My last post was about farming, sustainability, and privilege, which segues nicely to today’s topic. Last year I read a San Francisco Magazine article, “Could Coffee Be California’s Next Cash Crop?” The coffee farmer, Jay Ruskey, in Goleta (near Santa Barbara) isn’t too far from the Biggest Little Farm. The California coffee growing madness has spread to San Diego County via Frinj, the company formed by Ruskey and partners to “provide California farmers an opportunity to diversify their farm portfolios.”
This seems a bit crazy to me since these areas don’t have much rain. There is no way you could dry farm coffee in these areas (not that they say they’re dry farming). Water is a very precious resource in California, and in the areas they’re talking about growing coffee, there might be an inch of rain, total, between April and October.
When I searched to see what recent news I could find, I found this online article, “The Birth of a Coffee Industry in California,” including a beautiful, romantic photographic series. There wasn’t really any new news, but there was an even nicer package to the story. Frinj has a slick website, but there isn’t any product for sale. In the San Diego news in March, they stated that Bird Rock Coffee Roasters had a pound of coffee for sale for $100, but the link showed it was $100 for 200 grams, not a pound, but about 7 ounces; that’s about $229/pound. The link is still sitting there, accessible directly, but you can’t reach it from the Bird Rock website.
We went to the San Francisco Coffee Festival a week ago, my first festival other than the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. I’m trying to better understand the coffee ecosystem. The festivals are different beasts altogether. The Kona Coffee Cultural Festival started in 1970(!), before the time of third-wave coffee urbanites, is heavy on the culture, lasts 10 days, and is very community based and chill. My impressions in SF were that it was super popular; there were a lot of roasters there; oat milk is the new, hot thing; and we saw a lot of Chemex and other pourover equipment in use to provide tastings. We saw only one Kona coffee stand, and I was surprised that they were offering their tastings in large pump thermoses (I don’t think they did their product justice when the other roasters were making fresh, small batch tastings).
I was excited to see that Bird Rock Coffee Roasters had a stand, since I was already working on this blog post. After tasting two delicious coffees of theirs (I forgot from exactly where since I didn’t write them down), I chatted with our helper, who turned out to be their Creative Director. I asked about the California coffee availability, price, etc. It sells out really quickly because they have a very limited supply (18 pounds?), and it IS that expensive, if not more. He ran through some numbers (cherry, green, roasted), and I thought I caught some conclusion of $225 for four ounces and someone from Dubai buying it. What??!!
Back to my internet searching … in general, I mostly found a lot of articles around 2018 about the fact that there IS coffee grown in California, and Blue Bottle sold it for a lot of money. In this Blue Bottle blog post, “Sustainable Coffee Farming, Right Here in California,” from the days of the media push, “Jay hopes someday to make California a sustainable coffee growing region.” Really?!! What’s he smoking?!! What else is he growing on that farm? Or are they counting on selling roasted coffee on the order of $200+/pound or unroasted beans to Blue Bottle for $65/pound, who then sells pour-overs at $16/cup? Lead me to THAT market!!
I would be thrilled if they were successful with their sustainable California coffee dream. And I would love it, too, if the Biggest Little Farm will continue on, sustainable from the farm, not a successful film.
Note: in the background of the featured image for this posting is Bea’s coffee tree growing in California. Anyone want to buy her California-grown coffee cherry? It takes about 9 pounds of cherry to make one pound of roasted beans, so $200/pound roasted would be about $22/pound cherry.