Jason DeRusha and the art of coffee at Stepchld


Looking for a restaurant that celebrates diversity and creativity? Look no further than Stepchld, a Minneapolis restaurant owned by chef Kamal Mohamed. Stepchld’s global flavors and welcoming environment make it the perfect place to enjoy a meal with friends and family. Kamal shares our passion for using coffee as a catalyst for community building and sparking conversation. That’s why we’ve teamed up with Stepchld to serve our premium single-origin coffee from Ethiopia for a limited-time, which perfectly complements the restaurant’s bold and inventive dishes.

Join renowned food and beverage journalist (and coffee lover) Jason DeRusha as he shares his experience at Stepchld and explores the unique qualities of our Ethiopia beans with our Green Coffee Sourcing Manager, Brian Aliffi. Whether you’re a coffee aficionado or a foodie at heart, read on for a flavorful adventure with Jason… 

blueberry pancakes at Stepchld
Stepchld’s Einkorn flour ricotta blueberry pancakes. Photo by Jake George.

It’s one of the coolest restaurant spaces in Minneapolis: Stepchld brings global flavors and people together. It’s also a celebration of how all of us are a work-in-progress: there’s an unfinished mural behind the bar, the greenery emerging from an overhead hydroponic system is different every time I visit.

From day one in 2021, chef and owner Kamal Mohamed has had coffee on his menus. “Coffee is linked to the morning, it’s linked to possibilities,” he told me on a sunny Sunday morning over a plate of his glorious Einkorn flour ricotta blueberry pancakes. 

Kamal was born in Ethiopia, he incorporates many Ethiopian flavors in his menu, and he was a logical partner to brew Caribou’s latest premium single-origin Ethiopia beans from the Burka Gudina farm.

“I started making coffee for my parents, being the oldest of five,” he told me, “but things have changed since making a cup of Folgers, to how we now can dig into a specific region.”

kamal and jason sitting at a table at Stepchld, laughing and drinking coffee
Stepchld owner and head chef Kamal Mohamed and food critic Jason DeRusha connect over a cup of coffee. Photo by Jake George.

Caribou’s Green Coffee Sourcing Manager Brian Allifi came to Northeast Minneapolis to help Kamal calibrate his equipment to ensure the best flavor experience. If you weigh your coffee, a 15:1 water to coffee ratio is best for this very light and delicate roast.

“Ethiopia is right on the equator – the topography is high elevations and low plains. You get blueberry, lavender, citrus, a light almost tea-like coffee,” Kamal said.

I visited Brian in the cupping room at Caribou Coffee’s Minnesota roasting facility.  “We need Ethiopian coffee year-round,” he told me, noting it’s a part of the Lakeshore and Amy’s blends.  But this particular coffee “really stood out on the table as we were cupping: this is a coffee that sets itself apart. I’m in for a treat with this coffee.”

Brian’s been sourcing coffee from the Burka Gudina farm for six years, it’s nestled high in the forest-covered mountains of Limu Kossa. Ethiopia’s peak harvest time is between November and early March, and so these beans are really ready to rock.

bag of caribou's ethiopia beans next to a mug of coffee
Ethiopia is heralded as the birthplace of coffee, with a landscape rich in diverse climate, culture and variety of coffee character. Photo by Jake George.

When I taste it, the silky texture is what stands out. Take a smell, and I get a light whiff of Jasmine flower, and then the light delicate roast reveals a mild hint of lemon acidity, followed by a finish that leaves a light berry lingering. OK, maybe this sounds pretentious. It definitely sounds pretentious. But just like tasting wine shows different things to different palates, it can be a lot of fun exploring the layers of flavor in your morning cup.

“The appreciation for coffee has gone from treating it like a Red Bull to more of an art form,” Kamal told me.  We are enthusiasts – still learning and growing when it comes to coffee.

So is Brian – but when he tastes coffee, he’s sort of like a music producer at a concert: he knows when he sees a potential rockstar.

“I’m very attuned to smells and tastes. Even traveling to the origin, the farms, I’m a product of those experiences and carry those with me,” he said. (Brian also is obsessed with photography, craft beer, and water quality when brewing his own coffee. I relate to this.)

When he’s picking single origin coffees to put that bold black bag with the gold logo, many factors come into play.

“It could be that we have a long history with a coffee farmer and we want to celebrate that relationship. It could be a very specific flavor that manifests in a cup: if I’m getting a fill-the-room blueberry experience when I’m grinding the coffee. Or maybe we want to talk about an origin that people don’t usually have an experience with. Sometimes it’s all of those things,” he said.

It’s just another way that Caribou sets itself apart: Brian obsesses over quality for every bean that goes into every blend, and then gets to celebrate that quality with unique roasts for Caribou’s premium single-origin coffee.

“Our food has bold flavors and spices and Caribou’s Ethiopian coffee compliments it perfectly. They know the farmers, they know the stories, they don’t take the people behind the coffee for granted,” said Kamal.

Photos courtesy of Jake George.