it was the farthest east we had ever been. The name stuck. When I was thinking about what to name this company I thought it would be a good idea to give a nod to where I fell in love with coffee.
Question: Can you comment on some of the interior decor inside East Pole? For instance, is there a story behind the images of the squid? Also, is there a significance to the giant golden aqua helmet on the shelf? [Editor’s note: Any gamers out there? The diver helmet reminds me of the game Bioshock—one of the few games I played].
Jared: Our interior should be a subtle play at a nautical theme. Hence the squid paintings (my wife actually found these at a garage sale in Atlanta. The girl who painted these actually used real squid, dipped them in white ink, and placed them on the wax paper!), the diver helmet that we purchased from an Army Navy store, and the other little nautical nods around the shop. It's just something we liked and went with!
Question: I've commented in a Q&A with the owner of Copper Coin on the similarity of the spaces between East Pole and Copper Coin -- who was the designer/architect of East Pole that brought some of these similar elements into fruition?
Jared: As Randy mentioned, it's purely coincidental. The East Pole team had the liberty of designing our space the way we wanted. The lobby (the area you are referring to) was designed by Smith Dalia, an architectural firm. They were inspired by several spaces in L.A.
Question: You guys are partnered with several Atlanta-area coffee shops (Copper Coin) and restaurants (such as Full Commission, previously profiled here)—are you still aiming to grow your partnerships or are you happy with where you are right now?
Jared: We will continually be looking to grow our partnerships! We care greatly about the shops (and businesses and restaurants) that are booming in Atlanta. We love this city and want to see our current and future partners thrive. We believe we can help by providing great coffee, tech services, and training for all of our partners. We are also keen on throwing some pretty fun events with our partners ; )
Question: East Pole offers a free coffee cupping event every Saturday at 10AM (I attended the one last Saturday). How long has this program been running? Do you have a list (full or partial) of the previous "themes" covered in these tastings? [Whit mentioned that some events are really beginner-level while others are more intermediate in nature].
Jared: We have been doing cuppings consistently for a little over a year now. We believe this is a great way to bring people in and taste our coffees in a relaxed, yet educational environment. Whit has done a great job of curating "themes" for each class. We do not have a collection of these themes currently.
Question: Are there any interesting or spectacular stories that come to mind with some of the customers that have visited East Pole to date?
Jared: One thing comes to mind that I really enjoyed. I may end up not getting all of the details right, but so goes it. There was a couple who had been trying to get pregnant for quite some time with no luck. One day, the wife emails us and asks if she can bring in her own special mug and if we could serve her husbands latte out of this cup. She wanted to bring the cup in on a Friday so that she could bring her husband on a date Saturday morning. We agreed to this. We served his latte in the cup and they enjoyed their date. Upon finishing his latte he noticed a few words written at the bottom of the mug. The words read: "you're going to be a dad". The two were ecstatic and to me that was a really fun moment to be let into.
Question: What are your and Sara's personal favorite coffee drinks? [Editor’s note: Sara, the director of wholesale at East Pole, is Jared’s wife]
Jared: My personal favorite drink is: black coffee. Sara's favorite drink: a well made cappuccino.
Question: What's been your biggest (or one of your biggest) challenges running East Pole?
Jared: That's hard to say. I guess learning how to be a boss to a group of kids who are not much younger than me? It's an interesting dynamic because you spend so much time together and become friends and can forget that there is a boss aspect to it. I will say this though: while this is what I am listing there really isn't much struggle here. We have an incredible staff. Everyone that works here is hospitable, knowledgable, fun to be around, and good at what they do. Having business partners (in Matt and Jules) who can crush what they do helps me be able to focus on the coffee bar and roastery. I would say that has been vital to the success of East Pole.
You know how there is a high school yearbook award called “Best All Around” given to one or two students? Well, I think East Pole Coffee Company would get this award in the Atlanta area for its amazing coffee (roasted in-house), incredible design and decor within its interior, strong partnerships with coffee shops and bakeries around Atlanta, and impeccable customer service.
Run, don’t walk, to East Pole Coffee Company if you haven’t yet visited this coffee shop gem.
Many thanks to Jared Karr for taking the time to answer my questions to accompany this blog post.
Editor’s note: In case you are wondering about the title of this post: 1) East Pole Coffee Company is closer to home for Jared when compared to his time away in Indonesia 2) The coffee shop is located just a few miles from where I live and 3) East Pole’s fairly central location inside the Atlanta perimeter means that East Pole is one of those coffee shops that should be accessible regardless of where you live in the metro Atlanta area.