From Kitchen to Brewery: Syrup with Spice | Guest Series by Compass Coffee
This is the second of five blog pieces by guest author, Compass Coffee. Compass Coffee, founded in 2012 by two former U.S. Marines, Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, has 12 cafes in the greater Washington, DC area, as well as a line of packaged products sold in Whole Foods Market, Giant Delivers, Yes Organic, Streets Market, and Union Kitchen.
Compass Coffee Simple Syrups are brewed with their customers in mind. “From day one, we wanted to make everything in small batches, and from scratch,” says Chas Newman, Compass Production Manager. “We combine all-natural ingredients thoughtfully and carefully to create fun and exciting seasonal flavors that complement the Real Good lattes and cold brew that Compass is known for.”
In this part of the series on Building a Stronger D.C. Food Ecosystem, we’ll explore how Compass turned its syrup production from a few burners in the back of its Chinatown café to a full-scale operation housed in Union Kitchen’s commercial manufacturing space.
At first, Simple Syrups was a line of a few flavors to spice up the coffee and tea drinks in Compass cafés. Customers loved them, both for their innovative flavors (everything from Cherry Blossom to Nutella Mocha and Turmeric Honey) and all natural ingredients. Eventually, wholesale customers began asking for syrups to serve alongside the coffee at hotels, restaurants, and office buildings. Unable to keep up with demand from the back of its café, Compass began to look for a new way to brew.
“Everything must be as good as the coffee!” Compass Co-Founder Michael Haft explains. “We make Real Good Coffee, and we hold everything, from our syrups and teas, to our training and café design, to that same standard.”
Keeping this in mind, Compass decided it couldn’t outsource the production, nor buy syrups from an existing brand, without compromising on that core value. So, it had to find a place to make its own.
Union Kitchen turned out to be the perfect place. Initially, the brewing line was a few stove tops, small labeling equipment, and a lot of taste testing. Today, Compass has transformed their line into a full-scale production facility, complete with the maze of tubing you’d expect at any top-tier manufacturing operation.
“One of my favorite days at Compass was the day we tested a new recipe for Chai Syrup,” remembers Kuran Malhotra, Director for Corporate Development at Compass Coffee. “I’d just finished a marathon accounting session, and as I walked into the lab I was handed one of the spiciest things I’ve ever tasted...eventually we got it to a point of being palatable, and finally Real Good.”
Compass worked with Union Kitchen to install the necessary equipment, pneumatic tubing, and automated systems in an environment that now allows for the sanitary, FDA-approved production it needs to support a growing demand. In doing so, Compass can now produce enough shelf-stable syrup to meet its café and wholesale needs, and also sell to consumers at Union Kitchen stores and various specialty grocers throughout The District.
“It was really exciting to see how quickly we were able to scale Simple Syrups,” Malhotra notes. “The team has managed to perfect the brewing process and automate it, all without sacrificing the Real Good quality and natural ingredients, and all right here in the heart of D.C.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit Washington, Compass was able to turn its syrup brewing equipment into a sanitizer production line, demonstrating how together, Compass and Union Kitchen emulate the core value of making things people want.
“The Simple Sanitizer line not only helped Compass during the COVID pandemic, but it also allowed us to give back to our community,” Malhotra remarks. “With the Union Kitchen space, we were able to quickly reconfigure and launch Simple Sanitizer. We were able to provide 1,000 gallons to the D.C. Government in order to ensure that front line workers had the supplies they needed.”
In the next installment on building a stronger D.C. Food Economy, we’ll further explore Simple Sanitizer. For now, though, it’s back to business as usual at Union Kitchen, with the Simple Syrups brand growing every day.