Archive for April, 2013

10 Questions with James Coffee Co.

David James Kennedy got started in coffee after spending time in Australia three years ago (in case you’ve been living in a cave, Australia has a kickass coffee scene). “When I got back home to Cali I was determined to figure out what made coffee so delicious to me down that way and discovered a handful of specialty coffee places that were serving wonderful coffee.” The musician and former motorcycle racer decided to start his own roasting company (it’s a family affair, owned by Kennedy and his father; his brother will join them soon).
James Coffee Co.

James Coffee Co.

For now, the only place to get the coffee is online. “The plan is to build the brand online and learn what it is to actually sell coffee. If things progress well, we’ll open a brick and mortar showroom/cafe in a year.”

Twitter: @jamescoffeeco
Instagram: worksbyjames

10 Questions

What inspires your roastery and your roasting? 

I’ve been a musician since I was 4. I got into building stuff with my dad when I was probably 10. I see roasting as very similar to building a piece of furniture or writing a song. It’s all about getting to create something with your hands. I love being part of something that gives me and the people around me such a social connection. I fell in love with coffee sitting around, hitting pause on the day, and interacting with the people around me. So to be a piece in that puzzle for other people is really attractive.

What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?

The U.S. Roaster Corp 3k at James Coffee Co.

The U.S. Roaster Corp 3k at James Coffee Co.

I’m roasting on a 3.5k S.S. Roasting Corp. roaster. I mostly love that it’s not a popcorn maker. It was made from scratch in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The guys that made it are good dudes.

How did you get started roasting?

I started on a popcorn maker. I read books, researched online, and have since been able to meet a few guys as well. It’s a lot of practice 🙂

Take us through highlights on the James menu. How are you finding the coffees you buy? What are you especially excited to feature?

I only have a few coffees and I’ve really catered it to my own tastes. I enjoy all of them a little differently. I’ve always been much more attracted to single origins because, good or bad, I like the adventure of trying a new coffee from a new place. But since I’ve also got a few blends I’ve found myself just simply enjoying a more ambiguous cup of coffee.

Celebrity death match: Single origins or blends?

Single origins.

Forging?! In addition to roasting coffee, you make metal objects with fire. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got started forging, what you’re making, and why it’s part of your identity as a coffee company?

One of the metalworks created by Kennedy.

One of the metalworks created by Kennedy.

I got into it from being around my dad. He didn’t work with metal but he was always showing my brother and I how to build stuff. As I got older, metal just clicked with me. Its part of the company because it’s part of me. Like the coffee, it’s an element of things I love.

Poway, California: A place few coffee watchers have probably heard of. What’s Poway like and what do you love about the coffee scene there?

I mostly grew up here in Poway. I was actually born in Wisconsin and besides that first year of my life I lived in Galesburg, Illinois for the next half dozen years.  On our way out west we lived in Wyoming then Utah before finally settling in California when I was 10. Poway is northeast of San Diego; I could probably say we’re in San Diego, but I like Poway better. There’s no coffee scene here, really.

You’re a guitarist with Angels and Airwaves. Wikipedia tells me you also race motorcycles. How do you find the time to be a coffee roaster and a daredevil?

I haven’t raced in a couple of years. I hope to get back to it, but for now I’m roasting coffee. So, yeah, there isn’t time for it all 🙂

David James Kennedy

David James Kennedy

What’s rock’n’roll about coffee?

Passion and a commitment to discovery is what created rock’n’roll. Those same elements push the community of coffee to better itself. So it’s an attitude, an outlook on life.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Honestly, roasting coffee and listening to music seems like the best combo ever, but I really just listen to the machine and the beans.

Trip Report: Coffee Nerds in Boston

By my fifth day in Boston, my feet ached so badly I found myself laying on the carpet in a quiet corner of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, hoping no one would recognize me.


Just down the street from the convention center — Boston, looking all Boston-y.

I was there for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual trade show, which brings over 10,000 coffee buyers, roasters, and farmers together alongside baristas, NGO representatives, financiers, and assorted entrepreneurs. They come mostly from across the U.S. and Latin America, but there were no shortage of Indians, Ugandans, and Ethiopians. There are lectures in English and Spanish and classes on tasting, roasting, and brewing; there is a massive “show floor” where businesses hawk coffee-related wares; there are hundreds of hushed side-room meetings in which importers try to match sellers with buyers and earnest aid workers angle for urgent solutions; there is the United States Barista Championship and its cheering crowds. There is more caffeine than you can imagine.

I was there to report on Symposium, two days of meetings that bring together the titans of industry—CEOs, directors of coffee, sustainability managers—to discuss the common challenges facing the business of “specialty” coffee. They are many: Climate change, an epidemic of coffee leaf rust in Central America, decreasing land area for coffee cultivation nearly everywhere, food insecurity for farmers, a profound lack of genetic diversity and biodiversity on coffee farms. (Read my exhaustive summary of presentations on leaf rust and genetics.) It was an orgy of information; I could barely sort out whose limbs were whose by the end of it. For me, an outsider to the everyday work of coffee, it was a consuming immersion. Judging by the coffee-break chatter, the pros are a harder bunch to please—everyone seemed to have a different opinion on which sessions were gems and which were useless. But there wasn’t a single session I didn’t find interesting; I gathered ideas for dozens of stories I’ll never have time to write. Then again, I’m a smokejumper, parachuting into a world that is by nature flaming and exotic to me.

A birds-eye-view of the United States Barista Competition.

A birds-eye-view of the United States Barista Competition.

I was also in Boston to give a presentation at the conference about the power of stories. Coffee, uniquely among commodities (think of oil, wheat), is grown on small farms by many hands. There are massive plantations, yes, but more than 70% of the coffee grown in the world is grown by smallholders. In the last decade, significant changes have taken place in the technology used by coffee traders to trace where the coffee has come from and where it is going. Because of this, it’s possible much of the time to know not only that coffee was grown in Guatemala, but that it was grown by Arturo Aguirre on his farm Finca El Injerto in Guatemala. The vast physical distance between my kitchen and the farm where my coffee was grown begins to shrink when I know the name of the person who grew it. It shrinks further when I know that person’s story.

Rarely, though, are the Arturos of the world telling their own stories. (Finca El Injerto is one of the very few coffee farms in the world that has built brand regonition in the U.S., in part because of their forays into the world of storytelling, including via Twitter and Instagram.) When you see a coffee farmer’s face—on a bag of coffee, on a website, or elsewhere—it’s generally because a roaster or a marketer put it there. That’s not in an of itself problematic, but it can be. Coffee has a rich history of colonization and exploitation. When coffee farmers’ stories are used to sell coffee to enrich others, it extends that history of exploitation in subtle ways. In our session, we talked about strategies that farmers, roasters, and importers or others can use to share the stories of coffee while being thoughtful and ethical about it. I was lucky to be joined on stage by Oliver Stormshak of Olympia Coffee Roasters (describing how he has produced a collection of incredible videos that tell the story of the company and the farms they buy from), and Cate Baril of Sustainable Harvest (sharing how SH brings farmers and roasters together for good, old fashioned, face-t0-face story sharing through their annual Let’s Talk Coffee event).