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
Sorry for not writing sooner...

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.

Bryan HibbardComment
I'm a real coffee roaster now!

This past week, I got the amazing opportunity to study roasting and green coffee buying at Ozo Coffee in Boulder, Colorado. It was a great trip. Before moving to Houston, my family lived in Colorado. In fact, I worked for a company located in Boulder. So, it was a bit like going home. I tried to soak up all the beautiful mountain scenery and the crisp Fall air. I feel like I am still waiting for Fall to start here in Texas.

It was also a great time to reflect. When I left Colorado, I was still working for the company in Boulder (telecommuting) and coffee roasting was a hobby I did with my popcorn popper on my back porch. I had no plans of starting my own business. Coming back I was surprised at how much I had changed, and how much Fort Bend Coffee Roasters has allowed me to grow. It was surreal, to say the least.

It is hard to put into words what this trip meant to me. Since I started my business, I have had a goal of getting my Roaster's Guild level 1 certification. I always felt like a bit of a phony without it. I mean, I knew that people liked my coffee, and I thought it was pretty good. But I have always been wary of sharing my coffee with a real coffee professional. I am still waiting for the day when I am "found out." In the three years since I started my business, many coffee professionals have tried my coffee, and no one has confirmed my fears that I have no clue what I am doing. I guess I'm ok.

I came away from the class making some new connections, learning some really common sense practices that I was missing from my operation, but nothing earth shattering. And I feel like my breadth of knowledge of the roasting profession has increased. But the biggest takeaway I had was a confirmation that roasting really is more art than science and that those people who claim to know the secrets of roasting, are actually full of themselves. There is no secret, beyond your own palate, and a relentless pursuit of a better roast than you did last time. Mike Ebert, our instructor told us that some of his past students weren't interested in putting the work in and they just wanted to know the secret to a good roast. His answer is the same as the computer from Douglas Adams famous book. The secret to coffee roasting (and the meaning of life) is 42.

It turns out, the knowledge I had gained from articles and books I found in the industry, and my own trial and error, were more than enough to make me a great roaster. Chris Schooley (the guy who's articles on home roasting I had poured over with a fine tooth comb and that have informed my roasting style more than anything else) stopped by to say hi to our instructor. I was a bit star struck, in a nerdy coffee way. And Mike, our instructor, is a veteran of the roasting industry, a former SCAA president, and is well respected in the coffee world. He took the time after class one of the days to talk with my about my coffee business and give his advice for our future. This industry, that I am increasingly in awe of continues to feel smaller as I get to meet and learn from the best minds in coffee. For all we have done, the specialty coffee scene still feels like it is just getting started. I am grateful to be a part of it.

In the class, we got a lot of time to work on the roasters in Ozo Coffee. I roasted multiple profiles  of the same Honduran lot throughout the week on a Dietrich IR-12 and a wide variety of coffees on a 2-barrel sample roaster. It was a great week, and I feel more confident calling myself a coffee professional. Though I don't know that my fears of not being the qualified will ever go away. I have been reading Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia) to my daughter and I was reminded of a passage toward the end of the story in which the battle is won and Aslan asks Prince Caspian if feels ready to lead his people as king. He says no, and Aslan wisely points out, that is precisely why he is ready to lead. Humility leads me to say, I can offer you great coffee, but I have so much more to learn. I am both encouraged and humbled by my week of coffee training.

 

Bryan HibbardComment
Let's do this!

It has been a bit of an interesting few months for me and my family. I have some bad news, some good news, and a challenge for all my coffee fans.

Let's get the bad news out of the way. The big beautiful coffee shop/roastery combo that I was working on with a restaurant company in Richmond hit some major funding issues. The project was delayed by 6 months, and their cushy startup capital has dwindled. So, Blockhouse Coffee & Kitchen is moving forward as a small, simple coffee shop. And I am no longer on the payroll as a coffee consultant/barista trainer. Also, my roastery is staying out in Fulshear, at least for the immediate future. We are sad to see this opportunity pass, but we are hopeful for our future.

So that leads me to the good news. We now have new options. Our goal is, within the next year, to open a roastery/coffee bar combo somewhere in Fort Bend County. This also gives us time to focus on expanding our core business. We are quickly coming up with new ways to offer products to you. Abby is making some awesome pillows from our coffee bags. I am working on making custom pour-over stands. As well, we are greatly expanding my brewing equipment offerings. We are also actively pursuing new businesses to carry our coffee.

The Hibbard Family: Abby, Bryan, Rory, and Zeke.

The Hibbard Family: Abby, Bryan, Rory, and Zeke.

So here's the challenge. Fort Bend Coffee Roasters is doing great, but it is not bringing in enough to pay our bills. It is close, and so we are willing to make sacrifices in order to keep bringing you amazing coffee. But, we need your help. Here are some ways you can help us make FBCR a successful business:

1. Buy coffee: Obviously, if you love our coffee, make the effort to get a bag. We are trying to make it available in as many places as we can to make it easy for you. Also, make us your one-stop shop for gifts for your favorite coffee lover this holiday season (Holiday Blend 2016 will be available November 1!).

2. Tell your friends: We know there are many people who would be our customers if they just knew that we existed. We need your help to spread the word.

3. Help us find opportunities: Do you have a favorite restaurant that has terrible coffee? Tell them about us. Do you have events in your community that we could serve coffee at? Do you know someone who is thinking about opening a coffee shop? Once a shop chooses a roasting company to go with, it is difficult for them to switch, even if they find a better option. Do you know a commercial property owner that would love to have a roastery/coffee bar combo at their property?

4. Be ready to give: Once we do find the right spot for a roastery/coffee bar, we will be launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for equipment and build-out. You will have the chance to help us make it happen, and you will get some awesome gifts in return.

Our humble beginnings, roasting in our garage in 2013.

Our humble beginnings, roasting in our garage in 2013.

Our current roastery in Fulshear.

Our current roastery in Fulshear.

In the end, we want you to know how thankful we are to all of our fans! We could not do this without you and we hope to be your local coffee roaster for many years to come.

Bryan Hibbard Comments
A community of coffee people

Today I want to write about what it is like to be a part of a community. Specifically a community of coffee professionals. From the beginning, I have been welcomed into the world of specialty coffee with open arms. Even though the third wave of American coffee has been going strong for more than a decade, the sentiment is still "the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." This is especially true here in the Houston area where 3rd wave coffee is still a rather new concept, and even more true in the suburbs, where it is almost non-existent. 

The picture above is of my coffee roaster. Yes, I am a big fan of Boomtown Coffee, but no I did not put that sticker there. It came with the machine, when I purchased it from Matt Toomey (the owner of Boomtown). And I left it there to remind me of the provenance of this fine piece of American manufacturing. Matt bought this machine from the guys who started Amaya Roasting Company. So the machine has now been in the hands of three successful Houston roasters. Matt gave me a great deal on the roaster when he was ready to upgrade his operation, and I plan to do the same for another aspiring roasting company when I am ready for a bigger machine.

Beyond that, I have been treated as an equal among roasters who have far more experience, and are roasting a ton more coffee per week. I often feel I don't deserve that honor, but I am grateful to be a part of the club. With a common passion, we find it hard to be enemies, even though good business practices say we should protect our turf. And so, instead of just having the goal of seeing Fort Bend Coffee Roasters succeed, I also have the larger goal of seeing the coffee scene in Houston succeed, and each coffeeshop and roastery is a part of that goal.

So here a short list of my fellow roaster/cafes in Houston, if you love my coffee, I know you will also love theirs. These are all shops (like Blockhouse) that are either owned by, or deeply connected to their roasting partner.

Boomtown Coffee: 242 W. 19th St., Houston, TX 77008 (Roaster: Boomtown Coffee Roasters).
The Honeymoon: 300 Main Street, Houston, TX 77002 (Roaster: Boomtown Coffee Roasters).
Catalina Coffee: 2201 Washington Ave., Houston, TX 77007 (Roaster: Amaya Roasting Company).
Southside Espresso: 904-C Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006 (Roaster: Fusion Beans).
Blacksmith: 1018 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77006 (Roaster: Greenway Coffee Company).
Pearland Coffee Roasters: 4106 Broadway St., Pearland, TX 77581 (Roaster: Pearland Coffee Roasters).

 There are plenty of other great shops that could go on this list. But these are my favorites. If you havn't been, next time you are in the city stop by one of these great shops.

Bryan HibbardComment