Last week brought news that a pillar of this still nascent North American specialty coffee industry of the aughts has possibly forsaken ownership, independence and a sustainable business model for growth potential. Possibly. All of the details of whatever financial deal was made are, publicly, fuzzy at best.
End of an era?
For me, in the face of all of the information swirling around the event, as well as because of the lack of it, a bit of the romance that once was a part of the image surrounding the company in question has been lost. In my experience quantity and quality do not mix well in the food industry but I’ve adopted a wait-and-see attitude. End of an era? In a way, definitely. There’s no avoiding it, regardless of how things turn out. A small, local institution, in a very short period of time, has gotten bigger, increased its reach and wants even more. That’s going to put some people off. It’s going to change the way many people perceive them and their brand. They might loose some customers. I’m sure they are betting they will gain many more.
For my part, my skepticism is piqued when tales of money and secrecy are allowed to flourish in the type of vacuum that is created in the absence of quality PR. But all of this is no matter. The fact that today’s cup of coffee was produced using a stringent eye for quality by any one entity does not mean it will be so tomorrow.
A moving target
I refuse to attend reunion tour concerts put on by the bands of my youth. Those bands had their day and I’ve no need or desire to dwell in some gilded past that only looks so golden through all of the benefits of hindsight. I’ve no intention of clinging to the past of the coffee industry either. It’s not that the best days of coffee are behind us. “The best days” are a moving target, as are quality and passion and craft.
And so, imagine my joy in being made privy to someone just starting a new journey in the coffee industry, and my excitement at being furnished the opportunity to witness it first-hand, and of having the chance to partake of the fruits of someones nascent passion, one-on-one, and to take that journey with them, in some small way, as a grateful recipient of their work.
And the serendipity… two different “friend-streams” converging into one: one revealing to me the presence of the micro-roaster himself, and the other highlighting the presence of the pop-up café with which this roaster and these housemates, with both entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit, are able to present themselves to the world ((There may be other journeys beginning here as well, but that’s probably for another site.)).
OneNinetySeven & the Rogue Café
Eric Thoreson is the coffee roaster, OneNinetySeven is the roasting operation. Rogue is the pop-up café. On Saturdays, from 9am until 1pm Eric Thoreson and the house residents of 654 60th Street (AKA “The Green House”), here in Oakland, California, open up their garden-like backyard to neighbors and friends, both new and old and serve up small, edible goodies and coffee.
Pastries have been made by both Emma Sullivan (a local baker) and Ciara (a member of the Green House household) at various times and the baked offerings are different every week. Two weeks ago it was a mushroom & asparagus frittata and an olive oil, hazelnut, cherry muffin. This last, it was candied bacon with a touch of cayenne and a berry tart with a buckwheat crust.
Coffee preparations are determined by Eric with the backbone being pour-over, using ceramic Beehouse drippers. Last week, on the Beehouses, it was a Guatemala Finca La Providencia Dos from the San Pedro Necta, Huehuetenango region. This last Saturday was a treat, with Eric busting out, as promised, a Mypressi Twist and a commercial-grade espresso grinder in order to pull shots of his wonderfully balanced and sweet Faux Pas seasonal espresso blend. On the drippers was the delicate but tangy fruit of his Tanzania Mbinga.
Beginning of an era
A door closes, another opens. It can’t be helped and I’m not going to continue to trumpet any particular coffee purveyor’s dedication to quality when that dedication is patently absent. In the grand scheme of things coffee quality and producer integrity certainly doesn’t rank with other, more pressing matters like the sorry state of American politics or the belief in false prophets but blind faith is blind faith. I’m not saying that scion of recent Pacific Northwestern coffee fame has taken its eye off the prize. I just don’t hold any illusions that it won’t. But I prefer not to focus on the steady target of brand and image. Instead, I try to fix my gaze on the moving target that is quality, integrity and passion for craft. That’s where you’ll always find the good stuff.
See you next Saturday, in the garden, espresso or drip coffee in hand.
Rogue is a pop-up. That means it’s best to check and make sure it’s going to be where you think it’s going to be before you head out on your coffee journey. The best places to look for information are 1) at the OneNinetySeven website, 2) on the Rogue Café Facebook page and 3) on Twitter.