How the Pacific Northwest Is Shaping Coffee Culture

The Pacific Northwest, a region known for its gray skies and evergreen trees, has played a significant role in the global coffee culture. Coffee is not a bean but the seed of a coffee cherry, with Ethiopia being considered the birthplace of coffee. The first tangible evidence of coffee drinking dates back to the 15th century in Sufi monasteries in Yemen. Coffee spread to Egypt, Syria, Turkey, then across Europe and into the Americas by the 18th century.

A turning point for the brew in the United States came after the Boston Tea Party, when a revolt against the heavy tax on tea gave way to coffee’s rise in popularity. By the 1900s, coffee was everywhere, including the Pacific Northwest. Since the early 1900s, the Pacific Northwest has been on the forefront of global coffee culture.

The modern rise in coffee’s popularity is often classified into three waves. The first wave encompassed nearly everything up to when coffee became accessible and affordable to the wider population. In the 1960s and ’70s, the roast of the coffee started to become the focus, marking the beginning of coffee’s second wave. Peet’s and Starbucks brought a really dark roast coffee — something more distinct — to the American palette that completely transformed coffee in the United States.

The second wave was when lattes and other espresso-based drinks became popularized. By the ’80s and ’90s, palates were shifting again, with roasters and drinkers focusing on the quality of the coffee bean itself. Three prominent coffee roasters came to be associated with this wave: Chicago’s Intelligentsia, Counter Culture from North Carolina, and Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

During this time, the approach to roasting shifted away from the dark roasts of the second wave and towards a lighter roast to highlight the flavors inherent to each coffee variety. There was also a push for more transparency around how the coffee was sourced, with Stumptown becoming a pioneer in the direct trade sourcing model.

Notable Pacific Northwest coffee companies Starbucks and Stumptown Coffee Roasters are at the forefront of the second and third waves, respectively.

Portland, Oregon, is a hub of coffee culture, with nearly 100 microroasters working on a smaller scale to bring small batches of coffee to the community. Many of these microroasters use a co-roasting facility, which allows for a shared cost of equipment and business overhead, opening the door for some roasters who would have otherwise been priced out of roasting their own.

Joey Gleason, co-owner of Buckman Coffee Factory, and her sister Cassy Gleason opened the co-roasting facility in 2015 to create a welcoming and easy environment for new coffee roasters. The space allows for a shared cost of equipment and business overhead, and opens the door to some roasters who would have otherwise been priced out of roasting their own.

Keia Booker, who owns Keia & Martyn’s Coffee, has integrated her social and environmental justice work into the coffee company by creating an equity pricing model where people can pay three different options of what they can pay. This tiered pricing is optional but helps customers think more intentionally about how they spend their money and keeps coffee more affordable overall.

In the summer of 2023, Keia & Martyn’s Coffee expanded from a subscription-only model to adding a pop-up cafe location at the Lloyd Center Mall. This change in demographic has allowed the company to see people of color as customers, as most of their customers are white people in their subscriptions.

The future of Pacific Northwest coffee is still being charted, with microroasters set to be at the forefront of tomorrow’s coffee culture. The co-roasting facility allows for a shared cost of equipment and business overhead, and opens the door for some roasters who would have otherwise been priced out of roasting their own.

Read More @ OPB

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