Hi Tim and Kati, thanks for doing this interview with us today. You guys have been doing a ton of travel recently. Every time I check your Instagram page you’re exploring a new part of the world!
What first inspired you guys to start sourcing your coffee and how has this changed your business?
As we became more aware of the importance of finding the best new coffees each harvest season, we came to the realization that traveling to origin is the best way to do so. When you taste new harvests of coffee at origin, you get the first pick of the fresh crops and get to select the very best lots of coffee before they are imported into the US. This allows us to get our money as close to the farmer as possible and provides great transparency in the supply chain. Because we select the very best lots, we pay a premium price for our coffees – usually 2-3 times Fair Trade certified price. We do this to support these farmers and also to forge a relationship in the hopes of securing their phenomenal coffees again in future years.
All the coffees we buy are purchased far above Fair Trade. To be certified Fair Trade, you have to belong to a cooperative and most of the coffees we buy (at least in Central and South America) are from individual farms. Organic certification is a trickier issue. The majority of organic coffees come from large scale operations that may have little regard for their workers rights or the quality of the coffee. For small producers it is extremely expensive to buy organic certification, no matter how high a price they are receiving for their crop. For example, in Colombia we purchased the entire harvest of Mr. Ermenegildo Inausty (You can see a photo of him with his granddaughter in this article). Tim spent the day with him and his family at their remote farm high in the mountains of Narino. We bought him out of his contact with the local Beneficiado, paying him over double the price they had contracted for his crop. Purchasing organic certification would cost him more than the income he received for his entire year’s harvest! I understand why people are drawn to organic coffee and we absolutely support organic methods of farming. I would suggest that conscious consumers can take things one step further by purchasing from roasters that have fully traceable, direct-sourced coffees rather than relying on a certification sticker. Let’s not forget that it should taste amazing too!
You mentioned buying fresh crops of coffees every harvest season. Why is that important? Isn’t green coffee good for a long time?
Actually, it’s not. Like any other agricultural crop, green (unroasted) coffee has a fairly short shelf life. If a roaster overstocks and sits on green coffee until it is old, or ‘post-crop,’ you will start to taste a difference. When post-crop coffee is roasted, it will taste lackluster and most of the sweetness and complexity will be lost. The ideal window for roasting green coffee is between 3-11 months after harvest. We are so passionate about sourcing fresh-crop, in-season coffees that we have started displaying the harvest date on our new retail bags.
Africa has been the biggest challenge by far. In Ethiopia the government attempts to control the coffee trade, making it very difficult for roasters to buy directly from the farmer. In Kenya it is a little better, but still very complicated. We are working hard to find ways to source more traceably in East Africa and will be traveling there again in October to see the harvest season and visit farms. Tim will return again in December or January to select our coffees for 2017.
The next big news is you guys have a new roaster. Tell us all about this.
After a lot of research we decided to go with a San Franciscan roaster, made right here in the US. They assemble the entire roaster from scratch at their warehouse in Nevada – rolling the steel and assembling it all by hand. We love the air flow and the control we have over roasts. It is inspired by the old vintage roasters like our 1950’s Otto Swadlo, but has some modern bells and whistles.
What benefits has the new roaster brought to Case?
It has greatly increased production and it is very quiet. We are now roasting during business hours, where before our roaster was so loud we could only roast at night. Come in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and you can see us roasting right there in the cafe. We also have our vintage roaster on display and still fire it up from time to time.
Besides at our store you can find our retail bags at Market of Choice as well as Prize downtown. Our coffee is served at Smithfields and Tot restaurant. Funny enough the majority of our wholesale accounts are outside of the Valley. We are served at specialty cafes in LA, Philadelphia, Miami, Tucson, Portland and many more. These are places that are really passionate about coffee. We have also had success with direct-to-consumer sales via our website, casecoffeeroasters.com. We offer free USPS shipping on all orders so customers can get fresh coffee delivered within days of roasting for free!
Also new is the new patio build out, it looks great!
Thanks! The buildout was inspired by outdoor cafes in Bogota, Colombia, especially one outdoor space that was made out of a metal shipping container. We wanted to recreate that kind of outdoor/indoor space. Our friend Jason Hutchins at Basilica Industrial made us a custom metal retractable awning and Nick David over at Jefferson Woodwright designed and built the beautiful furniture.
Well thanks! We are always seeking to push forward and improve. Experiencing other countries and cultures keeps us fresh and motivated with new ideas. Also, we want to continue to improve direct-sourcing, especially in East Africa. We really enjoy our work and are grateful for what we get to do every day.
Your 10 year anniversary is coming up in September. Can you believe it’s been 10 years already?
Not really! It’s pretty crazy. We are so grateful to the community for supporting us over the years. If you are a regular who has been coming in since the early days, a special thank-you to you. Tim and I really appreciate it.
Finally, do you have any last thoughts or comments you can share with our readers?
The next time you drink a cup of coffee or grab a bag off the grocery store shelf, take a little time to think about where it comes from. Who grew that coffee? Who picked and processed it and what is their life like? Almost all coffee is grown in developing countries. It is an industry that relies on cheap labor, even slavery. Your purchases do have an impact. Choose coffees that state the producer’s name and display the harvest date. Let’s make a positive impact in this industry together and make it a tasty process!
Case Coffee Roasters
1255 Siskiyou Blvd