A second chance for First Cup Cafe

As many of you know, First Cup Cafe in Fulshear has been one of our premier accounts and they have done a fabulous job showcasing our coffee over the past 2 years. I wanted to inform you of the recent developments at the shop. You may have noticed some changes at the shop if you have been in there since June. Long story short, the shop has new owners.  Let me share a bit of their story.

Last Spring, I was hosting a roastery tour and was rather disappointed when only one couple showed up. Little did I know, this impromptu meeting was quite important. Alberto and Grecia had met with the previous owner of First Cup Cafe and were considering the idea of purchasing the shop. They came to my roastery tour to learn more about my business. I noticed two things immediately. One; they were new to the coffee world, but eager to learn, and two; they understood that the way to make it in coffee is by having the best quality. They were not interested in cutting corners, but simply wanted to produce great coffee and great food.

I shared with them some of the knowledge I had gained over the years helping other shops get open. I also shared some of my thoughts for how to grow the business. This has stated a great collaborative partnership. Sergio Garcia (head barista at Blockhouse) and I held a training session where we crammed as much coffee and espresso knowledge into the staff's collective head's as we could in one afternoon.

I can say it has already had some effect on their quality. They've got some work before they start slinging out the latte art, but the lattes are coming out with properly steamed milk, at the right temp, with a well-extracted shot. Alberto and Grecia have also been working on updating the food menu and offering some new things on the drink menu (my personal fav is a cortado served in a 4-oz mason jar, so cute and delicious).

All this to say, if First Cup is your neighborhood cafe. Great, it's only going to get better. But, if were a customer of First Cup and you got frustrated with inconsistencies and quality, give it another shot. I think you will be really happy with the updated menu and the new attention to quality coffee.

Also, they are doing a fabulous job keeping their retail shelves stocked with lots of different varieties of our coffee (there were 8 varieties last I checked), including our Holiday Blend that we just released!

First Cup Cafe is located at 11525 S Fry Rd #110, Fulshear, TX 77441. If you've never been there, check it out. 

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

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.

Bryan HibbardComment
Pray for Houston

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.

Bryan HibbardComment
It's just a coffee tree
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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!

Bryan HibbardComment
That ubiquitous green siren

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.

Bryan HibbardComment