Food carts of Bloomington: Uel Zing coffee founder shares his methods and company history
June 11, 2014
When he graduated from Cornell University in 2010, Samuel Sveen got used to hearing the question so common that it was the opening number in the Broadway musical "Avenue Q" -- "What do you do with a B.A. in English?"
Sveen launched a couple of entrepreneurial ventures -- cheese-slicers and custom greeting cards -- served as editor and a writer for the website ArtObserved and worked in gourmet coffee shops. He lived in Ithaca, N.Y., and then Brooklyn, where he met his girlfriend.
Check the (third wave) technique
Eventually, Sveen followed his heart straight to Bloomington, where his girlfriend, Lindsay Welsch, is pursuing a doctoral degree in English literature at IU. Once settled, he channeled his passion for brewing coffee into a new business. He opened the bright-yellow, can’t-miss-it Uel Zing cold-brew coffee cart on May 13, 2013.
“When I moved here, I didn’t just want to be a barista again, but it was what I know and love, so I kind of turned it on its head and became my own business owner of my own coffee shop -- more or less,” he said, gesturing to his bicycle cart.
Sveen cold brews coffee using a “third wave specialty coffee” approach he learned while working at the award-winning Gimme Coffee in New York. There, he learned about coffee cultivation and how to free-pour latte art -- hearts, rosettes, swans, scorpions and even reindeer -- and he experimented with brewing techniques through bi-weekly labs. The third wave coffee movement essentially treats coffee beans and brewing like fine wine, with increased attention to every stage of creating a perfect cup of coffee, starting with plant growing.
Enter to win
Current IU employees using a current, valid IU email address can enter to win a Uel Zing iced coffee (each is worth $3). One reader will also win a gold baseball-style ZING Team Jersey shirt ($17 value) with three-quarter-length sleeves and an unfinished bottom edge, available in small, medium and large.
Sveen sees several advantages to the cold brew process, which he says wasn’t popular in Bloomington when he arrived.
“It’s a totally different method that makes a way different-tasting coffee,” he said. The slow-brewing process allows for more control of the product, he said, and using cold water results in a less bitter-tasting brew.
First, he brews the freshly roasted and ground coffee with cold water in large vats -- mason jars work well for smaller quantities for the home brewer, he says -- and lets it steep and extract for 24 hours.
“You’re able to get all the good stuff -- the caffeine and the chocolaty smooth sweet stuff but then cut if off before it extracts all the acids and the bitter stuff,” he said. “So it’s super-strong but super-smooth -- it’s about 60 percent less acidic than hot-brewed coffee and very caffeinated.”
The process yields a concentrate he calls “conk,” which is then cut with 1:1 water to achieve a ready-to-drink iced coffee. Straight conk is also available for sale for those who want to mix their own iced coffees at home.
'When you drink my coffee, you’ll zing'
“Iced coffee made by the 'cold brew' method creates the smoothest, most full-bodied and low-acid coffee, naturally sweet and universally approachable,” he said. The custom Uel Zing blend of blueberry-sweet Ethiopian beans, chocolaty Nicaraguan and smoky Sumatran is brewed within just a few days of necessary “rest” after being locally roasted by Quarrymen Coffee Roasting Co.
At first, Sveen offered the coffee only in 16-ounce to-go cups. As the business has expanded, so has the method of delivery. Throughout the winter, he worked on development and design of bottled Uel Zing, which comes in 12-ounce and quart-sized containers. Uel Zing is now offered bottled at all Bloomingfoods locations; Oliver Winery on the square; the Back Door nightclub, where it is used for coffee-based cocktails; a local guitar store and a movie store; and now, a butcher shop with two locations in Nashville, Tenn.
And while previously he painstakingly added Uel Zing stickers to each bottle, he just ordered 3,000 new already-printed bottles. Being able to sell the bottled product to stores and online saves him in the overhead costs he’d have with a storefront.
So how did Uel Zing get its unique name? “Well, my name is Samuel, so it’s just the second part of Samuel. And when you drink my coffee, you’ll zing.”
Where to find Uel Zing
The coffee can be ordered online, and the coffee cart can usually be found at the following locations and times:
- Tuesdays: Noon to 4 p.m., Monroe County Public Library
- Fridays: ZINGroute delivery, 8 to 11 a.m.; courthouse square (northeast corner), noon to 4 p.m.
- Saturdays: 9 a.m. to noon, one block south of Farmers’ Market on the B-Line Trail at 6th St.
- First Sunday of each month, pour-over bar at Landlocked Music, 1 to 4 p.m.
In Bloomington and looking for the cart? Follow @UELZING on Twitter to see if it's out and about.