Photo: Courtesy of Uel Zing
Caffeine After Hours
It’s 11:00 at night on a Wednesday. The Bishop in downtown Bloomington is humming with activity. The walls are actually buzzing from the sound of the band playing inside. Bar goers are corralled in a pen out front so they can take their beers with them on their smoke breaks.
Five steps from the front door of the club is a man dressed in head-to-toe yellow standing behind a yellow food cart, attached to a yellow tricycle. He’s placing little papers cups with free samples of his product on the front of the cart for folks to grab. It’s cold-brew coffee.
Did I mention it’s 11:00pm?
Kelsie Hacker is here tonight to see the bands. She bought a pint of cold brew — no cream, no sugar, just straight coffee. “I’ll be up for a few hours because it definitely works,” she says.
“People drink Red Bull and vodka all the time, so why not get your natural conk shot instead? I’m all about it,” says another reveler.
Those conk shots (his nickname for cold-brew concentrate) are what Samuel Sveen is handing out as free samples.
Sveen is better known to Bloomington, Indiana caffeine fanatics as Uel Zing. This is the first time he’s taken his mobile coffee shop to a late-night spot. Even more than making sales, he’s making connections with people who might not have seen his bright-yellow food cart during the day.
He’s had the opportunity to explain what cold brew coffee is to a couple people already. (No, this is not chilled hot coffee.)
Normally when you make hot coffee, you brew it with hot water. Well, this is brewed with cold water and a lot more coffee and (over) 24 hours. With that cold water, all of the extraction processes, all those chemical reactions, are happening in slow-motion, so you have a lot more control over the situation. You’re able to get all the good stuff — all the caffeine and the chocolatey-smooth sweet stuff — but then cut it off before it extracts all the acids and bitter stuff.
The result is a strong coffee concentrate — essentially espresso. Dilute the conk one-to-one with water, and you get the regular Uel Zing cold brew coffee. That’s $2.00. Upgrade to a 16 oz. pint for $3.00.
Cold brew coffee is the one and only thing Uel Zing sells, but his mobility allows him to get creative. Any public sidewalk can be his storefront. He’s also expanding his distribution.
He describes it like this: “When you’re working within a box, you have to reach for the corners.”
And there are still untapped markets. Kelsie Hacker says it didn’t occur to her friends to want a late-night coffee option.
“But now they realize that it’s a pretty good idea. You’re seeing a really nice show. You’re dancing, you’re tired. So pay a dollar, get a conk shot. Go back in, keep dancing,” she says.