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Community and Coffee at The Kookaburra: an interview with Spencer Hooker

Posted by The San Franciscan Roaster Co.

Tue, Apr, 17, 2018 @ 00:04 AM

The Kookaburra, located in St. Augustine, Florida, is made up of three locations and a roastery.  Through their success and growth, the company has maintained the local-centric focus that has helped make them popular with both Floridians and tourists.  Inspired by his dual American-Australian upbringing, co-owner Spencer Hooker and his partner, Megan Vidal, opened Kookaburra back in 2012.  Combining an American-style café with Aussie influences has helped the company develop the precision and attention to detail rampant in Australian coffeehouses.  I talked to Spencer to learn more about Kookaburra’s growth, green-buying policies, and their commitment to St. Augustine’s community.

Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

You describe yourself as an Aussie-American café.  Where did those Australian influences come from?

I’m actually a dual citizen.  My mother is Australian, my father is American, so I grew up going back and forth.  My business partner and significant other is American, born and raised in Colorado.  We decided to tie in a bit of my Aussie influences using some family recipes for our Aussie pies and other baked goods in addition to the attention to detail that is found with the Australian coffee scene.  Doing a cool coffee company was the genesis of the idea, and we’ve evolved it from there.

What made you want to bring an Aussie-style café to Florida?

We were living in Atlanta, Georgia, and I wanted to be on the coast, that’s where I spent all my time growing up.  I had done my undergraduate and graduate in Colorado, that’s where Megan and I met.  We were working our way to the coast and we had a few different places we were considering.  One was going back to where my family is in Australia, and we were thinking of some coastal towns in different states.  I have an aunt and uncle in St. Augustine, so we came down to visit and just loved the area.  We were totally unfamiliar with the northeast coast of Florida, so we were not only really impressed with the environment, but with the people.  We saw a gap in the market for specialty coffee.  We quickly realized this would be a great place to try out our concept and see if it worked.  We haven’t looked back from there.

It seems like your shop is very community-oriented.  Did that come about naturally?

We are 100% community-focused.  That was our intent out of the gate.  St. Augustine has a very strong tourist-based economy.  In 2012, we were on the upswing from the recession, and we saw that there was a lot of domestic tourism coming back into this area.  But really, we saw that there was a strong and vibrant local community that we wanted to be a part of.  We thought immediately that that would be our focus.  We found a great location right in the heart of historic downtown St. Augustine, and we wanted to focus on becoming a part of this local community.  The tourist traffic would just simply be a seasonal influx of business.  We wanted to establish ourselves as a community-centered specialty coffee shop, and that has been our approach ever since.  We have four locations now, we’re very much involved in the St. Augustine community through donations and community events.  It’s a fundamental part of who we are. 

I grew up in Vegas, and living in a very tourist-centric community, it’s great when you find locally-focused businesses.  You can kind of feel left out of your own city when you live in that type of environment.

My hometown in Alaska, Ketchikan, is very much the same.  A lot of people tend to see the tourist-traffic and think “that’s what this place is about”.  But when you get beyond that and see there’s people that live and work in these areas, oftentimes because they’re catering to people from out of town, it almost makes the community stronger.  People who are there year-round come together a little more.  Locals here are proud of the fact that they live here.  It’s very gratifying to be a part of that. 

Why did you decide to start roasting your own coffee?

When we decided to open a shop, we started to look around for a like-minded roaster.  Unfortunately, we didn’t find one in St. Augustine.  The city was in a weird transitionary period, and the local roasters who were here were going out of business or changing hands.  It was a strange time for the local coffee scene, so we found Bold Bean in Jacksonville.  We were immediately impressed with their product, we went out and met up with Zach and Jared.  We knew right away that these guys had the same mindset that we had.  They were doing what we wanted to do.  We bought exclusively from them right out of the gate, and we didn’t start roasting until three and a half to four years in.  It was fantastic.  We watched Bold Bean grow, and we got to kind of be a part of their growth, and they continued to get better with their coffee.  It was a great thing for us.  I told Zach at one point, “we basically have grown our business on your shoulders in a way”.  It was pretty neat.  With roasting, the whole reason we ended up going with San Franciscan is because Zach recommended [The San Franciscan Roaster Co.] when I started shopping around for a roaster.  He was like, “It’s the best roaster we have used”.

Was roasting for yourself always the long-term plan?

It was something we considered initially, but we realized our focus was going to be the retail aspect.  We wanted to make sure our customer experience was dialed in.  We were doing everything on that end to the best of our abilities first, and then we would start to look at our supply chain and slowly try to take control of that, so we can put out the exact products that we want to put out.  It was the intent from day one, but we didn’t want to rush it.  Coming out of the gate, using an awesome roaster like Bold Bean, we knew that until we got to a point where we were fully comfortable serving their products as they should be served, we had to meet the bar with our own products.  For us to roast was kind of a big step, and it was more daunting than I thought it would be, because Bold Bean set the bar so high.  We took our time with that; we purchased the roaster, buckled down, and went through a lot of green coffee before we got to the point where we were comfortable with what we were putting out. 

Was that mostly through trial-and-error, or did somebody have an influence over your roasting?

Bold Bean was our mentor in a lot of ways.  I had talked to Zach at-length about their approach to roasting.  I also spent a lot of time studying the science, just kind of getting into the nuts and bolts of everything from equipment to coffee chemistry.  We gleaned as much information from the roasters that we thought were doing it right, and then that trial-and-error process seemed to go pretty well for us.  It went quickly, because we were able to get so much great information from the roasters that we admired and respected. 

How do you go about choosing green coffee and roasting it?

We try to make connections at origin in areas that we would like to purchase our beans from.  Our first connection was in Guatemala.  It was facilitated by Bold Bean, so we did an origin trip with Zach and his roaster at the time.  We traveled through the Huehuetenago region and made some great contacts down there.  We have some other great contacts that were facilitated by Bold Bean and just furthered the relationship.  Now we try to establish strong relationships with people at origin, either farmers or people representing the farm.  We visit the co-ops, sample the products, and make sure they’re in line with our coffee-buying strategy.  We are trying to get some time at the farms as well once we’ve decided that we’re going to use a bean on a consistent basis in our rotation.  We start to plan origin trips, try to send our employees, and build a deeper relationship with the coffee suppliers.

What’s your favorite coffee that you’re roasting right now?

I have a beautiful Guatemala from Acatenango.  The co-op is La Asuncion.  It has this beautiful, silky mouthfeel and a nice, floral body.  We also have an Ethiopian Sidamo that we got from Olam, and it’s a limited release.  Whenever we have a coffee that is limited release, that’s what I gravitate to and get a little fixated on. 

Anything else?

The coffee scene in Florida is definitely growing, and it’s been cool to see specialty shops popping up all over the state.  It was cool to get lucky with the timing and come in to the market at an early point.  The Florida scene is definitely one to keep an eye on.  It’s not just cold beverages, people are really developing an appreciation for proper coffee beverages.

The Kookaburra Coffee will be pulling shots at our Expo booth on Friday, April 20 from 11-12.  To learn more about The Kookaburra Coffee, visit their website, Facebook, or Instagram.

All images courtesy of The Kookaburra.

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Topics: roaster profile, SF25, coffee roaster, commercial coffee roaster

MoAV is changing Billing's Perception of Coffee

Posted by The San Franciscan Roaster Co.

Mon, Apr, 16, 2018 @ 00:04 AM

Named the most beautiful café in Montana, MoAV Coffee resides on an old corner in downtown Billings.  The space, originally a hotel built in the 30s, had been neglected for years.  After getting laid off from his job, co-founder Jeff Hosa knew it was the perfect opportunity to open the shop and help change downtown Billings.  Once co-owner, Paul Aspen, stepped in, the two were able to create a coffee culture that helped propel MoAV into the successful café that it is today.  They now own two coffeehouses with a third shop, a combination of a café, roastery, and kombucha brewery, in the works.  I talked to co-owners, Jeff Hosa and Paul Aspen, to learn more about how MoAV is changing Billings and the city's approach of coffee.

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I saw an article where your company is listed as one of the most beautiful cafés – where did the name and design come from?

Paul: The name originates from Montana Avenue, and that’s the street that our café sits on. 

Jeff:  Initially, the design of the café was a full remodel out of an old space.  We’re in a 1930s building downtown that used to be the Carlin Hotel.  Being in Montana, everyone goes with this old, country-chic styling, and we both used to live in cities so we were trying to bring a modern style to the café. 

P: We’re in a city where a lot of people still do ranching and hunting, it’s a very prominent thing here, so we’re trying to do something a little different.  Throughout the summer, probably about 40% of business is people who are traveling, and they’ll say it reminds them of a café from Seattle, Portland, Nashville, or something.  It’s very forward for what’s going on in Billings right now, so that’s fun.

Why did you decide on Billings, MT?

J: The coffee scene in Billings wasn’t on par with what it should have been.  The ultimate goal was to really step up the coffee scene in terms of specialty coffee and bring it more conscious-forward to the community and to our customers.  The biggest thing, other than trying to have the best cup of coffee, is we truly believe in empathy with how we treat each one of our guests.  We find that interacting with the customer, showing empathy, and having this true engagement is the most important part of our café.  That’s what keeps them coming back other than the coffee.  Another reason of choosing downtown Billings is that this was known to be a really bad corner and was never known to be good for the community, so by turning this building into a café actually turned this corner into a spot for the community and for downtown. 

What is your philosophy when it comes to coffee?

P: There’s a lot of cafés that still serve Italian sodas here.  That’s kind of the climate that we’re up against.  We’re not too far from that, but at the same time we are.  We have four flavors: we make vanilla, caramel, and chocolate now, and the white chocolate is Ghirardelli.  We want to be unique and have a different approach to coffee.  There’s not a lot of learning out here in terms of roasting, so it’s kind of learning a lot of stuff from the internet.  It’s a lot of trial and error.  We’re developing our own style and our own flair.

J: It was super important for us to start roasting for ourselves.  Prior to that, we used Huckleberry Coffee Roasters from Denver, Onyx Coffee, we dabbled with a little bit of Cat & Cloud.  The biggest thing was bringing that philosophy behind coffee and letting people experience coffee in its true form.  We want to make sure in our engagement with our customers, we’re educating them.  We always have one single-origin coffee on drip, and that usually doesn’t change, because we want that consistency.  Our blend, the Dapper Lion, stays very consistent.  It’s got a juicy Tanzanian in it, because we want someone to have that experience with espresso, but we also know our clientele and know that when it’s blended with a flavored drink, it’s going to stay consistent and have more of those chocolate and nutty notes.  If you throw a single-origin Ethiopia natural process into a 16-ounce latte with chocolate in it, it’s probably not going to meld very well.  Understanding our clientele and catering to them while having experiences such as pour-overs is opening new doors for our guests to experience new things and broaden their horizons. 

Can you tell me a little about your sustainability practices?

P: It’s hard in Billings, because recycling isn’t mandatory, and there’s not a lot of recycling options here.  One of the big things we do is exchange our stir sticks for pasta so you can stir your coffee with pasta instead of plastic.  Just some fun nuances that you wouldn’t typically think of.  But it’s hard to be sustainably conscious in a city that doesn’t care.  It costs more to be sustainable here.  We also get our milk from Costco every Monday and Friday, so we always know how much we have.  There’s no question if we’re going to run out of it, there’s no waste on something that has been checked-over, we check everything that comes through here.  I can’t remember the last time we threw away a gallon of milk.  As far as sustainability with people, we work it into our business to where we want our employees to be thinking about other peoples’ needs.  If somebody comes in and they graduated or got engaged or whatever, we let the shop buy them a drink and celebrate with them.  We keep that joy going through the rest of their day.

How did you get started in coffee?

P: I got started probably ten years ago at City Brew, and it has a million flavors and it’s kind of like a small Starbuck’s here.  I jumped around from City Brew to Starbuck’s to Caribou, I lived all across the country.  I was working at another company here in Billings and gave that job to a friend, worked at The Annex, and then Jeff asked me to be a part of MoAV. 

J: My coffee background is very small.  My first experience with a great cup of coffee, I remember, it was a French press cup of coffee up in the mountains.  My brother-in-law fresh-ground it right in front of me, and we had this awesome cup of black coffee.  I got to experience having a good cup of coffee properly brewed and just enjoying it for what it is and not adding any flavors.  That’s what initially piqued my interested.  Prior to that, I was actually an engineer in the oil field, but my brother-in-law was very passionate about coffee and worked [in the industry], and we always had this vision of opening a shop down the road.  The oil field had a slump, I got laid off, and I got this opportunity [to open MoAV].  Prior to that, I did a lot of pour-overs at my house, talked to baristas around town, learned from my brother-in-law.  He was actually in El Salvador for a bit working on a farm down there.  Ever since then, it’s all been self-taught and on YouTube looking up to people who are really running the standard right now like Chris Baca and Jared Truby.  That’s where I kept growing my love for coffee.  For roasting, we just threw some beans into the roaster, and it was just like “go for it”.  With the huge amount of connections and resources we have, having a lot of help from coffee shops that are already doing it, opening their doors and knowing we’re not competition, we’re a community.  My coffee career has only been about 2 ½ years.

P: That’s where Jeff and I make good business partners, because I have had a whole bunch of bad experiences, and I’ve seen the whole spectrum of where coffee is, so I can bring that knowledge into moving forward with other stores and staffing.  I have a feel for that where Jeff has a different perspective than me.

J: I traveled a lot, so getting to go to bigger cafés and cities, understanding their culture and then coming back to Billings and realizing I’m not getting that consistency was where I learned to integrate at MoAV.

Is there anything that has been particularly rewarding opening a shop?

J: There’s your downs and ups opening a business.  Getting to bring Paul on, I feel like that’s when we actually opened MoAV.  When it was me and Paul, I felt like we had a cohesive vision.  We knew how we wanted to treat people, and from there, it’s been more positives than negatives.  You’re going to have your stressful points in running a business.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.  It’s getting to see wonderful people every day, getting to grow new friendships, seeing your team members grow not only in coffee but in life.  I would never have imagined seeing all our team members on their days off wanting to come chill at our coffeeshop.  If someone gets slammed, they’ll without question just jump on bar and know that they’re ingrained into this culture.  It’s this amazing shed of light that I never thought I would ever have.  Interacting with our guests every day is super rewarding and enjoyable.  It’s surpassed any job that I have ever had.  Getting to be a barista or roast coffee for somebody, that just hit me a month ago.  Like, people are drinking the beans that I roasted.  That’s huge. 

P: One of the most rewarding things for me is seeing one of our team members who was really struggling when he first came on.  He was drinking every day and not taking care of himself very well.  There was a lot of hardship in his life, so we have just been committed to seeing his life change and walking through that with him.  There was one night when he was closing, and we have a music venue right next to us, and he went out and got plowed and didn’t finish his shift.  And we were like, “Look man, we’re going to show you grace, we’re going to love you and walk through this with you, but if you do it again, you’ll be fired”.  And since then, he’s totally turned his life around.  We’ve invested in who he is and what he’s passionate about, trying to get him into that stream.  And now, he’s just a phenomenal employee and a friend.  He’s impacting peoples’ lives through us tough-lovin’ him.  We say all the time that coffee is important, but peoples’ hearts are way more important.

I see that you opened a second location.

P: Yeah, there’s a church here in town called Faith Chapel, and their café struggled for the last ten years.  They lost a ton of money last year, and pretty much all the staff go to church there.  They were like, “Either you guys say yes, or we shut the entire thing down”.  We started seeing cool connections being made in our café downtown, so we wanted to know what we could do to help people in this environment.  We spent a lot of money making the space much more intentional.  On Good Friday, this guy was standing in line and had a new mug, we were pouring a latte for him.  And he was like, “Yeah, I had to buy a new mug, because I just lost everything in a burglary”, and I knew I had to figure out something to do for them.  I gave them two $50 gift cards, and the guy just started weeping – he hadn’t experienced that grace.  It was one of those moments where I realized it was totally worth the money and time we put into it.  

Favorite coffee that you’re roasting right now?

J: We have this Kenyan Konyu that we just started roasting, and it’s our first Kenya.  I’m stoked about it.  It’s just a gorgeous coffee, it’s super vibrant and juicy.  It’s one of those coffees that you serve to someone who’s used to having Folger’s or a dark cup of Starbuck’s.  You give this to them, and they’re experiencing flavors out of a coffee they never thought they’d taste.  It gives us that option to really excite our guests.  Another great process that I’ve loved doing is our espresso blend.  It’s so fun to roast with and mess with, because it started off with a mild Ethiopian Limu that has more chocolate than fruit notes, and then a simple Colombian.  It was popular and good in milk but understanding that I can put in a Tanzanian or Costa Rican honey process to liven it up just a little more, I find that’s one of the greatest parts of roasting.  You’re engineering these coffees to have these taste profiles accentuated in the coffee.  While I love single-origin coffees, blending different flavors to make something well-balanced and amazing no matter if it’s covered in milk and flavors or just an espresso.  Those are some of the most exciting parts of roasting coffee.

P: I’m mostly excited about our decaf right now, honestly.  It’s a naturally processed Mexican, and it’s just been really fun to serve people delicious decaf.  There’s so much negativity behind decaf, but we’ll pull them a shot, and it just blows peoples’ minds. 

J: Yesterday, we did a Peru, it’s an old technique I learned early-on, where the coffee was singing at one temp level, but it was also really good at another temp level.  So what I did is roasted it two different ways and blended that, and so you have this crazy, cool blend of coffee that you couldn’t get roasting at one level.

Anything else about MoAV?  Fun facts?

J: First, we are super grateful for [The San Franciscan Roaster Co.], Mahlkönig, and Synesso.  We couldn’t do it without those machines, and we’re super excited about that.  We’re ordering an [SF25 Roaster], because we’re expanding to another brick and mortar with a proper roasting facility, café, and kombucha brewery.  That’s something new and exciting that will be happening this year.

A fun fact about us: We’re super into cars and the car scene.  Paul started the Zip Tie Club which does some great stuff with the car community in town.  Paul drives a Passat wagon, I have a couple old Mercedes we roll around, one of our employees runs an old BMW.  That’s a fun, quirky scene we get to be a part of.  Also, I have a wife and four kids, and Paul is Paul!

MoAV will be pulling shots at SFR’s Expo booth on Saturday, April 21 from 2-3 PM.  For more information on MoAV, visit their website, Facebook, and Instagram.   

Images courtesy of MoAV Coffee.

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Topics: roaster profile, SF25, coffee roaster, commercial coffee roaster

Summit Coffee is Taking Things to the Next Level: an interview with Matt McDaniel

Posted by The San Franciscan Roaster Co.

Fri, Apr, 13, 2018 @ 00:04 AM

On Main St. in Davidson, North Carolina sits the original Summit Coffee.  Since 1998, Summit has resided on this corner in a 19th century two-story building with a green, wooden frame around the doorway.  If you walk around the side, you’ll see a large brick wall with a colorful mural and customers lounging with their coffees.  Summit has left a large impression on this community.  They now own four locations and a roastery.

Transitioning from a second-wave to a third-wave coffee shop can be incredibly challenging, but Summit has been able to do it with grace.  Since opening their roastery about four years ago, the company has remained committed to sourcing organic coffees from micro-lots around the globe.  They have perfected their craft and have managed to change North Carolina’s coffee industry in the process.  I talked to wholesale director, Matt McDaniel, to learn more about Summit’s growth.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Can you tell me a little about Summit Coffee?

Summit started as a coffeeshop in 1998 on Main Street in a Davidson, North Carolina.  Davidson is a college-town with a very small liberal arts college.  It was just a shop for a long time, and we bought wholesale from another company.  About four years ago, we started roasting.  A lot of that was due to our owner, Brian.  Brian’s brother, Tim, had owned Summit previously, and Tim brought Brian [into the company] in 2012 to be a little bit more entrepreneurial with the business and think about smart opportunities for growth.  That kind of started us on this journey that eventually led to us roasting and becoming a fully-fledged coffee company instead of just a coffee shop. 

How do you think that Summit Coffee has changed the coffee industry in North Carolina?

I first became involved in specialty coffee in 2004, which was still a long time ago, but I’m trying to think back to where things were in ’98, and it’s like the dark ages.  I think that we were so comfortably second-wave for a long time and kind of epitomized the old-school coffee shop.  It was between 2012 and 2015 where we really started to think about what was happening in coffee on a broad level and wanting to be a shop that was competitive in terms of quality objectively and not just in relation to what was happening around us. 

I actually used to work for Counter Culture Coffee, and I was a customer support rep for them for a long time.  One of my accounts was this awesome shop in Davidson that was making really big strides and working to focus more on quality and start using single-origin espresso, trying to take things to the next level.  I became so impressed with Summit, I was looking for a way to work with them directly. 

What is your approach to coffee?

First of all, that it’s important to be community-minded and to really view the experience of coffee as a social experience.  It’s not something that’s happening in a vacuum, it’s something that is often shared with friends or loved ones.  Taking that community approach of originally being from a small, tight-knit community and then expanding that into the way we source coffee, in creating strong relationships with the importers we work with, and even sometimes more directly at origin.  With wholesale relationships, it’s the same thing.  It’s founded on trust and relationship, it’s a true collaboration and partnership.  It’s not something we view as a transactional engagement, it’s something that we really strive to carry forward in a personal and human way.  Related to that, you can achieve great coffee, and coffee can be fantastic without alienating people.  I think one thing that we really aim for is to be accessible while maintaining the standards of quality that we think are important.  A lot of people don’t get specialty coffee yet, because they haven’t been exposed to it or it hasn’t been explained to them in a certain way.  Through our education and engagement, that’s something that I’m always aware of.  How can we help people make sense of what we do, so they can connect to it. 

There’s a snobbery to the industry that turns people off but could be used as an educational opportunity.  I think that’s becoming more important in the industry.

It’s so important.  It’s an opportunity to meet them where they are, and then help educate them in a way that is not snobby.  If someone says, “Do you have a dark roast?”, they’re not necessarily talking about roast profile, what they’re actually talking about is a flavor profile.  They want something that is chocolate=y and nutty, with some sugar-browning characteristics and is not super fruit-forward or citrus-y or floral.  I think then, I’m able to know where they’re coming from and choose a coffee that is going to meet their needs. 

We’ve really taken a page out of the craft beer industry’s playbook, because beer is something that, until recently, not a lot of people were aware of.  I’m based in Asheville, and we have a huge craft beer scene, and everyone drinks these beers.  The companies themselves have done a great job at being accessible, and people are able to experience beers that don’t taste like the Miller High Life or PBR that they might have grown up drinking.  It’s offering new experiences to people that are outside their comfort zone, but then helping bridge the gap. 

What were you doing before coffee, and how did you get started in the industry?

I started working as a barista when I was 18.  I was a week out of high school, and I knew I didn’t want to go to college immediately.  I walked into a shop in my neighborhood in Atlanta called Octane.  We didn’t even know what third-wave coffee was at that time, but it was kind of the first independent coffee shop in Atlanta to make a big impression on the community.  I pretty quickly fell in love with the craft aspect of coffee.  We were a Counter Culture customer there, and I ended up working there until 2011.  I basically grew up there; from 18 to 25 working behind the bar, seeing my regulars, and seeing the WBC in Atlanta in 2008 which was a huge eye-opening experience because suddenly, all these international barista champs were ordering espresso from me.  I had to make sure the ristrettos we were making at the time were good enough and dialed-in for them.  It’s been a journey.

After Octane, I took about two years off from coffee, and I lived in Brazil for a while.  I did some traveling, finished school, and then ended up moving to Durham, North Carolina.  It wasn’t long after that I got a job at Counter Culture as a customer rep for 3 ½ years until I came to work for Summit.

What has been the most rewarding part to you?

For me, it’s exploring all the different aspects of our supply chain.  I love that coffee is inherently an international product, and that there’s so many links in that chain to get coffee from seed to cup.  Just by participating in this industry, you are participating in this inherently beautiful, mysterious, complicated process that so many people are involved in.  When I brew coffee, I think about what it took to plant those trees and take care of them long enough to start producing.  To harvest that coffee by hand, fermentation, wet-mill or dry-mill processing, then getting that coffee to a port and exporting it and importing it, and all the logistics that go into that.  And then roasting that coffee and getting it to customers.  And the barista that’s the last link in the chain who’s actually preparing a product and giving that beverage to an individual.  I love being a part of that, I think it’s totally magical.  Zooming into my own role in that, being able to work with human beings on a very human level, having real relationships and interactions that are essentially mediated through coffee.

 Favorite coffee that you’re roasting right now?

My favorite is a Colombian coffee called El Tambo.  El Tambo comes from an all-female producing cooperative.  I love that aspect of it, but I also love how it tastes.  It has delicate brown sugar sweetness, nice apple acidity, a clean body, and a really clean finish. 

Anything else you’d like to say about Summit Coffee?

We are going to be at SCA brewing on the San Franciscan brew bar in addition to Café Imports and La Marzocco.  I’m really looking forward to being in Seattle and at Expo!

Summit will be pulling shots at our Expo booth on Saturday, April 21 from 12-1 PM.  Learn more about Summit on their website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Photos courtesy of Summit Coffee.

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Topics: roaster profile, SF25, coffee roaster, commercial coffee roaster

Prevail Might be Opening the Most Important Coffee Shop in the United States

Posted by The San Franciscan Roaster Co.

Thu, Apr, 12, 2018 @ 00:04 AM


"Sophisticated Southern" is the best way to describe Prevail Coffee, and also how owners, Wade and Megan Preston, would prefer to do so.  In a culture of Northwest-style coffeeshops, Prevail stands outs for its distinct southern charm, and it seems to be working.  With three locations and a fourth location being built right in the center of Montgomery's historical downtown, Prevail has been essential to Alabama's third-wave coffee industry.  

In February, Wade won first place in the Brewer's Cup Qualifying Competition in New Orleans.  He will be moving on to the National competition this year in Seattle.  I talked to Wade to learn more about Prevail, how he chooses his coffee for competition, and his award-winning brew method.

Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Congrats on placing first in the New Orleans Brewer’s Cup Qualifying Competition.  Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started in coffee?

It’s kind of a crazy story.  My wife and I had always worked in the nonprofit sphere, and we had both really enjoyed coffee.  We were working with a nonprofit in West Africa doing some micro-finance stuff, and we really saw how the best way to affect change in those places is for there to be viable economic structures that are sustainable and scalable.  The traditional charity model can only go so far, and it completely falls apart, like in 2008, when the economy collapsed.  People just stopped giving to charity.  We looked at coffee and cocoa, kind of being the only two commodity crops that came from these places, and we just started scratching under the surface a bit more.  We had always liked the idea of coffee, the idea of the community aspect, the coffeehouse, and kind of tying that together with this newfound realization of the impact that coffee can have globally.  We just couldn’t get it out of our heads.  The fun part of the story is, we were living in Atlanta at the time, and Megan was seven months pregnant with our first child, who is now six, and we had a West African refugee living in our basement.  We thought that would be a great time for me to quit my job and become a barista, so that’s what we did.

I cut my teeth in coffee in Atlanta working for Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roaster’s Dancing Goats Coffee Bar.  I had a really awesome experience coming up with them, and after working with them for a couple of years, we opened our first shop in Auburn.  It did really well, and about eighteen months after that we decided to open a roastery.  We started roasting coffee with a San Franciscan roaster, and we’re now in Auburn and Montgomery.  We moved our wholesale roastery operation over to Montgomery, and we have retail locations in both Auburn and Montgomery.

What is your approach to choosing your coffees for competition?

What I was really looking for in coffees is, I like coffees that are just really interesting.  I think that there are coffees that are objectively good, incredible coffees that I really like, but they’re kind of predictable.  When we were cupping coffees for competition, we had some coffees on the table that were like that.  Coffees from farms that you’ve heard of that had won awards, and they were super good coffees.  They scored super high on the table, but the coffee I ended up choosing was one from a farm I had never heard of and just sort of a random coffee I ended up with.  It’s a natural process Colombian geisha, and it is so wild and complex.  We were cupping it today, and it’s almost hard to wrap my head around it.  It’s one of those coffees that is really good, there may be coffees that are objectively “better”, but this one is so interesting and it’s got a lot of layers to it.  It takes a lot to figure it out. 

How did you prepare for Brewer’s Cup, and is there anything you’re doing differently to prepare for the national competition in Seattle?

The coffee is different, but I’m keeping it similar as far as the brew method.  I’ve been working on this brew method for over a year now, so I’m tweaking it to the coffee, but things are close to the same for Nationals [as for Qualifiers].  The biggest difference is the grinder I’m using.  La Marzocco USA is loaning me a grinder so graciously.  One of the new Mazzer ZM grinders.  I went to Qualifiers and really wanted consistency with my grind, so I just used a Baratza Forte, because my goal was just to finish in the Top 12.  It pulled me through for Qualifiers, so now I got a big, huge, heavy grinder which is more fun to play with.  I was really happy with what we were able to brew with it today.  

Can you tell me about Prevail?

The word “Prevail” we pulled out of William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.  He has this really eloquent line where he says, “I decline to accept the end of man...I refuse to accept this.  I believe that man will not only endure, he will prevail.  He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an exhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of passion and sacrifice and and endurance”.  Sophisticated southern is the brand mark there, and we’re trying to be an authentic southern brand that feels at home in the south but isn’t too kitschy and homespun.  In our region, it’s either we have a lot of coffee companies trying to bring a northeast or PNW vibe into the south, or it’s really folksy and home-y.  So we’re trying to be a coffee brand that fits authentically southern but also high-brow.  The culinary scene in the south has gotten so big in the last few years, and a lot of incredible chefs have been coming out of here.  Southern cuisine has been huge, and people respect it in this way that they didn’t ten or fifteen years ago.  I think that we can do the same thing with coffee.  We don’t have to hide behind the veneer of a Pacific-Northwest shop.

What is the coffee industry like down there?

It’s weird.  There’s this old term in the south – a word that like, my grandfather would use – “carpetbagger”.  After the Civil War and reconstruction, there were all these business men that came to the south, and because the south had been so decimated, their dollars went further.  They saw opportunities, so they came and dumped a bunch of money into these businesses.  The thing is, they didn’t really understand southern culture and the dynamic of things.  The carpetbagger image is the rich guy who doesn’t understand the culture and just tries to throw a bunch of money into something.  All that to say, there’s a fair amount of that in southern coffee.  The idea that, “Oh, coffee blew up [everywhere else], I want to go make the Blue Bottle of the south”.  You have a lot of that carpetbagger mentality, and they’re trying to capitalize on that market opportunity.  So we have to deal with that, but we have southern hospitality too.  We raise our eyebrows, but also if you’re trying to do good stuff, we’ve got grace for that and we’ll come alongside each other and work together.  I think some companies have come in from outside and done really well, because they’ve kind of picked up on [the culture].  And then other companies have come in and tried to exploit it and have been relegated to the corners.  All in all, I’d say southern coffee is fun, because it seems like there is not a whole lot of us who have been at it for just five, six, seven years.  It’s blown up so much in the last three years.  When you find people who have been at it for ten years, we all seem to know each other and where each other came from, and it’s a really tight-knit group.   

I saw that you are opening a new location – what are the plans for that space?

That space…I think that might be the most important coffee shop in America.  If you walk out the front doors of that space, if you look up to your left, you’ll see the church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached.  If you look to the right, you can see the bus stop where Rosa Parks got on the bus.  If you look across the street, there’s the building where the command to fire on Fort Sumpter was sent and began the Civil War.  We’re like two doors down from where Jefferson Davis held his inaugural ball to become the President of the Confederate states.  We’re about a mile away from where Hank Williams learned to play guitar.  This is something nobody knows, the Wright brothers opened the first civil aviation school in the country right down the street from us too.  There’s this weird, crazy history and we’re just smack in the middle of it. 

There’s a lot to this, but downtown Montgomery kind of got abandoned for a long time.  There was no real culture, no one was living down there, it was just kind of desolate.  A lot of these buildings that were in the middle of all this history were becoming decrepit, and lately some developers have been putting some money into restoring these places.  We’ll be one of the first ones in this newer development to kind of bring that back. 

There’s a group in Montgomery called the Equal Justice Initiative, and they are opening up a museum at the end of the month, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  The local name is the Lynching Memorial, [it’s] a real powerful thing.  At the end of the month, we’re kind of gearing up for this.  Al Gore, Jay-Z, Oprah, all these people are coming into town for the opening of this museum.  The craziness of this national conversation and all of this polarity…when people hear that a place such as Montgomery exists, that this is where all this stuff happened, it blows their minds.  The Equal Justice Initiative is headquartered there, the Southern Poverty Law Center is headquartered there, but Roy Moore’s office is right next to the Rosa Parks bus stop.  These things exist together in a square mile.  Some of those things are awesome, some of them are terrible, but the fact that they exist together and we don’t throw rocks at each other, I think it takes people aback.  We’re seeing a spike in tourism in downtown Montgomery, people are interested in the story, and Montgomery is finding better ways to tell that story.  It’s cool to have a café space, a community gathering space, dead in the center of all of that.

What is your favorite coffee you’re roasting right now?

This competition coffee is haunting my dreams, it’s so ridiculous.  It’s not even fair to say that’s my favorite coffee… but I’ll tell you my favorite coffee, and it’s always my favorite coffee, that I almost take for granted.  I kind of forget about it, and then I drink a little more, and I’m like “oh that coffee is so comfortable and nice”.  I also have sentimental attachment to it.  It’s a Guatemala from a farmer we work with, Finca San Luis.  It’s just such a good coffee, and it’s not bonkers crazy, punchy, sweet, and super bright or really complex.  It’s just like, the coffee you want to drink in the morning.  Like, if we still read newspapers it would be the greatest cup of coffee to have.  We have a fantastic relationship with the farm.  The daughter of the farmer actually went to Auburn on a tennis scholarship, and she lives in Alabama.  She babysits my kids from time to time and comes over for dinner, so it’s just a coffee that we love.

Anything else you’d like to say about Prevail?

I can tell you all the reasons I love the San Franciscan roaster.  One, the transferability from the SF1 to the SF25 is ridiculous.  I can profile something on the 1 and get the same exact thing on the 25.  That gives you a lot of levity to play around with a bunch of different profiles.  The other thing is I love the responsiveness of a direct-flame roaster.  I don’t have to mess around too much with air-flow as a mode of heat transfer.  I can just work the burners and as long as I’m able to anticipate what’s going on, I can keep my air-flow steady and roast really clean coffee, because I’m not pushing any bad air in.  It’s so responsive.  I really dig it.

Wade’s Brew Method from Brewer's Cup Qualifying Competition

This method] creates these really saturated flavors.  The idea comes from, when you brew cold brew, it creates these syrupy but kind of dull, mono-flavored thing, but there’s lots of sweetness there, and it’s super smooth.  But espresso and hot brew coffee has lots of acidity, bitterness,  complexity, all of the things that make coffee interesting.  We’re kind of isolating both sides of that extraction. 

*Note: You are looking for an 11:1 ratio of water to coffee.  

Aeropress + Fellow Prismo attachment

Coffee, super coarsely ground and sifted

50 g of 145° F (63° C) water 

210° F (99° C) water

Attach the Prismo to your Aeropress.  Place cup and aeropress on your scale.  Add the coarsely ground coffee and tar scale.  Add 50 g of 145° F (63° C) water.  Bloom for 2 ½ minutes.  Add 210° F (99° C) water to Aeropress.  You want an 11:1 ratio of water to coffee.  Brew for 2 ½ minutes, and then press.

Prevail will be pulling shots at our Expo booth on Friday, April 20 from 4-5 PM.  For more information on Prevail Coffee, visit their website, Facebook, and Instagram.

All photos courtesy of Prevail Coffee.

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Topics: roaster profile, SF25, coffee roaster, commercial coffee roaster

Changes at Tacoma's Manifesto Coffee: an Interview with Jadin Bulger

Posted by The San Franciscan Roaster Co.

Mon, Apr, 09, 2018 @ 00:04 AM

Although new to Tacoma's industry, business has been booming for Manifesto Coffee.  The company, opening less than two years ago, is already expanding their business in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood.  Their space, a cozy dwelling for locals, has just a few seats, and their walls are covered in friends' artwork.  They offer the essential, specialty beverages along with a few unique options, such as the cola syrup, made by craft bartenders from 1022 South J bar.  100% owned and operated by a group of four friends, Manifesto is a team effort that clearly shows the dedication and passion behind their work, whether it's an Instagram post, a cappuccino, or a bag of their organic roast coffee.

I talked with Jadin Bulger, co-owner of Manifesto Coffee, to learn more about their growth and expansion.

Interview has been edited for clarity.

I saw that you have 4 different owners – how did you guys all get together to open this business?

It started off with my buddy Israel and myself.  We’ve been friends forever, our dads were best men in each other’s wedding, so we’ve always been around each other all our lives.  I came in, and he was roasting for anther company.  I was like, “Man this stuff is really cool, are you ever gonna do this for yourself?”, and he was like, “Yeah that’s my plan at some point.”  And I was like, “Cool, we should think about opening a shop”, and it was kind of a spitball thing.  And then, from that point there was just a moment where I guess it made sense, and he was like “Yeah, I wanna give it a shot”.  We went around, looked for a space.  It was really fast, it was kind of a whirlwind.  It took us four months from the inception of the idea to when we had the doors open.  San Franciscan, obviously, a super-huge part of that, because that was the roaster he was used to roasting on.  Originally, we wanted a [25 lb. roaster] to start, but it made way more sense for the space and the scope of what we were doing to get a [6 lb. roaster].  And now we’re in the realm where it’s like, we’re really close to needing the [25 lb. roaster] so it’s all worked itself out pretty naturally.  At first it was the two of us, and then a few months into the project, before we actually got opened, [Wesley] wanted to join us and be a café manager – we weren’t going to run an espresso bar or anything, we were just going to be wholesale – so he came on, and we were like, “I guess we just make this a little bigger and add an espresso bar shop with the coffee roaster”.  So we did that and then Jack came about two weeks later, and he was going to bring us all the social media aspects and video camera footage – all that kind of stuff – so we picked him up, and that’s the team!

Is this something you all do full-time?

Yeah, Jack runs a little bit of his own video business on the side, but Manifesto is everybody’s baby right now.

I saw that you’re expanding your location.

Yeah, it took us one year to get to the point where we were like, “Oh we’re going to need more space”.  It’s been about a four-month process to do that.  It’s really close to completion now, we’ve got like, just a few more things to do over there, and then we’ll be in final inspection.  But it will double our space, so we’ll have about thirty-five customers in the space instead of like, thirteen.  And it gives us the ability to put the [SF25 roaster] in here.  We had no way to get it in here without remodeling the building. 

What’s the plan [with the new space]?

The bar will go over to the new space, and then the original space will be partitioned out for new production and storage. 

How did you come up with the name & branding?

Israel really had his eye on [the brand] being gold, black, and white so the color scheme was already there.  We have a couple of artist friends who helped us dial in what the logo was going to look like.  He had an idea that it would be a crest, and it would look more Old-English, or old in the writing-style.  We used a couple of his tattoo designs to incorporate into the signage, there’s a lion and a few other things that ties it all together.  As far as the name, I guess is was a little bit of a joke, but maybe not?  When Israel talks about a thing, or when he figures out how to do a thing, it’s kind of like a manifesto.  It’s like, “I’m doing this thing, here’s why it’s this way, here’s why it’s good…”, you know?  He has his reason, and he’s pretty adamant about them.  It was kind of an inside joke on that.  It seems to work, we’re doing really well right now.

What’s been your favorite part of working in this industry and owning a business?

For me, I’ve been in a lot of businesses.  I didn’t start in coffee, I didn’t even have a coffee background when we started this.  It was more, having been an accounts manager for a fairly large company, and I’d done inventory management, accounting, sales…I’d done a bunch of stuff for a fairly large company.  I was like, well all those skill sets apply to what I’d be doing as far as growing a wholesale account, keeping up customer relationships, and making sure the inventory is all handled.  I think the whole idea of being in control of where things go, and I always come back to the same thing, of being able to make ethical and moral decisions as a company.  Every company I have ever been with I’ve butted heads with those issues.  I always feel like people are not top on the priority list, they’re the first things to get sacrificed, and I just don’t see the point.  It’s nice to be in control of how that’s going to go in a company.  It definitely makes it more worth it when you can go home at the end of the day and it’s like, “wow, I don’t regret anything or feel bad about anything that I was a part of”.  I can’t say that’s been true of any other place that I’ve worked.  That’s probably the #1. 

What’s next for Manifesto?

I think we’re just looking to settle into a larger space.  We’re already busting at the seams right now so we kind of need it.  I think our plan is just to grow the storefront, figure out what that’s going to look like, and then of course get the [SF25 roaster] in here.  That’s like, our next big goal.  We have a lot of irons in the fire.  Our website just got finished, and we can ship anywhere in the US now, and that’s starting to happen.  We ship to Texas, Ohio, Iowa, different places, so there’s starting to be a customer base not in Washington which is kind of cool. 

Favorite coffee you’re roasting right now?

That’s a good one.  Probably the Sidamo.  Everything we do is a single-origin, it’s all free-trade, organic.  It just pretty much tastes like blueberry pie.  You get it on the smell, you get it on the taste, it’s really strong.  That’s what I do as a French press at home right now.  We did it on espresso for our anniversary blend.  We had our one year, and we were like, “let’s do something special”, so we went and found Sidamo.  We just did one bag, so we had 150 lbs. and that was it.  We got done, and there was this really weird acclaim that it had, everyone wanted it, so we put it in the rotation.  We even incorporate it into our espresso.  Before we had a Yirgacheffe, and we swapped them out, and everyone thinks it improved the flavor profile of the espresso. 

Anything else you want me to know about Manifesto?

The only other thing we’d probably want to add is our entire business is pretty much due to the fact that Israel learned how to roast on a San Franciscan.  That is pretty much integral to what our success is, we believe.  We’re pretty appreciative.  Every time we’ve had an experience with San Franciscan, it has been positive.  We’ve had times when the motor broke on the weekend, and [the company] responded immediately, and we had a motor Monday morning.  We’ve had a couple of challenges, and it’s always been a very pleasant experience doing business with [The San Franciscan Roaster Company].

Manifesto Coffee will be pulling shots at our Expo booth on Friday, April 20 from 3-4 PM.  For more information on Manifesto Coffee, visit their website, Instagram, and Facebook.

  All photos courtesy of Manifesto Coffee.

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Topics: roaster profile, SF25, coffee roaster, commercial coffee roaster