Perking up the community, one cup at a time
by Mariko Lamb
Oct 27, 2011 | 10889 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters won the prestigious Micro-Roaster of the Year award from <i>Roast</i> magazine's Roaster of the Year competition. DON BALCH. Illustration by Kendra Hartmann
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Bird Rock’s favorite little coffee roaster took home a big win from Roast magazine’s annual Roaster of the Year competition, beating out micro-roasters from all over the nation to achieve the 2012 Micro-Roaster of the Year award — the first time any San Diego roaster has won the prestigious honor.

Although the Bird Rock community already knew Bird Rock Coffee Roasters had some of the nation’s best roasts, Roast magazine verified that through a panel of experts and blind judgment by two separate labs — Lab International in Vermont and Atlas Coffee Importers in Seattle.

The experts’ judgments were based on various criteria, including aroma, color, imperfections, bean size and flavor profile. Based on the Coffee Review — the world’s leading coffee guide — Bird Rock Coffee Roasters consistently achieved a score of more than 90 points out of 100 for its roasted varietals, outperforming national competitors.

The expert panel particularly enjoyed the Sumatra Lake Tawar, a rich, full-bodied, earthy-sweet roast that Coffee Review scored at 94, with a perfect 10 for flavor.

Although the roast is certainly popular among customers, owner and primary roaster Chuck Patton explained Sumatra Lake Tawar caters to “more adventurous coffee drinkers” due to its complexity of flavors, including grapefruit, black cherry and cedar.

The former community college English professor has come a long way in the past decade from roasting as a hobby (thanks to a home roaster from his wife) to selling coffee at the La Jolla farmers market, opening a kiosk on Turquoise Street and finally opening his own store in Bird Rock five years ago.

He opened directly across the street from his competition, Starbucks — a chain well known for its dark roasts.

Patton, on the other hand, focuses on medium roasts so his customers taste the bean’s qualities.

“The lighter you roast, the more origin characteristics you get from the coffee,” he said. “If you roast too darkly you end up not tasting its character.”

Patton is dedicated to sourcing at origin, traveling to far-reaching countries like Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Bolivia to buy directly from individual farmers — an arduous task, but one that pays off in every cup.

“We’re the only ones in San Diego that consistently source at origin. It’s rare to find a company our size do it so often,” he said. “We find coffees that no one else is getting and are unique. The only way to do that is to go there and meet the farmer.”

Upcoming trips this year include pre-harvest visits to Guatemala, Kenya and Burundi to speak with farmers about their harvest and build long-term, sustainable relationships with them.

“A business agreement only works out if there is a certain level of trust,” he said.

In addition to fair-trade practices, Patton is dedicated to supporting causes both locally and abroad.

He has given back to coffee-growing countries through nonprofits like “Grounds for Help,” an international organization that works to prevent cervical cancer in women in coffee-growing countries and “Beyond the Surface International,” an initiative to empower homeless children abroad by teaching them how to surf, a venture started by a former employee.

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters is also heavily involved in community causes, including selling “cause coffees” to raise funds for local nonprofits and hosting meetings for volunteer organizations like the Bird Rock Community Council.

“Before I moved to Bird Rock, I never did volunteer work. But once I got involved in the community, I saw the amount of change people can make. It was really invigorating for me to see that people really can have a positive effect,” he said. “We are really sensitive of the fact that the business wouldn’t be anywhere without the community’s support.”

Patton said that although he has no desire to become the next big Starbucks chain, he is considering expanding, possibly with another San Diego retail location next year.

“The award is a fantastic honor, but it’s not the end all. It’s sort of a progress report,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of great coffee, but we’re still going forward.”
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