Back in 2011, the Youngs had been dating for about six months when they decided to take an extended trip to the other side of the world. About a month after flying into Bangkok, the couple had arrived for a weeklong stay in a private hut off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. They were just getting under the mosquito net to go to bed when they heard a sound that might have derailed it all.
“It was loud, louder than anything,” Sheri remembers. “And I’d never heard any sound like it before.”
The couple immediately got out a flashlight and searched for the source of the alarming noise, but they couldn’t find it. Uneasily, they eventually started to drift back to sleep when it rang out again, a pattern that would keep them up for most of the night.
“It’s like somebody yelling through a fog horn,” she says, laughing now that she’s years removed from the situation. “Imagine hearing that and not knowing what or where it is, but just knowing that it’s super close while you try to sleep.”
It turns out that a giant gecko—yes, that’s a real thing—had deemed their headboard the best place to call out for a mate in the night. This is, mind you, the same animal that US soldiers in the Vietnam War nicknamed the “fuck-you lizard.” It was an unsettling moment that Sheri says could have ruined the rest of their trip had they not already been sufficiently broken in. Thankfully, by that point, they had been through Northern Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam and had fallen in love with both the area and its traditional sweet iced coffee. A footlong lizard wasn’t going to scare them away.
Six years after the gecko scare, Sheri welcomes me into the production headquarters of Switters Iced Coffee, the bare-bones microbrewery she and Kyle founded to bring the delicious coffee they experienced in Asia back to Nashville. It’s barely 7 a.m. when she opens the door, but like one might expect of a woman who makes coffee for a living, she’s delightfully peppy.
“We’re starting to outgrow it a bit,” she says of the location, her high, clear voice carrying throughout the sizable space. Sheri is originally from Brandon, Mississippi, but her eight years in New York City after college have all but erased any trace of a Southern accent. Her Southern charm, however, is still very much intact. As she gives me the tour, she points to different devices and walks me through their brewing process—well, most of their brewing process. Against one wall, a black sheet or tarp hides some sort of contraption from view. It’s part of their cooling technique, but I’m not allowed to see it.
“We’re the only ones doing this,” she says of their brewing method. “So since we are some of the little guys, we like to keep a little bit of mystery.”
It’s hard to blame them. From the longtime heavyweights like Bongo to the new shops that seem to have opened on every corner over the last decade, their small coffee business is smack-dab in the middle of one of the best coffee cities in the country (Travel + Leisure ranked us #13). Finding success in an already saturated environment with just three people on full-time payroll might seem like a daunting task, but over the last few years, they’ve steadily built a name for themselves by doing things just a little differently.
For starters, Switters coffee only comes cold. Partial to the iced drink for its refreshing taste and ability to be enjoyed for longer amounts of time (i.e. you don’t have to rush to finish it while it’s hot), Sheri swears she can’t remember the last time she had a hot cup of coffee. The Youngs drink it iced year-round.
"WE WANT PEOPLE TO HAVE SOMETHING THEY CAN SIT AND RELAX WITH AND ENJOY."
“With iced coffee, you feel like you can take your time and enjoy it longer,” she says as she picks up her own cup of Switters Single Origin Coffee. “We put a lot of effort and time and energy into it, and we want people to have something they can sit and relax with and enjoy.”
Another way Switters stands apart from some of the other coffee around town is that it’s brewed using the traditional Japanese method. Unlike cold brew, which is made by steeping coffee grounds in cool water for twelve hours or more, Switters flash-chills their coffee by brewing it hot and then immediately cooling it over ice. According to Sheri and Kyle (and a lot of other Japanese-method brewers out there), heat is necessary to extract the most flavor from the beans, and the flash-chill helps lock in those defining tastes. A quick Internet search reveals there’s scientific evidence to support their claim that involves words like volatility, solubility, and oxidation, but I’ll leave that up to the more chemistry-minded readers to explore on their own.
“There is some great cold brew out there,” Sheri explains. “Cold brew tastes a little more flat, and to me, iced flash-chilled has more of a punch to it,” she says, snapping her fingers.
Sheri met Kyle, who is a Nashville native, about seven years ago when they were both living and working in New York City. One of her friends wanted to set her up with a guy on her flag football team, but she wasn’t so sure, so they did what any logical millennials would do: they had a group hang. In a twist of fate, however, Sheri never met her intended date. Once with the group she started talking to Kyle, and six months later, the two were making a plan to quit their jobs and head out for Southeast Asia.
“Because that’s how normal relationships work, right?” she jokes.
It was on the trip that the two were first introduced to a version of the traditional Vietnamese iced coffee they now bottle and sell in restaurants and venues around town. Starting in Bangkok, they worked their way north, enjoying slightly different takes on the area’s sweet iced coffee at each stop along the way. But it wasn’t until a few weeks into the trip, when they were in Laos, that they first began getting the idea to bring it back with them.
“We thought, We live in New York, and there’s coffee everywhere. Why is this better?” she remembers. “When we got back, it was sort of this thing that just didn’t go away.”
Originally just a hobby, the couple started experimenting with different recipes in their apartment. Using first a popcorn popper and then a more professional Behmor drum roaster, they began roasting their own beans and trying out pretty much all the different ways of making iced coffee: cold brew, the Japanese method, drip tower, AeroPress, Chemex, etc. Every weekend, they’d invite friends from their building to try what they’d made, eventually landing on a recipe that used the Japanese method and was lightly sweetened with condensed milk. About that same time, they were talking about the possibility of moving back south to be closer to family. With their recipe finalized, they decided to give it a go. The Youngs arrived in Nashville in August 2013, and by April of the next year they ran their first production round of Switters Iced Coffee.
“People ask me a lot if I’m Mrs. Switter,” Sheri says when I ask how they got the name. It turns out, that was inspired by the Asian trip as well. While on the road, they met a bunch of fellow travelers, one of the most interesting and memorable of whom went by the nickname Switter. When it came time to select a title for their company, Kyle threw it out as a possibility. Finding it both catchy and laced with a little Southern charm, they decided to go for it.
“Everything sort of circles back to that Southeast Asia trip,” Sheri says.
She’s not kidding. Along with the business, which she refers to as their “first baby,” the couple also has a sixteen-month-old daughter named Mardi. She was named after a mountain in Nepal called Mardi Himal that her parents climbed toward the end of their trip. Sheri says most people’s first thought is Mardi Gras.
“She was born on Tuesday, so it kind of fits too,” Sheri jokes.
And it’s not just the Young family that’s been expanding. Along with their Sweet Coffee (the pair’s perfected take on the traditional brews they had in Asia), Switters has grown to include a spectrum of tasty java offerings. From the bottled Black Coffee and Honey Coffee to the Single Origin light roasts to even rarer summer specialties—like the polarizing Iced Coffee Lemonade—Sheri and Kyle haven’t stopped experimenting with new ways to give people better iced coffee.
One of their most promising recent additions is their Nitro Coffee, a foamier, creamier take on their Black Coffee. The carbonated specialty brew is served on tap at an increasing number of restaurants and venues around town, including Musicians Corner, Nashville Farmers’ Market, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. According to Sheri, the growth they’ve seen in all of their drinks, specifically the Nitro Coffee, can be attributed in part to the local and national community’s growing knowledge of and appreciation for coffee. It’s a trend she hopes will continue as the culture becomes more educated about the food and drink they’re putting in their bodies.
“People are realizing that coffee doesn’t have to be bad,” she says. “It’s a lot like grapes and wine. It’s super complex . . . and the more you know about it, the more you’re in awe.”
If Nashville’s current coffee scene is any indication, consumers agree. With the city’s coffee shop per capita at an all-time high, Sheri admits that it can feel pretty competitive at times. But she and Kyle welcome a little healthy competition—it’s what keeps their small team driven to offer the best and most vibrant iced coffee they can brew.
“From our end, we think if someone is making great iced coffee, that’s wonderful because the more that’s out there, the better for all of us,” she says. “At the end of the day, there’s plenty of room for everybody to drink good iced coffee, as long as we get it out there.”