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Downtown slow-down

Sapulpa’s CTX Coffee serves small-town vibes

CTX Coffee is located in downtown Sapulpa.

Greg Bollinger

A lot of us who grew up in a small Oklahoma town like Sapulpa laugh when somebody calls Tulsa “small,” but you hear it all the time. Tulsa is not a megacity like New York, London or Moscow, but, to many of us growing up, it might as well have been. Tulsa is to Sapulpa what Tokyo is to Tulsa, and we’ve just had to concede that there are people in this world who come from a place so bustling that they may never know a deeper sort of peace and quiet.

Coffee shops are a natural broker between these two worlds. Coffee is a sophisticated and precise culinary art when done thoughtfully—one that invites people to gather, converse and collaborate. A coffee shop can turn inertia on its ear and fuel curiosity and innovation.

When Jacob Birdwell opened CTX Coffee in downtown Sapulpa, he had a vision: “We tried to bring craft coffee to a place where you wouldn’t normally see it.” Birdwell chose Sapulpa specifically, because it reminded him of Coleman, Texas, the two-stoplight West Texas town where he grew up. In fact, the name CTX is an acronym that pays homage to his hometown.

“Growing up in a small community, there was never a place to hang out. It was either outside, or at a friend’s house,” Birdwell said.

“We went to Walmart to hang out when I was in high school,” said Tulsa resident Veronica Sloan, who moved from Sapulpa shortly after graduation. CTX reminds her of the art, music and culture she felt was so lacking in Sapulpa when she was a teenager. “If this would have been here, this is where I would have been hanging out.”

Sapulpa resident Ashley Coley remembers the first time she stepped inside CTX, back in March 2017. “Oh, it was magical,” she said.

Coley has been a champion for CTX ever since it opened, in particular their cold brew. “It’s poppin’,” Coley said. “It’s like the perfect temperature when it comes out. He doesn’t even have to add ice to it. It’s really creamy and smooth.”

The cold brew, by Birdwell’s own admission, is one of the ways CTX Coffee stands out from the pack of coffeeshops in the greater Tulsa area. His “pride and joy,” he described the way it’s made as a “non-typical, kind of secret recipe,” processed with “down to the gram” precision. From there, he force-carbonates it with nitrogen, to make it silkier and smoother. The resulting flavor is devoid of any bitterness, surprisingly smooth, like drinking Italian marble.

Birdwell says CTX aims to do a small number of things well. His drip coffee, for instance, is produced with more thought and tuning than a typical drip pour. He said the key is letting the grounds “bloom,” which releases carbon dioxide trapped in the beans during the roasting process. Next, he controls the brewing over a very specific period of time. The result creates a flavor-optimized sort of drip coffee that contains qualities often only found in a pour-over.

Birdwell moved to Sapulpa from downtown Tulsa over a year ago and isn’t looking back. He said he’s convinced at least four friends to follow his lead.

“They love it here!” Birdwell said. Sapulpa has encouraged Birdwell to slow down in his own life. It’s where he’s formed dozens of new, genuine friendships. “Sapulpa is slowly becoming my home,” he said.

He even recommends Tulsans looking for a weekend getaway to come to Sapulpa for a change. “We try to encourage them to come hang out, come walk downtown.”

Indeed, downtown Sapulpa is an ideal setting for a relaxing Saturday walk, and CTX makes the perfect base camp for just such an adventure. The area contains a wealth of interesting sights begging to be seen and photographed: old buildings, brick-paved alleyways, gazebos, wall murals, architectural curiosities that time has overlooked—and unlike in downtown Tulsa, it’s not over-Instagrammed.

“Sapulpa is slept on,” Sloan said. It’s shame, considering the mysterious, old-timey artfulness of its downtown buildings, alleyways and seemingly endless supply of hidden visual Easter eggs.

“I try hardcore to get people to come to CTX from Tulsa. I mean, it’s definitely worth it,” Coley said. “I drive to Tulsa for things. Why can’t people drive to Sapulpa for wonderful coffee and great conversation?”

Birdwell noticed the same artfulness, and designed the interior of his shop to compliment it. The “mid-century modern western house” vibe, as he describes it, draws inspiration from small towns such as Coleman and Sapulpa, but also features modern touches like minimalist furniture and modern art. The art he hangs is made locally, and Birdwell does not take a cut of the sales. Birdwell hopes to become a hub for local music as well.

“We wanted to create a community,” Birdwell said. “It’s cool to sit behind the bar and watch new friendships emerge, and old friendships rekindle.”

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