Coffee to go: New mobile business celebrates coffee and cycling

PEDAL PUSHER: Through his bike-powered business, Ryan Prentiss is sharing his love of cycling, good coffee and community. Photo by Carrie Eidson

Ryan Prentiss just opened a new coffee shop in Pritchard Park. And at the River Arts District Farmers Market. And occasionally at lots of other locations around town.

Prentiss’ new business, The Coffee Pedlar, is the latest manifestation of Asheville’s mobile retail craze: an artisan pour-over coffee bar mounted on a sleek, black trike.

Every day but Tuesday, the Outward Bound climbing specialist and backpacking instructor pedals his 400-pound shop-on-wheels from his home in West Asheville to Pritchard Park — an act that celebrates both Prentiss’ and Asheville’s obsessions with cycling and quality java.

Originally from Chico, Calif., area, Prentiss says he has wanted to open his own coffee shop since he worked as a barista while studying outdoor education at California State University at Chico in 2006. After moving to Asheville to work with Outward Bound in 2011, the idea for his coffee bike began to take shape.

Inspired by the two-wheeled, cargo-bike vending system used by Trailhead Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore. — as well as by traditional Dutch bakfiet freight trikes and the maneuverable, three-wheeled ice cream vendor bikes he remembers from spring breaks spent doing volunteer work in Mexico — Prentiss formed a plan.

“I was originally going to try to do a cargo bike and be two-wheeled, but I realized having this much weight wouldn’t work for pedaling slowly through Asheville, so I decided to have a tricycle built instead,” Prentiss explains, as he crafts an iced pour-over for Bill, a customer he has greeted by name.

Prentiss contracted Steven Horcha of Haley Trikes in Philadelphia to implement his design ideas, and the result was an elegant, custom-built wood-and-metal creation that cost only $3,300 — a paltry sum for what is essentially a storefront.

Pedaling his highly visible rig the 25 minutes to Pritchard Park each morning, Prentiss says he feels as if he is in a special position to present a positive public image for the cycling community. Although he does own an automobile, he says he prefers to cycle everywhere he goes, unless it involves an interstate or hazardous thoroughfare (he mentions Tunnel Road), and he believes it’s crucial that cyclists obey the rules of the road and not hinder the flow of traffic.

“I want people to view cyclists as people who obey the same rules as them, and that’s really noticeable with me riding such a big trike,” he explains. “It’s a good ride from West Asheville because there’s a bike lane on Clingman, so I don’t impede traffic, which is one of my biggest goals in biking. It’s like, ‘I’m a cyclist, and I’m not slowing you down. And I can bring you a great cup of coffee.’”

Ah, yes. The coffee.

Drawing on his West Coast barista experience, a great deal of independent research and experimentation and advice from local coffee experts — including Waking Life Espresso owner Jared Rutledge and Dylan Jung of Aesthetic Coffee — Prentiss has perfected an exacting technique that balances the use of carefully chosen, high-quality beans, timing and temperature.

He gets up at 5:30 every morning to grind each day’s coffee and won’t use grounds that went through the grinder more than 10 hours before. “I know what I want the flavor to be like, so I take a lot of time every morning to play with the grind adjustment to make sure each cup tastes excellent at 180 degrees, then also at 145 degrees,” says Prentiss. “I put a lot of love and care into every cup I make.”

Prentiss charges $3.50 for his pour-overs, which take around four minutes to make — an enjoyable four minutes, as he is a cheerful and engaging conversationalist. For those who are in a hurry or are looking for a lower price, he offers batch coffee for $2.50 a cup.

At this point, the Coffee Pedlar exclusively uses beans from Black Mountain’s Dynamite Roasting Co., but eventually Prentiss wants to showcase local and out-of-town roasters as well, including companies from Colorado, California and Oregon.

In talking to Prentiss, it becomes apparent that his new business isn’t just about coffee and bikes. During his conversation with Xpress, Prentiss periodically tosses out greetings and acknowledgements to various passers-by. And as he spends several minutes making Bill’s pour-over, a lively 10-year-old named Ty is doing his best to help with the coffee-making process.

Ty, who lives in Florence, S.C., is visiting his grandparents in West Asheville for the summer and takes the bus downtown every day to hang out in the park and learn coffee from Prentiss in hopes, says Ty, of one day becoming a “coffee guy” himself.

“I really love coffee because of the social aspect of it,” Prentiss says. “For me, it’s so much fun getting to know the people who hang out in the park and anyone walking by. This is easily just as important to me as making really high-quality coffee. … And I really like to teach people about coffee and encourage more consciousness about it. … I feel like I can educate [customers] on where my coffee comes from and why it costs what it does.”

Look for the Coffee Pedlar every morning but Tuesday at Pritchard Park, on Wednesday afternoons at the River Arts District Farmers Market and at special events around town.



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