All posts in Book Updates

Some loooooong overdue updates to Left Coast Roast

The thing about great coffee is that so much of it comes to us by way of excellent small businesses. But the thing about small businesses is that they change. All. The. Time. That’s part of the reasoning behind this blog — to keep up to date on the little changes here and there related to the roasters in the book. I’ve been sitting on a little pile of updates for too long. Here they are:

Ristretto Roasters closes it’s flagship location and moves to thriving SE Burnside location

New location: 555 NE Couch St., Portland, OR

Food Dude over at Portland Food and Drink reported back in March that the original, closet-like Ristretto in Portland’s sleepy Beaumont neighborhood is shuttering:

Now their lease on the original 42nd street location has come up, and they have decided not to renew as it’s just not big enough to fill their needs. Instead, they are relocating it to 555 NE Couch St. at 6th.

The new space which is being designed by Accelerated Development’s Keith Shrader who also designed the Nicolai store, will have more room for education, a much larger seating area, and they hope to eventually server beer and wine. The Couch store will showcase the first Steampunk brewing system in the Northwest.

The new location is scheduled to open in July. Stay tuned for a visit report 🙂

New Olympia Coffee Roasters location

New location: 2824 Capitol Blvd., Tacoma, WA

Right before I left for the Specialty Coffee Association of America show in Boston (waaaay back in early April), I stopped in Olympia to chat with Olympia Coffee Roasters co-owner and total sweetheart Oliver Stormshak. (Oliver and I presented a session at the SCAA together about the power of storytelling.) The roastery was abuzz with activity as the crew prepared to open their third Olympia location, which is set to become the company’s flagship location. It’s centrally located in the gorgeous 1938 Wildwood Building. The new cafe is STUNNING with hand-made tiles imported from Nicaragua, delicious art-deco-y interior arches, and maple accents. It’s modern and classic, and does perfect justice to the coffee. Over on Sprudge, you can find some photos that show off the space.

Heart Coffee Roasters announces new location in downtown Portland

New location: 543 SW 12th Ave., Portland OR [Not yet open]

Recently, Heart owner Wille Yli Luoma (say that three times fast) hosted me for an impromptu water tasting. Heart is installing a water filtration system that will allow them to finely tune the hardness of the water, which has a sizable impact on flavor (believe me — we tasted the same coffee with two different “recipes” of water and the flavor difference was shocking). In any case, Wille let slip that Heart was signing a lease later that day on a new downtown spot. This is perfect for Heart. Their east Burnside location in SE Portland has been great for them, but the new spot is tucked in among a number of design-savvy businesses that echo Heart’s minimalist, cosmopolitan vibe—home furnishings meccas Canoe and Alder and Co., cocktail lounge Kask, and Alpine-influenced restaurant Grüner (and, one of my favorite totally-out-of-reach boutiques, The English Department). It’s also just a hop, skip, and jump from another recent addition to the neighborhood, Blue Star Donuts. (Basil blueberry glaze anyone? Valhrona chocolate? Mmmm.) It’s perfect—and will make for some very enjoyable weekend mornings, sipping Americanos while I drool over brass kitchen fixtures at Canoe.

Water Avenue Coffee opening new location inside Enso Winery

New location: 1416 SE Stark St. Portland, OR

Water Avenue Coffee, located in Portland’s inner eastside industrial district, is partnering with Enso Urban Winery to offer a full coffee menu inside the winery’s tasting lounge. Enso has led the way in Portland’s burgeoning urban winery scene. The new cafe concept will include coffee-wine pairing options and collaborative tastings, exploring the intersection of wine and coffee palates. And though you don’t need any more reason than that to love the idea, there are also these awesome bags of sangria. The coffee cart will operate in the morning and early afternoon (current hours: 7 am to 1 pm), and wine tastings will start at the very respectable hour of 4 on weekdays, 2 on weekends.

Equator Coffee opens first retail location in Bay Area

New location: 254 Shoreline Hwy., Mill Valley, CA

Equator, which has been roasting in the Bay Area for over 15 years, is opening its first retail location between Mill Valley and Marin, just north of San Francisco. The coffee bar is inside the Proof Lab Surf Shop, a community-oriented surf-and-skate shop. Proof Lab has incubated a number of small businesses (including an art studio for toddlers, a landscaping design firm, and a ceramics studio).  Proof Labs and Equator both have longstanding sustainability missions. Mix that with Equator’s award-winning Geisha, the Marin sunshine, and the “vintage surf” decor and you have a perfect excuse for a daytrip north.

Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters closes pop-up shop in SF

New location: None!

This is too-bad-so-sad for lovers of Wrecking Ball Roasting, the babychild of coffee veterans Nick Cho and Trish Rothgreb (for the record: two of the most interesting, knowledgeable, hungry, social-media-happy people in the business). The team continues to churn out fine coffees for sale via the internet and some dedicated partners in the Bay Area (e.g., Marla Bakery). They are looking for a new permanent location for Wrecking Ball—

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…so keep your fingers crossed.

Roaster Roundup: De La Paz Acquired by Four Barrel

When I interviewed Jason Benford of De La Paz Coffee Roasters in San Francisco for Left Coast Roast, we talked among saw horses. At the time—way back in early 2011—the company was planning to open a new cafe modeled on a nieghborhood bar—lots of counter stools, no obvious place to stand in line, lots of wood. As the book went to the print, we ended up pulling out a few sentences that described the space. De La Paz was running way behind schedule and it hadn’t opened yet. (It’s never good form to write about something that hasn’t happened yet in a book, our most permanent of literary forms—well, after petroglyphs).

Fast forward to early 2013. De La Paz still hasn’t opened a cafe, though they have been roasting coffee out of the half-finished SOMA-neighborhood space for the last two years, and have a cart out front. I was puzzled as to why until I stumbled on this recent article from Eater SF. Turns out Benford was trying to juggle two businesses, coffee and woodworking, and it was just too difficult to do both. Instead of let De La Paz go belly-up, though, he approached the folks at Four Barrel about a friendly takeover. Here’s more:

Four Barrel owners Jeremy Tooker, Jodi Geren, and Tal Mor…are planning to build out a new cafe in the company’s Mission St. roastery. Geren spoke to us about the Four Barrel group’s plans for their newest acquisition: “We want [De La Paz] to be a side project that’s different from Four Barrel, and focused on a different kind of coffee. While Four Barrel is focused on single-origin coffees, De La Paz will be focused on blends…we’re really excited to do this other kind of coffee, that focuses on sweetness and body.” … The Four Barrel team’s next task is building out a cafe in the De La Paz roastery, a project Benford had already embarked upon with Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture, but had yet to complete.

So, another exciting project from Four Barrel, which is just on a roll these days.

Too Big For Its Former Britches, Stumptown Opens a New Roastery

Stumptown is officially a player. Hot on the heels of a major venture capital investment in 2011, the company has finally moved out of its scattershot, undersized digs and into a rehabbed, 37,000-square-foot space that will house its roastery and administrative offices (these were formerly spread over three buildings, two of them houses in a SE Portland neighborhood). With a new 90-kilo Probat, and a major investment in top-notch sustainable technology, Stumptown is off to the races. The new facility, whose construction reportedly contributed 200 jobs to a depressed local market, was feted by the major of Portland as well as U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer in a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday.

What started as a tiny microroastery in 1999 is hitting the (sorta) big time. With 2 million pounds of coffee a year and upwards of $35 million in revenue, Stumptown sits firmly among the ranks of other mid-sized regional roasters like Batdorf and Bronson and Caffe Vita.

The new space is gorgeous, full of refurbished old wood, with floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere, including looking into the roastery from the street.

Below are some pictures from a party celebrating the new space took place last night with Stumptown employees and friends.


International Interlude: Coffee Collective

On a recent trip to Denmark to visit family, I was fortunate to get to visit one of the contenders for best boutique roastery in the world: Coffee Collective.

Years ago, I met the Collective’s founder (Klaus Thomsen, then of Estate Coffee) in Portland. After winning the World Barista Champion title he was hosting a local competition at which I was judging. I’m not sure he could have been any nicer. Regardless, he went on to found and foster one of the most highly regarded coffee companies in the world.

What’s so great about Coffee Collective? For one, the fluffy stuff: The design geek part of me is instantly enamored of their look. The whole colorful geometry thing may have jumped the shark a bit (especially in Europe — jeez, it’s everywhere) but that doesn’t stop me from loving it.

But really, they take coffee to a higher level. From buying to roasting to serving, they pretty much nail everything—and they do it in their own way. CC follows a Nordic approach to coffee, which emphasizes filter coffee over espresso (but of course they offer both), and really plays up the fruitiness and nuance of great coffees. They roast light, but do so thoughtfully—you won’t find a grassy or sour flavor profile in their lineup. Kenyan coffees shine with them. (I brought three bags home.)

And I adore any high end coffee company that serves a shakerato (espresso with simple syrup, shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice). Something magical happens in the shaker that brightens the acidity to a crisp, refreshing peak. It’s proof that not all sugar is anathema to good coffee. It’s summery and fun.

In Portland, Heart Roasters has worked to bring the Nordic approach to the West Coast, and I’m thrilled to have been able to visit one of their muses.

I’ll say one critical thing, though—not about the Collective specifically, but about high end coffee more generally. There’s an aspect of it that does exactly what I think it’s proponents have tried to avoid: It repeats itself. Coffee Collective, while gorgeous, is not terribly different looking or feeling than other high end coffee bars in Europe and the U.S. (This isn’t necesarily because they have intentionally mimicked others—perhaps the reality is more the other way around.) In any case, it’s a place I feel instantly comfortable because it speaks the same visual language as other high end coffee bars. I know exactly where I am the minute I step inside one of these spaces. Don’t get me wrong — I love ’em. But there’s a sameness to them that I think goes unquestioned. And it goes deeper than just how things look: I was somewhat surprised to find on their small menu a coffee from the Finca Vista Hermosa farm in Guatemala. The farm is owned by Edwin Martinez, who spends the better part of each year in Bellingham, Washington. Partly as a result, his direct trade coffees are almost ubiquitous in high end cafes in the Northwest. It’s a bit of a shock to go all the way to Denmark and find the same coffees as I would in Portland. But the apex of the coffee market is a small place. Which also makes it a crowded one—and occasionally an echo chamber. This is especially tricky for roasters that focus on single origin coffees. Without a house blend to define them, these roasters become in some ways an extension of the farm brands they carry (and let’s not mince words, farms like Vista Hermosa have indeed become brands). That makes it doubly difficult to differentiate in substantive ways from other high end roasters that carry the same coffees. It’s something I’ve been mulling for a while—and running into a familiar coffee in Denmark just brought it all home.

Roaster Roundup: Bluebeard Coffee Roasters

Honestly, sometimes I’m flabbergasted by how many coffee roasters there are in the Northwest. I included 56 roasters in Left Coast Roast, but it could easily have been 112, or 168. Today, a newbie made it onto my radar via a blog post over at A Table in the Corner of the Cafe: Bluebeard Coffee Roasters. They’ve been up and running since spring 2011, after I had done all the research and most of the writing for the book. It sounds like a beacon of good-coffee light in the wilds of Tacoma:

With three different siphon pots, all-glass and wood-handled chemexes, an aeropress, porcelain V60s with your choice of regular paper filters or a Coava Able cone [ed.], a clever coffee dripper, french presses and press pots, and I’m pretty sure I saw a woodneck around here at one point in time.

The cafe was chosen as Best Cup of Coffee, Best Coffeehouse, and Best Place to Meet Someone by the readership of one of Tacoma’s  alt-weeklies, The Weekly Volcano—not too shabby for a year-old operation. I’ll be in Tacoma in October or November for a book event, and I’m looking forward to stopping by.

Roaster Roundup: Nossa Familia

I recently spent a morning visiting with Augusto Carvalho Dias and Rob Hoos, the owner and roaster (respectively) of Nossa Familia Coffee (“Our Family” in Portuguese). Nossa is a somewhat unusual company in that the coffee they roast comes directly from farms in Brazil owned by various members of Augusto’s family—they call it Family Traded.
Though they have been roasting for more than five years in Portland, the company has kept a mostly low profile, selling primarily to offices and restaurants. But recently, they’ve expanded to a new space in the Pearl District, upped the ante on roasting with a new, energy efficient Loring Smart Roaster (the only one in Portland), and are considering plans for a cafe.
In many ways Nossa Familia is a roasting company that is doing something qualitatively different than other roasters in Portland—with the family traded model, with the Loring, and otherwise. But without a showcase cafe, they’ve lacked the “street cred” of other roasting companies. (It’s a funny thing about coffee—it’s hard to be a well regarded coffee company without a cafe.) Their choices and business model differ from the norm—which is a good thing. (My mantra: Variety, especially in coffee, is almost never bad.) Because they operate a bit differently, people don’t always know what to make of Nossa. For example, the family trade model has both some significant upsides—deep, direct connections to the stories behind each coffee, open lines of communication for feedback and improvement, the ability to focus on one origin, among others. It also had a few possible downsides—sourcing from a small number of farms in a single country limits variety, and poses potential difficulties with keeping coffee fresh.
To that end, I posed a few questions to Augusto and the Nossa team. Here’s what they had to say:
How do you guys handle “seasonality”?

We handle seasonality by making sure that we are only purchasing the freshest available crop from our farms in Brazil at the time. My family knows the quality that we like and expect here at Nossa Familia Coffee. We cup the coffees before each shipment to approve the samples. The harvest cycle in Brazil is long starting in May and ending in September. After the harvest the coffees have to rest for at least 60 days, then they are sorted for screen size, density, and all defects removed. Once this is done they wait for shipment in a climate (humidity) controlled environment. My family is working with a university in Brazil to test the difference between burlap, grainpro and a new material. So this coming year all coffees that are further out from harvest will likely be in grain-pro or the new material they are developing.

Side note: Augusto led a side-by-side cupping of the same microlot of coffee, one stored in GrainPro, and one stored in burlap then transferred to GrainPro for shipping. The different in taste was remarkable. I actually quite liked both (they were only three months out from harvest, so still both quite fresh in the scheme of things), but it was amazing how toned up or down certain flavors were.

Coming from a single origin, does that present a problem?

I see it as an opportunity. All coffees change throughout the year, and instead of ignoring that we work with the coffee to adjust our roast profiles. The humidity controlled environment in Brazil is great, and we have never had any customer issues or drop in quality as the year progresses. Grainpro bags are also a huge help.

It is our goal to have the most optimum Brazilian green that we can get our hands on. It is important to us that acidity and organic volatiles are present at peak levels for us to achieve the best roasted results. With each container, we are purchasing more and more coffee in grainpro packaging to increase green quality in order to move more in this direction.

You hear a lot about strip picking in Brazil—often with a sneering tone. I don’t know coffee harvesting from Adam, but I wonder if you could provide any info on the harvesting practices at Nossa family farms.

This is a subject that we could talk about for 2 hours over coffee, or beer. I used to be a total detractor of strip-picking. It just sounds bad and “unromantic” compared to hand-picking.  That was until I visited Brazil during a recent November and saw a farm where a portion of coffee cherries had not been picked at all and were rotting on the plants. A combination of higher costs and a shortage in labor meant that good cherry went unpicked. I started learning more about the economics of coffee farming and the amount that most farms in Brazil have invested in post-harvest selection.  The mills at the farms do an amazing job of separating ripe, green, dried, and over-ripe cherries. The result is that a farm will have some excellent lots and some sub-par lots. That’s okay—there are roasters buying the sub-par lots. We happen to buy the excellent lots. The total percentage of excellent coffee in a farm is reduced compared with cherry picking, but the high end lots are just as high end and it allows the farm to stay in business.

What are the farms that Nossa imports for/buys from/roasts?
Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama – Owner, Gabriel Dias Carvahlo
Fazenda Recerio – Owner, Maria and Diogo de Carvalho dias
Fazenda Santa Alina – Owner, Joaquim and Lucia (Tuca) Dias
Fazenda Rainha  – Owner, Luis Fernando de Carvalho Dias (this farm was sold a few years ago and is now managed by one of my cousins and her husband, but it is no longer in the family)

Do you have a sense of how large or small your purchases are compared with total sales for this farm (are you a relatively small buyer, or a big one for them)?

A majority of our beans come from Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama. Cachoeira produces up to 5,000 bags annually of which, we purchase approximately 1,200. We also purchase organic farms through my cousin’s export company, they help us source organic beans from a few local certified farms.

Alas, Nectar Coffee Company is no more

In Left Coast Roast, I called Nectar Coffee Company “One to Watch.” Sadly, the only place to watch the wee company today is in the rearview mirror. The short-lived but much-loved operation was the effort of veteran roaster Todd Weiler, who roasted on a tiny Ambex YM-2. For nearly two years, he sold his whole bean single origin coffee along with steamy pour overs at local farmer’s markets in the Portland suburbs. Weiler made his way to Portland via roasting stints for both Flying Goat and Intelligentsia in California.

The Blue Bottle roasting works. Photo courtesy of @toddweiler1.

Now, he has headed back to California to take a pretty wonderful job as lead roaster at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland. You can keep track of his exploits on Twitter at @toddweiler1.