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Why switch roasters? The long version....

Happy Girl switches roasters.
So, you may be wondering why Happy Girl Kitchen Co. switched coffee roasters anyway….It was a midsummer nights dream (or was it a nightmare?).  Blue Bottle sent out an email one day that said, "It is bittersweet that I bring you news of a change in direction for Blue Bottle Coffee.  After careful consideration, Blue Bottle Coffee’s leadership have made the difficult decision to close the wholesale division".  I was so upset when I received that email.  We have known James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle, since his farmers market days, and as soon as we opened our cafe it was obvious to us that we were going to go with Blue Bottle Coffee.  I have loved it since the day I tried it and I was not even a coffee drinker.  As a business owner, I am used to being the one to call the shots and since this major change did not come from me, I was taken aback.  
We were given a 3-month notice and so the mandatory search for a new roaster began.  Some asked "why not go with a truly local roaster close to home?"  I really respect our ultra local roasters and appreciate what they do, but here at Happy Girl we want to provide this area with a unique experience.  We also spend a lot of time in the Bay Area and our delivery driver, Randy, drives through the city every week on deliveries and pick ups and so a roaster up there is just as local for us.  And so our search naturally took us beyond our ultra local roasters to the city.

There are A LOT of third-wave coffee roasters in the Bay Area and we were really impressed.  One of the problems about us finding a new roaster is that, as I mentioned before, I have always loved Blue Bottle Coffee, but I really did not know quite why.  I wasn't sure what I liked about it, but now I have to figure out what it was and there is a lot that goes into the relationship with your roaster.  There are so many factors that make a difference.  The careful sourcing is a huge part of it as coffee beans have a lot of drama and abuse surrounding them.  It is important for roasters to have a personal relationship with all of it’s farmers, just as Happy Girl does with all of her farmers.  The flavor of the coffee and its consistency is another huge factor.  The quality of a roasters training program for our baristas is very important to me.   It is a chance for them to impart their lives passion on our baristas and get them fired up about the quality and the product after all, the baristas are the last in the long chain of a good cup of coffee!   This is a complicated partnership to develop.
Wikipedia defines third wave coffee roasters as "The third wave of coffee refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee plant growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers, traders, and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting, at times called "microroasting" (by analogy with microbrew beer), to skilled brewing."

(PHOTOS left to right:  amazing choices, stamp of approval, our tasting chart of roaster visits by 7 year old Jaya)
Having so many options within the Bay Area was a good problem to have.  I had my initial prejudices and I even made grand proclamations that "I would NEVER choose this or that roaster."  I am known to enjoy using the words "never" and "always" even though I know they should be used with extreme caution.  I think we should all just admit that we have prejudices and it is really all about how we act or do not act upon them.  I kept an opened mind.  The last roaster that we visited in our journey of 8 different roasters was the one that I said we would NEVER choose.  I just thought they were way too Portland for me.  Too hip.  Too specialty.  Too obvious.  Of course, within the one hour tour of their facility I was 90% sure that this was going to be our roaster.  Our kids were in tow that day and my daughter immediately fell asleep at the bar sitting on a high stool with her head nestled into her folded arms (no, I did not take a photo!).  She slept there for our entire visit.  Our son tasted their coffee and immediately approved of the roast.  
We continued to ask them the same questions we asked the other roasters and really appreciated the answers they gave. You know when you meet someone and feel like long lost friends, well that is how it was over at this final roaster visit.  For me the clinch moment was when my preconceived notion of how they got their name was shattered.  I pictured 4 whiskey barrels lined up in a cellar somewhere, which were tapped into on occasions reminiscent of the prohibition.  We were led up 5 narrow stairs to their little micro-roasting tower for testing coffees.  When I say micro roaster I mean it as the little roasters up there hold about 1/4 pound of coffee beans.  He explained that this tiny micro roaster with four barrels is where their name comes from as it is used to test all of their coffees before purchase.  
(The happy girls group visit, tasting back home, mini roaster!) 
Our tour continued like this with my every preconceived notion being shattered one after another.  Nothing excites me more than being wrong as I am a very opinionated woman.  And so we brought the samples back to our staff and we all unanimously agreed, the votes were in and Four Barrel became our new roaster at Happy Girl.  We have all since went up for trainings and introductions and we all love the company.  The training is superior to anything we have ever experienced anywhere and their passion for quality really shines.  It dawned on me early on that Happy Girl and Four Barrel share some very important values and that we are both very serious about quality, but not about life.  I am excited for this new journey with this partnership and realize that what I initially saw as a huge negative turned out being the best thing that could happen to Happy Girl.  We know you will agree!
(Kylie up at a training and LOVING IT - you can see the love in her latte art!)

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  • Hein on

    This is the sweetest, smartest blog post. Thanks, Happy Girl!

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