Florida is probably not the first place that comes to mind when thinking about specialty coffee; for years, the west coast has seemed to dominate the US industry. However, one coffee company in Jacksonville is aiming to change all of that. Bold Bean, a specialty café and roastery, started in a garage about ten years ago and since then, has gained a rapid following that has lead to the opening of two new shops. At the forefront of Jacksonville’s specialty coffee industry, Bold Bean strives to help others learn about coffee, whether it’s their customers or other industry professionals.
I sat down with manager, Erin Lee, and barista trainer, Paul Carr, to learn more about Bold Bean’s commitment to the industry and how they are changing Florida’s coffee scene.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What is Bold Bean and what’s your philosophy towards coffee?
Paul: Our mission statement is we want to source, roast, and brew outstanding coffee. We want to foster community, we want to be great people and have fun. With coffee, our philosophy is we want to get to know the farmer, know the process, develop a relationship, and highlight what they do as best as possible. And have fun doing it. That’s one thing I think is important, we love to have fun.
What is the coffee culture like in Jacksonville?
Erin: To be honest with you, I think the coffee culture now is in part because of [Bold Bean]. When we opened our first shop in 2011, there wasn’t really a presence of specialty coffee in Jacksonville, and since then we’ve opened two other shops. After we opened the first shop, there was kind of a resurgence of other shops that popped up. And there are few multi-roaster shops in town now, and there are a couple of other roasters too. And that’s all happened in the past five years.
So Bold Bean was kind of a pioneering force for coffee in Jacksonville?
E: I would say so, yes.
P: 100%. And even since then, one thing that’s in our mission and our heart is we want to grow the coffee culture and grow the community in Florida, in our city, and even just probably in the south in general. The culture is young, but it’s arriving. The past year, we’ve had a good six or seven throwdowns just within our city. I want to say the one we hosted had like 64 competitors?
E: Yeah, and there were hundreds of people there.
P: We’re in an area where I feel like where our heart is to grow this. What Erin was saying, from us starting as a company, there’s been people who have been able to come in and gain knowledge and do other shops or roasting.
E: And as the pioneers in Jacksonville, we want to position ourselves where we can educate people in specialty coffee and where we come from.
What’s been the most rewarding part working, not just at Bold Bean, but within the industry?
P: People. I’m a huge people person, and it just blows me away the type of people who drink coffee, the variety of people, the conversations you have, the relationships you are able to develop, and the networking that’s involved. It’s such a huge commodity, and my personal heart, is like, how can I use this commodity to create a positive impact on the people that I see every day? And people that create a positive impact on me. I love days when I’m behind the bar and people are walking in, and I’m like, “yo, what’s up haven’t seen you in forever, what did you do last night?”. So I love the science behind coffee, I love talking about extraction, roasting, process, I love everything. But for me, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s just the people, and the community, and the culture around it.
E: I think I would definitely piggyback on Paul’s answer with people. I think one of the reasons Paul and I bond so well is because we’re both people-people-people. Yeah, coffee is amazing, we all love it, but the driving force is being able to have these connections with people in the community and kind of fostering the culture.
P: I think, too, that even the café. We’re able to foster a space where that can even happen. The importance of having a space where people can gather and talk about these things. Whether it be about what you did or even politics. It’s like a watering hole where people come from all walks of life. I don’t care if you’re from the left, from the right, from up, from down, sideways wherever, it’s like you come into this space and hang out.
E: Yeah, and feel the warmth. And something from the beginning that we want to foster is this complete lack of pretentiousness that comes from the industry in a lot of places. Making people feel included. I think that that’s something that really sticks out to me. If I see someone who doesn’t know what they walked into and kind of feels uncomfortable, getting to pinpoint that person and create this connection, making everyone feel included and not on the outside. Using better terminology than what a lot of people like to use in the industry to make people feel like they don’t know what they’re doing.
P: A big part of how we train people is how to interact in that way. Yes, we’re teaching people how to make coffee, but more or less, we spend a lot of our training time on how to recognize who these people are and what their needs are and how can we best fit those needs. Don’t get me wrong, the coffee I love it, I love nerding out on every aspect. But the driving passion for me to continue in coffee is just people.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to at Expo?
P: I honestly love our coffee, so the opportunity to get to work with you guys and showcase what we do with coffee is really important and exciting. Just being around everyone. I remember the first time I went to Expo in 2015, it cracked me open like a can. I was just blown away with all these people that I watched on social media make coffee were here in this one room and were talking with me and wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing with coffee and getting to see all this equipment. It’s almost like I feel like I’m a battery and going to something like that fuels my coffee battery. Getting to see the technology and all the different beans and getting to taste the coffee. I tell any person that’s interested in coffee, “If you can go to Expo, please just go see that”. For me, what I’m really excited about is now not just getting to be there as a spectator but in some way participate. I’m pumped about that.
E: I’m intrigued to see what Slayer does this year. I really want to know what they’re trajectory is as a company seeing they just partnered with [Gruppo Cimbali].
P: I’m a competitor and there’s a latte art competition tonight that I’m going to, so the fact that Expo brings in all these competitions - I think that’s just spectacular to watch, and that excites me. Hopefully that’s something that we as a company will be venturing into. We participated in espresso competitions and stuff, but as a trainer here, it’s something I’ve been passionate about. So I’m trying to figure out how to bridge that gap.
What’s your favorite coffee that Bold Bean is roasting right now?
E: Ok so, I went to the farm [Finca La Palma y El Tucán] – last year they opened a hotel on their farm, and for about 9 months or so, they had different baristas from the states coming to work at the coffee bar at the hotel. They were like two-month stints, and I saw it last summer on Instagram, and I had to find out what that was about. So I applied or this program, it was kind of like a residency. As a barista, you would go for two months, stay on the farm, and run the coffee bar when clients were there. And you kind of get to learn about production, you get to pick coffee, and get a bigger macro-view of what production looks like. So I got to go do that in September and October. While I was there, I ended up picking coffee for a day and got to hang out with the other pickers, and the coffee that I picked just got delivered here. I think it’s a mixed process, and it’s a Sidra which is an Ecuadorian varietal that they planted on the farm in Colombia, and it’s actually the first farm that has planted that varietal in Colombia. Blended with their processing method, and they’re kind of like pioneers in processing…I’ve been waiting for this coffee for forever. It tastes like Jolly Ranchers, like straight up Jolly Ranchers, I’ve never tasted a coffee like this. It’s insane.
P: It’s really insane. And we’re about to celebrate our 10 year anniversary as a company, so we’re actually going to have this as our 10 year anniversary coffee. So we’ll do a really unique bag or tin of some sort.
E: They’re 100 gram tins, and we’re going to sell them for $24. We’re going to offer to make a pour-over for them. It’s steep, but we have less than 200 tins to give out. It’s so good. And the fact that we’re going to sell it for that price and then offer to make it for them, I think that justifies the price. It’s worth it. That’s the best coffee we have right now.
P: We’ll roast and sell a lot of La Palma coffee, and so with this coffee, we’ve got some other stuff from them that I was able to taste yesterday which is really exciting. Every time I have something from them it’s incredible. Zach, our green bean buyer and managing partner, I’ve heard him say it’s one of the most progressive farms in the world. So it’s cool to have a close relationship with them and get a lot of coffee from them. We love being able to showcase this stuff to our city. Also, we just were in Kenya – we directly source everything – we just picked out a whole bunch of Kenyan coffees which we’re cupping today. We’re leaving this Wednesday for Ethiopia we’ll be over there for a week and a half, so we’re out there trying to find the best stuff possible.
Who goes on these trips?
E: That’s Zach’s thing. He does all the sourcing. His palette is incredible, he can find some really good stuff. He was in Kenya, he’s about to leave for Ethiopia, and then he comes back from Ethiopia and two days later goes to Guatemala. I mean, it’s exhausting, it’s not glamorous. It’s not the best accommodations or a vacation, but the scenery is incredible, the people are incredible, and he gets to experience the culture and try all these coffees.
I imagine it’s very special to see firsthand where coffee comes from and the amount of labor that goes into it.
E: It’s insane. I think most people in the industry haven’t even laid eyes on a coffee tree in real life. When I went, I felt very privileged to just see it and see the coffee everywhere. It is literally everywhere. And being able to pick for a day was pretty incredible. These women wake up at 6, they walk to work on a mountain road. The worth ethic there in South America in general is incredibly strong. These women just wear these buckets around their waist, and they’re listening to music and picking these cherries trying to find the right color. It was really humbling to be a part of that for a day. These women are just badasses.
I feel like there’s a lot more representation of that side of the industry where there just hasn’t been before.
E: The gender role thing is kind of intriguing, because I think that their best pickers are women, because they have a better eye for finding that color. It was cool to see that.
Anything else you’d like to share about Bold Bean?
E: We’re just excited to be representing Florida on a national scale. We’re working on making Florida coffee more accessible for people who try it. And Florida people don’t think of specialty coffee, so we want to impress that there is good coffee here. We have nitro now, that’s pretty cool, we’ve been distributing that through our local beer distributor.
P: I think that what’s happening in Florida with coffee is amazing. You go down south, you hit Tampa, there’s so much happening down there. There’s Panther in Miami, which is kind of a bigger name. Obviously the west coast being progressive, there’s a lot of forefront and shadowing of what they do, but I see a lot of what’s happening here is just putting the south on the map when it comes to coffee. And Erin and I talk about how we can do more of that. Who are these people we can network with to showcase the state of Florida and the south and what we’re doing with coffee? This year and going forward, you’re going to see a lot of amazing stuff coming specifically out of this state, which is kind of cool. That’s exciting.
To read more about Erin’s residency at Finca La Palma y El Tucán, visit her blog lefthandlion.com.