Award is also a first time honor for the San Diego region.
La Jolla, CA: November 1, 2011
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA won the 2012 Micro Roaster of the Year award in the annual national competition hosted by a panel of experts and two separate coffee labs administrated by the coffee trade magazine, Roast Magazine. This is the first time that Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has achieved this award, and the first time any roaster in the San Diego region has won this prestigious award.
The award was developed to inspire further excellence and success in the roasting industry. Winners are chosen based on the company’s commitment to categories including sustainable practices, commitment to employees and educational practices, innovations in roasting, and of course, the excellence of the coffee.
In terms of quality and taste, coffees are judged blindly by two separate labs, Lab International in Vermont, and Atlas Coffee Importers in Seattle. Experts judge the coffee on aroma, color, imperfections, bean size and flavor profile. One notable coffee varietal that secured the award for Bird Rock Coffee Roasters was the Sumatra Lake Tawar. Unlike most coffee from that area, this varietal has been meticulously processed at origin. This unique effort produces a coffee that is intense, earthy yet clean, full-bodied and dense, and slightly sweet.
“Many roasters are sourcing directly from farmers and enhancing the coffee experience for their customers, elevating the experience to that of a high end wine bar…so to be recognized as the best, at a time when so many are doing incredible work, is a humbling honor,” says Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. “We were competing against roasters from all over the nation and to be located in San Diego, which has never been known for its coffee like Seattle or Portland, is an added bonus.”
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has consistently achieved 90+ scores (out of a scale of 100) from Coffee Review for many of their roasted varietals, but this is the first time it has outperformed national competitors based on several categories.
Read the full article in Roast Magazine: Micro Roaster of the Year – 2012.
Coffee is available for purchase on line and shipping is within 48 hours in the United States. To order, visit the Bird Rock Coffee Roasters COFFEES page.
About Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
In 2002, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters (BRCR) opened for business as a strictly grass-roots company. Coffee was roasted in a sublet restaurant kitchen using small one-pound capacity air roasters. At that time, BRCR coffee was sold at farmer’s markets and through home-delivery service. In 2006 the retail shop on La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock was opened directly across the street from a Starbucks. In 2008 BRCR expanded their retail location to increase seating, free wireless connection and a children’s play area. They also offer free coffee ‘cupping’ experiences and live music on weekends. Awards and recognition of BRCR to date include: 2012 Micro Roaster of the Year as well as 16 highly rated coffees in Coffee Review scoring 90 and above (out of a 100 point scale). Locally, in San Diego, BRCR won Best Organic Coffee in 2008 San Diego Magazine and was rated Best Coffee Shop in 2010 in the La Jolla Light.
About Chuck Patton
Chuck Patton, owner and principle roaster of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, describes his relationship with coffee beans as equal parts passion and obsession. Chuck started roasting in 2001 with a DIY home coffee roaster, a fateful gift from his wife, Elke. He quickly expanded his vision and became the first licensed wholesaler in San Diego selling 100% organic and fair trade coffee.
Chuck is a former community college English teacher (in San Diego, he taught at Grossmont and San Diego City Colleges), loves acoustic blues from the 20’s and 30’s. He acts humble, but plays a mean slide guitar. His involvement with the local community extends from helping improve traffic, aesthetics, business practices to non-profit fundraising in Bird Rock and other organizations in San Diego, Ca. In his spare time he loves to body surf, drink great beer and perfect the art of pork-smoking. He lives in La Jolla with his wife, Elke and their Australian Shepherd, Rosco.
Roast Magazine :: October 21, 2011
By Rivers Janssen
Sometimes a few small changes can have an unexpectedly big impact.
Chuck Patton learned just how big the first time he cleaned the burners on his Probat L12, which he had recently purchased from another roaster who was exiting the business. “It was my first experience with a bigger roaster, and I didn’t know what I was doing,” Patton explains. “I basically did what the guy before me was doing, and his only variable between the beans he was using was time.”
Cleaning the burners did more than just increase efficiency, however. “At first I thought I had broken something, because all of a sudden I was working with a bonfire using the same settings we’d used before,” he said. “A 15-minute roast was now a 7-minute roast. It really forced us to think about how we were roasting the coffee. In retrospect, it was the best thing we ever did because we basically had to start from scratch and deconstruct our approach.
“Everything we do now is grounded in that one event,” Patton adds. “And it led us to treat each coffee we roast as one of a kind.”
Only a few years removed from this roasting epiphany, Patton’s Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has quickly evolved from a novice operation to one of the most respected artisan roasters in the San Diego region. Roast’s Micro Roaster of the Year, Bird Rock maintains a small wholesale business with roughly 20 customers, and puts the rest of its energy into a thriving retail cafe that serves two varietals per day at the main bar plus a decaf, along with four coffees at a small brew bar to the side (using Hario V60s and Chemex).
Bird Rock may be small, but it’s earning plenty of acclaim. “Chuck’s definitely pioneered several different coffee concepts in our region,” says Karen Cebreros, one of Patton’s earliest green coffee suppliers at Elan Organic Coffees who now works for the Germany-based Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung Foundation. “He was the first guy out of the box to really do some direct trade at the micro level. … He’s heavily involved in the community. He’s crazy over flavor profiles, cup quality and cupping. He just has genuine coffee passion.”
A Crash Course in Roasting
A former community college teacher, Patton’s introduction to coffee roasting was gradual. He started with a small home coffee roaster—a gift from his wife Elke—and green beans from Sweet Maria’s. His enthusiasm for the roasting process led to the purchase of a 1-pound air roaster, which he set up in the kitchen of a nearby Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building. Monday through Friday, Patton would teach at the community college, selling his coffee at local farmers’ markets on weekends.
Eventually Patton moved from the VFW to a kiosk, where he started roasting on a Diedrich IR-3 drum roaster. “I was pretty much self-taught the whole way,” Patton says. “I got a lot of information from Sweet Maria’s, but mostly it was a lot of trial and error. … When I moved up from the air roaster to the IR-3, I basically roasted using info from the owner’s manual.”
Patton bought the L12 upon deciding to become a full-fledged roaster, taking over the seller’s Miramar-based business and wholesale accounts in the process. He worked in Miramar for the next year before setting up shop in his current location in Bird Rock in 2006.
Patton’s experience provides a blueprint on how an enthusiastic, quality-oriented roaster can succeed in a location with a fledgling coffee culture. With roughly 1,000 homes oriented around main drag La Jolla Boulevard, the city of Bird Rock has never been a retail hot spot. Patton says many in the region used to regard Bird Rock solely as a pass-through between popular beach communities La Jolla and Pacific Beach, although that perception started to change once the city implemented a traffic calming plan a few years back. Now the boulevard features several boutiques, restaurants, and other businesses, but it’s still not ideal for retail, says Patton.
The one thing the boulevard did have was a Starbucks, a fact that Patton exploited when deciding where to open. He opened his store directly across the street, believing the quality of his coffee and his community engagement would stand out. “Everybody thought he was crazy in our little neighborhood,” says Cebreros. “But I stopped by Bird Rock the other day, and the place was crawling. It’s supposed to be a secret that no one knows about, but you couldn’t get a seat and there was a huge line out the door.
And there wasn’t a soul in Starbucks.” “It wasn’t like we opened from scratch,” Patton clarifies, noting that he was active in the Bird Rock community council and had been delivering coffee to people’s homes as part of his wholesale business. Still, he took an active role in promoting the business to walk-in customers, roasting the coffee on site and explaining to every customer who walked in what he was trying to do. “We were hoping they would taste the difference in the cup and then start coming back and trying different coffees,” he says. “It was really building the business on an educational, one-to-one level.” The company reinforces this effort through weekly public cuppings and roastery tours, in addition to holding special events.
Patton has also been active in trying to bring the San Diego coffee community closer together. Inspired by the San Diego Brewer’s Guild—an organization that promotes the local craft beer scene—Patton organized the SoCal Barista Pour-Over Challenge during San Diego’s 2011 Coffee Fest, bringing together eight Southern California roasters and 14 baristas from several cafes to engage in a friendly competition. Each team consisted of two randomly selected baristas, who were given one randomly chosen coffee and one of four randomly chosen brew methods: Clever, Chemex, Hario V60 and Aeropress. The teams then had 10 minutes to discuss strategy (such as dose and grind) and present the judging panel with a single brewed serving.
The event was given extra gravitas through the presence of Martin Diedrich, who agreed to serve as a judge. (Diedrich’s Kean Coffee in Newport Beach served as a major stylistic influence for Bird Rock’s retail store.) Patton is in discussions with La Marzocco USA to hold similar events in the future, with the goal of creating a closer-knit roasting community.
Patton also believes in challenging his own assumptions as a roaster. He initiated a friendly competition between himself, Kansas’s PT’s Coffee Roasting, and Klatch Coffee from San Dimas, Calif., the latter two Roaster of the Year winners themselves. The roasters submitted roasted samples of a single green coffee to Ken Davids at Coffee Review for evaluation and to each other for tasting (Klatch won with a 93 score, versus 92 scores for PT’s and Bird Rock).
“It really opened up a feeling of experimentation for us,” Patton says. “It just kind of gets you to think about what you’re doing. And when you see someone else doing something different with the same coffee, it gets you to question in a good way what you’re doing. Maybe I should try a shorter roast or a longer roast, or maybe I should make that adjustment a little earlier.
“It’s easy when you run a business to just start doing the same thing over and over again, because you have so many other things to worry about. But when you give yourself a little wakeup call—hey, there’s something else we could be doing here—it’s healthy.”
Bird Rock gave itself another wakeup call earlier in the year when it transitioned from its Probat L12 to a Giesen roaster, requiring Patton to once again reevaluate his roast profiles. “The Giesen offers a lot more controllability,” says Patton. “We can change the airflow and drum speed, and the cooling times are quicker—about four to five minutes.
“It’s really the fun thing for me about roasting,” he adds. “Trying one thing, tasting it, trying something different in the next roast, tasting it. I’ve found it’s the best way for me to learn.”
Sustainability and Direct Trade on a Micro Level
It’s not easy for a small roaster to start a direct-trade program, but Patton wasn’t deterred. When he opened the business, Patton focused exclusively on organic coffees, hoping to demonstrate to consumers that organic coffees can be as good as, or better than, conventionally grown coffees. Over time, however, he came to believe that he was missing out on lots of great coffees, so he expanded his scope (organics now make up roughly 50 percent of his coffees).
He moved into direct trade in 2008, upon a visit to Colombia for his first sourcing trip. “I worked with Virmax, who at the time was promoting a direct-trade program with farmers all over Colombia,” Patton explains. “That’s when I started to move toward buying from small independent farmers who weren’t necessarily certified, but that weren’t using weed killers or perhaps were using fertilizer but not pesticides.”
From there, Patton has cultivated friendly relationships with importers and exporters who are willing to set aside small quantities of coffee for him. “We aren’t big enough to do it 100 percent ourselves,” Patton says. “The key for us has been establishing relationships with people who can help us facilitate relationships with farmers or groups of farmers.”
Cebreros says Patton’s diligence has paid off. “Chuck somehow figured out how to get five bags of the best,” she says. “Direct trade at a micro level is a challenge for us greenies. We’re always saying, ‘You’re killing us with this stuff.’ But he figured out how to do it.” Since 2008, Bird Rock has forged sustainable direct-trade relationships with farmers in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.
As a fair-trade supporter, Bird Rock is also looking at ways to support fair-trade co-ops while adding quality incentives outside the Fair Trade USA system. The roaster is currently contracting with a fair-trade co-op in Nicaragua to separate out lots of coffee that cup particularly well. Bird Rock pays the co-op and farmer a higher rate to separate the lots, and then pays a perpound bonus to the farmer based on how well the coffee scores once it arrives at the roastery. “For example, if the coffee scores an 87, we pay an extra 10 cents a pound,” Patton explains. “If it scores 88, we pay 20 cents. If it receives an 89 or 90, we pay a 25-cent bonus.”
Patton says his goal is to add a quality incentive to the fair-trade system while giving farmers additional capital for infrastructure improvements.
Although forging sustainable relationships with farmers is the centerpiece of his sustainability efforts, Patton is every bit as enthusiastic about supporting local and global initiatives away from coffee. Patton acted as a liaison with the city while it was building the $2 million traffic calming project, while also advocating for such local causes and organizations as the MS Walk, the UC San Diego John Moores Cancer Fund, and To Live and Let Live, a local nonprofit for recovering alcoholics in La Jolla’s LGBT community. Since 2009, Bird Rock has supported Beyond the Surface, an international nonprofit that helps empower homeless children in Peru, India and South Africa through surfing, and Change the Truth, an orphanage in Uganda that offers educational opportunities for children.
Within the business, Bird Rock uses a GEM electric vehicle to provide emissions-free wholesale deliveries. In early 2011, the company installed a more efficient roaster and afterburner that cut its gas consumption by nearly 15 percent per month while increasing its per-batch capacity. Even small moves have made a big difference, such as installing a hose sprayer in the Bird Rock sink to cut water waste while washing dishes.
Customers often ask Patton about his plans for expanding the business. For Patton, the question isn’t about growth, but about how to ensure that his coffee quality is always high, whether customers buy coffee from wholesale accounts, over the Internet or at a new cafe.
“My whole philosophy has been to constantly push to evolve and improve bean quality, from source to cup. And part of that focus is customer education,” says Patton. “Expanding our footprint in San Diego will require a new paradigm.”
La Jolla Light :: June 19, 2011
sdnews.com :: June 2, 2011
Man Seeking Coffee :: December 13, 2010
Bird Rock is a local roaster, which has all the trappings of a top notch cafe. They own a La Marzocco GB/5, offer multiple coffees with brew to order options on a V60 pour over bar, serve only freshly roasted coffee, have several high marks from Coffee Review, and appear to be sourcing some pretty good green coffee.
FOX5 San Diego :: June 7, 2010
“Beyond The Surface,” a non-profit organization since 2009 was created by Koch to raise money to fund programs that help homeless and underprivileged kids in Peru, South Africa and India – countries that host surfing competitions, but then are forgotten by the surfers.
“There are 17 million surfers and we’re in this $7.2 billion industry. There is something we have to do for these kids that we meet in these contests,” she said.
Koch realized she needed money to help the kids with items besides boards, such as towels and coffee. She convinced the owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters to donate one dollar for every pound of coffee sold under the “Beyond the Surface” label.
“She came to us with this project and it was a perfect fit,” said Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. “We buy coffee from Peru, Africa and India, and this is the hub of surf culture in San Diego, so it was nothing to think about other than yeah, sounds great.”
sdnews.com :: March 24, 2010
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters along La Jolla Boulevard has become a source of pride in the community as Bird Rock’s poster child for a local, successful business. It has also become a social hub for neighbors.
Owner Chuck Patton has carved a niche in the market across the street from Starbucks Coffee. Patton describes the success of his business as an “organic” process that evolved step-by-step into its popularity today.
“I didn’t get the idea to be in the business and then build a café the next day,” Patton said.
La Jolla Light :: May 25, 2009
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters is taking specialty coffee to a whole new level.
The cornerstone Bird Rock merchant is one of a dozen coffee roasters nationwide participating in the Las Mingas Project, which rewards indigenous coffee growers for exemplary work. Through this project, farmers, in such places as Colombia, and specialty roasters establish mutually beneficial sustainable relationships.
“It’s about helping farmers improve the quality of their crop and then paying them transparently,” said Chuck Patton, owner of the independent, home-grown La Jolla business. “There’s a really open paper trail. I can follow my dollar from La Jolla to Colombia.”
Coffee Talk :: March 2009
Bird Rock is not just any old San Diego community on the perpetually sunny Southern California coast. It is a hip surfer haven(dating from the 1930′s) minutes away from downtown La Jolla. Here in Bird Rock, friends and neighbors know each other by first names- and maybe even their grandfather’s first names. It is a tightly knit local community in the truest sense of the word. Chuck Patton, owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters should know. He’s been around here all of his life- growing up in nearby Pacific Beach, ditching high school first periods to get buzzed on coffee in greasy spoons before returning to classes! After college in San Francisco, Patton returned to teach at San Diego City College until the siren call of coffee claimed him for good. He has been roasting coffee ever since his wife bought him a home roaster, finally going pro in 2002.
For San Diego’s small-batch coffee roasters, producing perfect cup of joe is an obsession
By Peter Rowe2 a.m.Feb. 25, 2009
While visiting Costa Rica’s cloud forest region, Joe Behm was offered a cup of newly harvested, freshly roasted coffee.
He may never recover.
“It was staggering,” he said, “absolutely mind-blowing how good it was.”
At first, Behm tried managing his new addiction, bringing home to Del Cerro only a modest 15-pound bag. But when his stash ran out, his need did not. He abandoned his career in semiconductors to focus on an all-consuming desire to get his fix.
“I walked away from a nice six-figure job to where I could barely pay the mortgage,” he said.
That was 12 years and one retirement fund ago. Behm is still in thrall to freshly roasted coffee, but today his obsession is paying off. He plowed $800,000 into sketches, models and finally a product: a personal coffee roaster that can turn out 1-pound batches while sitting on your kitchen countertop.
Introduced in November 2007, the Behmor 1600 won the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s award for best new product. To date, Behm has sold almost 5,000 units. Average price: $300.
His market? Nearly everyone.
About 82 percent of Americans drink this stuff, estimates the National Coffee Association of U.S.A. Other surveys put the figure closer to 50 percent, but there’s no question the U.S. slurps more coffee than any other nation, draining 146 billion cups a year.
If most people drink coffee, only a handful drink, eat and sleep java. Local coffee roasters have taken a relaxed morning ritual and turned it into a full-time job and lifetime obsession. They roam Central America, Africa and Indonesia, buying direct from farmers and co-ops. They fire up antique roasters capable of hitting 1,300 degrees. And they obey their own quirky set of coffee commandments.
“It’s such a subjective business,” admitted Jesse Fox at North Park’s Caffe Calabria. “Everybody’s got a different formula, a different way of roasting.”
The experts, though, are unanimous about the brew most Americans drink.
Do you buy supermarket beans?
Frappuccinos from “Charbucks?”
If so, the experts have one word for you: iccck.
“One hundred thirty million people drink coffee every day in the United States,” Behm said. “If they knew what they were drinking, they’d have a coronary.”
Torrey Lee was born into the business. Perhaps that’s why he tried to flee it.
Lee’s stepfather, Bob Sinclair, founded the original Pannikin in 1968. Lee remembers the La Jolla establishment dumping green coffee beans into a peanut roaster: “It was smoky and dirty.”
As a high school student, Lee worked his way from dishwasher to barista to assistant manager. When it came time to choose a college, he went away – far away – to the University of Alaska.
Lee escaped from La Jolla, but not his destiny. To make ends meet as an undergrad, he worked in a Fairbanks coffee house. He eventually returned to Southern California and the Pannikin. In 1998, he and his wife, Kimberly, bought the chain’s coffee roasting division, Cafe Moto.
Moto – the name comes from the family’s passion for motorcycles – is one of the county’s largest roasters, turning out 8,000 to 10,000 pounds a week. Its natural gas-fired roaster, a Jabez Burns Jubilee, is a 60-year-old workhorse capable of toasting 264-pound batches. Each requires 11 to 20 minutes in the roaster, depending on the coffee’s darkness, and another two or three minutes to cool.
San Diego is no Seattle, and the economy, here as across the nation, is colder than iced mocha. But Lee doesn’t see any decline in his business, which focuses on selling to restaurants, coffeehouses and markets.
“We still have new clients coming in,” he said.
Demand is also up at Caffe Calabria, where the 1956 roaster handles 6,000 pounds a week.
That figure is pre-roast. The heat sucks moisture from the green beans, which lose up to 20 percent of their weight. Shrinkage continues after the beans cool, when they pass through the “de-stoner” pan, where staffers pluck out debris that was packed in the raw beans’ burlap sacks.
Caffe Calabria has found stones, nails, wires, a light bulb’s metal base. Once they found a cell phone. Everyone plucks out shriveled or rotten beans, and brass shell casings are common. At La Jolla’s Bird Rock Roasters, proprietor Chuck Patton once fished from his de-stoner one well-done reptile. Lizard Latte, anyone?
These are all “defects,” and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows a certain amount of flaws in unprocessed coffee. The specialty-grade coffee turned out by local roasters has to meet a higher standard, but not every retailer is so conscientious.
“The stuff in the grocery bins is six months old!” insisted home-roast apostle Behm. “People don’t know what they are getting!”
People do, though, have strong opinions about their coffee. They favor one brand – or roast, or coffee filter, or coffee maker – over another. They seek and they find.
Usually. In 1991, Arne Holt left Seattle for San Diego. He loved the local climate, loved the local lifestyle, hated the local brew.
“I tried to find a good latte. Nonexistent.”
Holt’s uncle built a coffee cart that became a fixture at Grossmont Hospital. There, and now as Caffe Calabria’s owner, Holt could produce coffees that meet his criteria.
But a great cup is as personal, and as tough to define, as a great kiss. Your mouth recognizes it, certainly, but can words capture this transcendent experience?
Maybe. Just don’t use “cream” or “sugar.”
When customers add anything to a fine coffee, roasters cringe like winemakers witnessing some schlub dropping ice cubes into an award-winning cabernet.
“People are used to drinking bad coffee,” said Patton, the former English teacher who runs Bird Rock Roasters. “They add the cream and sugar to cover that up.”
For a “cupping,” a tasting that Bird Rock hosts every Friday at 10:30 a.m., Patton poured three small cups – Misty Valley from Ethiopia, smelling sweet and berryish; La Plata from Colombia, full-bodied and classic; and Blue Batah from Sumatra. Blue Batah’s earthy, herbal notes may be familiar if you grew up on a commune or have attended the right sort of concerts.
“One customer wouldn’t buy it again,” Patton said. “People smelled the coffee and thought he was lighting up a joint.”
Outside of the caffeine jolt, though, there’s nothing intoxicating about Blue Batah. But Patton insisted that high-quality coffee is best tasted straight.
Stir in some cream, drop in one lump or two? “I would be missing out on what these coffees have to offer,” he said.
Ah, but what’s on offer? An expensive and consuming madness, or so it seems when you start shopping for $36-a-pound Honduran coffee, $200 German grinders and $300 home roasting units.
Do you want shade-grown organic espresso? Fair Trade Italian roast? Single-source Colombian from a farmer who, thanks to an honorable contract with a San Diego roaster, is finally able to escape from debt?
Good questions, worth considering. But even someone as coffee-crazed as Joe Behm prefers that such factors don’t obscure the bottom line.
“How’s this taste to you?” he asked. “That’s the rule of thumb.”