6 Questions with Bird Rock Coffee

What should anyone looking to get a cup of coffee know about Bird Rock?

What sets us apart is our relationship with the growers. The green beans we seek all over the world meet our highest standards, and we roast and prepare this coffee with the utmost respect for those who grew it. We pay a premium to farmers based on the quality of the cup. We also promote a long-term mutually beneficial, sustainable relationship with our coffee producers. We’ve worked with many farmers 2-4 years, and several, for more than 10 years. We love those long term relationships because quality has continued to improve throughout those many years. It’s what keeps us coming back, the quality coffee and the relationships we’ve developed with the producers.

When you were starting out in Kansas, a customer told you that your coffee sucked. Why was this the best and worst feedback you received?

Yeah, that was 1994. And at that time, all coffee sucked, to be honest. There was no ‘specialty coffee’ at the time. So what he was referring to was that by any standard we had a light roast, and he was used to a darker roast. But all I heard was, ‘Your coffee sucks.’ It didn’t really matter, because it was no different than anybody else’s, but what that alerted me to was that I had to have great coffee. That’s what put me on the quest to figure it out. Traveling to origin and finding producers who were willing to produce an amazing product.

How did roasters like yourselves affect how coffee was being produced?

I took a trip to Guatemala to origin in 2001, and we discovered that the basic price for coffee was so low, that there was no incentive for coffee farmers to treat it well. They were losing money anyway. So, we started incentivizing farmers to ‘micro-lot’—choose a section of their farm from which to make a small crop and take exceptional care of it, so they could see the difference and see what the price difference would be if they took care of it. But our message became, ‘If you choose your best parcel of land and process it with great care, we can pay you a higher price.’ That’s what led us on the journey that we’re on today, where coffee is truly special.

How do you choose the farmers you work with?

We have a couple of systems to identify farmers we want to work with. One is, we just discover them when we’re tasting coffee—what’s called cupping. When you find an amazing coffee on the cupping table, that’s a way to discover amazing coffee. The other way is that there are amazing competitions nowadays around the world. That’s where they encourage farmers to submit a section of their farm to be judged by an international jury, which we’ll be a part of. Then, you find who the best farmer was that year and try to establish a relationship.

How has coffee culture grown, influenced a community and fostered relationships?

There’s more great coffee on the market right now nationwide than ever in our history. The word of mouth amongst coffee farmers was very strong. When we—and it wasn’t only us—started working with farmers, word started to spread very quickly that if you do this, this and this, you can increase your price. Or, go to a roaster and establish a relationship. Then, it became more about the relationship—it became, ‘How can we make your coffee even better than it is.’ That led to coffee experiments and improving natural processes. So word of mouth spread like wildfire across Latin America because they wanted their neighbors to have the opportunity to make amazing coffee as well.

Do you both always agree on where the best coffee comes from?

Very Perceptive! Most of the time we do, to be honest. A great coffee will always standout on the cupping table. But if you ask Maritza, from her heart, where is the best coffee? She’ll smile and tell you Colombia. She is from Colombia after all. So I expect that. We both smile then.