My how the mighty have fallen... by Bryan Hibbard

Ok, so that's a bit over-dramatic but here in the coffee world we are watching the maturation of 3rd wave coffee. The news hit today that Blue Bottle Coffee was purchased by Nestle. Or, at least they now own 68% of the company. They paid a cool $500 million for this privilege. Quite impressive for a niche brand that currently has 50 stores. Founder James Freeman is still at the helm and the company claims that nothing will change in their focus or quality. Don't expect to see Blue Bottle branded Nespresso capsules anytime soon. The new capital just gives them a chance to grow more aggressively and invest in coffee technology. Time will tell.

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They are not the only ones, 2015 the parent company of Peet's Coffee and Tea purchased Stumptown outright, and got a majority stake in Intelligentsia. What we are witnessing is big companies realizing the awesome growth potential in the third-wave coffee market. They are buying up the biggest and most established players in the market and planning aggressive growth strategies. Starbucks is pulling its weight too with their Reserve Roastery cafes.

Before I talk about the challenges, I want to point out the positives in this. First, this is the ultimate proof of concept for the 3rd wave coffee industry. This style of coffee is here to stay and it is poised for pretty dramatic growth. I envision a time in the near future when Starbucks (while it still may remain the most ubiquitous) will not be the only national chain available for coffee in most markets. Second, Blue Bottle, Stumptown, and Intelligentsia are all (currently) producing amazing coffee. As they expand, they will teach more people what great coffee is, which will make the education process easier for us little guys. My customers who are transplants from major coffee cities like Seattle and Portland are often great to work with. A roaster or coffeeshop has already done the work of introducing them to third-wave coffee, teaching them about the product, and helping them find what they like. They can usually find something similar to what they enjoyed at home from our lineup without much help from us. Third, these large third-wave companies have been pioneers in helping farmers and cooperatives get better prices for their coffee (at a time when it was really hard to do!). I don't see their general vision for coffee quality changing, so this will mean even more demand for high quality coffees that give livable wages to coffee farmers.

On the other hand, this does mean more competition for the thousands of small coffee roasters and independent coffee shops across the nation. When we are competing against grocery store coffee or Starbucks, we can win on quality pretty easily. But these large third-wave shops have access to some of the very best coffees in the world and have the buying power to ensure that no one else can get a hold of them. Our coffee will be a of equal quality and flavor (though it might be fresher depending on how well they maintain their supply chain). We will have to find other ways to set ourselves apart, such as local pride, customer service, and individual attention that a larger company cannot offer. I personally, am happy to be focused on the suburbs of Houston. While I can definitely see Blue Bottle or Stumptown opening a cafe in Houston in the next 5 years, I don't think they are setting their sites on Richmond or Fulshear yet.

It is fun to be a part of an industry that, on one hand is 600+ years old, but on the other hand is on the cusp of a massive expansion of the new style of coffee.

Pray for Houston by Bryan Hibbard

Well, its been a bit of a week here in Houston. I can't tell you how exceedingly blessed we feel to be safe and dry. And yet, I know all of us feel a bit of survivor's guilt seeing our neighbors' homes flooded. The nightmare is not over yet, but for now I am very happy to say that our home and our roastery survived the storm with no flooding. We left for Dallas on Thursday hoping to get ahead of the storm. We are now staying with some friends in the Western part of Arkansas. It's beautiful here, but we just can't wait to be home.

My view from Arkansas.

My view from Arkansas.

The short news is, we are not taking roasting orders this week. We are looking forward to getting back to work next week! We are going to do what we can to contribute to the recovery effort. We will be donating 10 lbs of coffee to each of our coffee shop accounts to brew and deliver as they see fit. I know everyone could use a good cup of coffee after Harvey.

We have some more ways to help too in the works. We will update you once we have this all sorted out. In the meantime, our prayers are with all our neighbors in Houston. 

This cat (Linda) at our friends house in Arkansas didn't want me to write this blog.

This cat (Linda) at our friends house in Arkansas didn't want me to write this blog.

It's just a coffee tree by Bryan Hibbard

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So, you are probably going to see a lot more photos like this. I am super excited about a bunch of white flowers. This is a coffee tree (Arabica) and this is the first year it has flowered. If we are lucky, we will get some harvestable coffee cherries and I will be able to harvest, process and roast a very local cup of coffee. It's a coffee tree, but it's a lot more than that.

You hear a lot about my life (Bryan) and my exploits in this company, but in fact Fort Bend Coffee Roasters is a partnership. My partner is none other than my wife, Abby. She has largely worked in the background, supporting me and making sure we present a coherent and artistic image. She also keeps me in line when I come up with ideas that are a little too crazy. I am the visionary, she is the realist. And its a good thing we have each other. Abby has sacrificed much for this company. She has spent countless Saturdays with our kids so that I could bring coffee to the Sugar Land farmers market. She picked up the slack in the early years when I maintained a full time job along with the roasting business. We have done without while we have waited for our business income to take off. And she has stayed home with our kids and done whatever odd jobs were needed so that she could be with our kids before they reached school age.

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Along the way, Abby has gotten the opportunity to sell coffee with me, learn how to make an awesome espresso, get a crash course in marketing, finance, customer service, branding, and all the other free lessons this business has given us. She can talk with the best of them about roasting, brewing, coffee growing, harvesting, processing, and the business in general. Abby's favorite origin is Guatemala, and I make sure we always have at least one lot from that origin in our lineup.

Abby has worked in the background while I have gotten all the glory as the head roaster. I want to let you in on a little dream we have for our future. When Abby and I were engaged and planning our future, we had this rather frivolous dream of opening a coffee shop together when we retired. As the roasting business grows and becomes more self sufficient, we hope to expand with a coffee shop attached to our roastery. That will involve a move to a location that is not in the middle of nowhere, and a lot of capital. I'll keep my focus on the roasting side. But, our plan is for Abby to take center stage in the coffee shop; training and guiding our baristas in producing the best coffee we know how to make. We love all of our wholesale partners, but we still want the chance to share our own voice in coffee. I've been doing this long enough to make no promises on timing, but we hope to get this into motion once our youngest is in kindergarten (about 2 years from now). If this sounds like something you want to see happen, just keep buying our coffee and singing our praises to your friends and family.

We were so young!

We were so young!

So, about that coffee tree, you are probably wondering why it is so important to me. Abby gave me a tiny coffee seedling as a gift for our second anniversary, before I was even a home coffee roaster. I kept it in my office in Colorado and it moved with us to Texas. All along, I have seen it as a symbol of our relationship. Hence, I have tried really hard to keep it alive! In June, Abby and I will celebrate our 9th anniversary. And just like our love, the tree has grown (imperfectly, mind you) and has become more beautiful. I hope to see this simple coffee tree continue to grow and flourish and, in a few years, sit in a sunny window in our new coffee shop!

That ubiquitous green siren by Bryan Hibbard

My topic today is Starbucks. *Cue startled gasps* These days, everyone loves to hate Starbucks. Though, they must still be buying from them, because Starbucks is doing just fine! While I don't agree with everything the company has done, I have immense respect for what they have done for the coffee scene. I want to take a chance to put things in proper perspective.

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Starbucks began in Seattle, Washington in the 70s with three former University of San Francisco students. They had learned their craft from Alfred Peet (of Peet's Coffee and Tea). Starbucks, along with a few other like-minded roasting companies began a new style of coffee. The focus was on better quality, and darker roasts. This contrasted with the mass-market coffee that was being roasted lighter and lighter with low quality beans. At the time, coffee quality was not nearly as good as it is now and so the dark roast really improved the quality of these inconsistent beans. As the company expanded and gained traction, they were the front lines of this new style of coffee all over the world. They taught the language of espresso (latte, macchiato, cappuccino). The biggest thing they did, was convince people that coffee was worth more, and that it was ok to pay $3 for a good beverage.

In the 90s and early 2000s, as third-wave shops started to rise, they presented themselves as a alternative to Starbucks. They started buying higher-quality, more traceable lots and roasting them lighter. But, the truth is, no one would have cared that they existed if Starbucks had not led the way. So when I hear someone bashing the 'Bucks, I remind them gently that Starbucks has played a huge role in the success of small, artisan roasters like me. I write this in the hopes that you, who sheepishly hide your Starbucks cup when you walk by my farmers market booth, will know that I don't judge you for buying from them. They are a part of our history, and with their massive market control, they are likely to play a major role in shaping the future of the coffee world.

One more thing I will share on this topic, and then I'm done. For much of the past 4-5 decades, the small roasters and coffee shops have been struggling to keep up with Starbucks, yet in the past 5 years I have noticed a distinct change. Starbucks, slowly, but surely, has begun to offer their own versions of classic third-wave beverages (Flat white, espresso macchiato, cold brew). Last time I walked by the Starbucks in my neighborhood Kroger, I noticed they were selling a cascara latte (cascara is made from the dried coffee cherry). So Starbucks, in small way, is looking to us for innovation and that is a good sign that we are on to something!

Me and Starbucks, we roast very differently. Their "light" roast is a bit past my medium-dark roast. But, they have a distinct style. And I'm not going to judge you if you pop in for a Frappuccino from time to time. There is a tag line I want to steal from another company. Goose Island Beer Company has the line "we don't want to be the only beer you drink, we just want to be the best beer you drink." I feel the same way about coffee. We don't need to be the only coffee you drink, we just want to be the best coffee you drink.

Sorry for not writing sooner... by Bryan Hibbard

Yeah, so my goal of writing a weekly blog post for all of 2016 was about 50% successful. Not too bad. I have not written here in a few months. Sorry to leave you waiting. It has been a busy time trying to figure out how to grow our business well.

Long story short, Fort Bend Coffee Roasters is doing great. The new accounts that we needed to keep the doors open have come through, and there are many more possibilities on the horizon! Also you, my customers, have obviously done your part too as our farmers market, online, and retail sales are all up. We are thankful to everyone who has made the effort to buy our local coffee. So thanks Fort Bend County, I feel the love!

So, what has happened since we last talked? A few new accounts have come in such as Whiskey Cake in Katy, the new Proud Pie truck in Sugar Land (and wherever they feel like going), and yes Blockhouse Coffee and Kitchen in Richmond will be opening "soon." Last time I was in there, they had their equipment installed and they were hiring their opening team, so we are talking a few weeks "soon" not a few months. Assuming everything goes according to plan. Which it might! We also started serving our espresso at a TCBY in Cinco Ranch and we expanded our offerings at Kosmos Coffee. They have been using our drip coffee for years, but now they are using our espresso as well.

The Sugar Land market continues to be an awesome event for us. We are serving our cold brew coffee now that winter is over and summer is starting (whatever happened to Spring?). Also, happy to announce we will be selling our cold brew blend, by the bag, in a few weeks. I've got a new guy running my booth. Say hi to Tim when you stop by. I'll be training him in the ways of coffee, but don't give him too hard a time as he learns the ropes. We are also planning to expand to a second market at Harvest Green off 99. We will start up that market in a few weeks once I get my new supplies together and get Tim trained up for the Sugar Land market.

More and more of you are utilizing our online store. We can ship directly to your house or you can choose one of our convenient pick-up locations (we are planning to add a few more of those too). Also, our weekly and bi-weekly subscription plans are continuing to grow. If you are a regular purchaser of our coffee, consider a subscription. You can set it and forget it, and always have fresh FBCR coffee. I am also happy to say, we are selling T-shirts with the Fort Bend Coffee Roasters logo, printed in the USA and designed by local company Promise and Oath. I am thinking about bringing in some new mugs too, once I sell some T-shirts. So keep an eye out for those.

Coffee-wise, we have brought in some stellar new lots. Rwanda: Miko and Honduras: Finca La Tigra are pushing the envelope of what can be done from these origins. We will also be bringing in a new Brazil natural from the Forca Cafe competition (we have purchased lots from this competition the previous two years). This is a great program that gives very small farmers in Brazil a chance to get a great price for there amazing coffee. This year's lot has notes of vanilla, berries, and charred oak (like bourbon).

So that's us in a nutshell. You keep buying the coffee, and I'll keep roasting the coffee. It's good doing business with you.