Will Southern California Be the ‘Napa Valley of Coffee’?

At the San Francisco Coffee Festival, Jay Ruskey, founder of Frinj Coffee, showcases his coffee grown near the University of California, Santa Barbara. The company is dedicated to ensuring that coffee crops, previously grown only in tropical climates, can thrive in Southern California. Over the past six years, 14 varieties of coffee are being carefully tended to on over 65 farms in Southern California from Santa Barbara to north of San Diego.

The results are garnering renown and gaining fans in the coffee world, with more California coffee than ever ready to harvest starting in May and throughout the summer. Over the past six years, more than 100,000 trees have been planted in the ground, and by summer 2024, they are expected to have six to eight times the coffee produced in 2023, about 6,500 to 8,000 pounds.

The quality of California coffee is receiving international attention, with Blue Bottle founder James Freeman featuring Frinj’s California-grown Gesha variety at his own coffee tasting-menu experience in Los Angeles. Tokyo-based barista champions Hide Izaki and Miki Suzuki visited Good Land Organics to taste Frinj coffees at a recent cupping to sample California-grown coffees. They expressed their excitement at the sweet and rich texture of California Gesha after experiencing an omakase course at Blue Bottle Studio Kyoto and tasting Californian Gesha blind at Frinj.

Ruskey has spent several attempts since the first planting of coffee trees in 2002 to learn best practices for growing coffee in Southern California. While tropical climates average over 60 degrees year-round and have generally high precipitation, he and other California coffee farmers are focusing on working with weather patterns, multilayer farming with other crops, and careful use of water.

Ruskey has always been passionate about crop adaptation, having been encouraged by Dr. Mark Gaskell, a small berry crop expert, to plant lychee and longans side by side with other plants.

Good Land Organics, located along the western edge of Goleta, California, is a 42-acre farm with over 35,000 coffee plants and avocado trees. The farm also grows ice cream beans, persimmons, pomegranates, passion fruit, dragon fruit, cherimoyas, and caviar limes in soil that has become more fertile from the biodiversity of crops. William Ristenpart, director of the UC Davis Coffee Center and a professor of chemical engineering, has been following Frinj’s progress.

Jay Ruskey, the founder of Frinj Coffee, sold his first harvests as roasted beans at the farmers market in Santa Barbara and on the Good Land Organics website. When Daily Coffee News blind-tasted Ruskey’s coffee in 2014 and named it 27th in the world, it gave him the confidence to consider his project as more than an experimental crop. Eventually, he began to offer roasted Frinj beans through some coffee shops from Bird Rock in San Diego to Burnside in Sacramento and beyond, such as at Make Worth Coffee in Bellham, Wash. Frinj is served at the Steward Hotel in Santa Barbara as part of its efforts to highlight locally sourced ingredients.

In Los Angeles, Goodboybob has put Frinj coffee on its pour-over menu and included it as part of a rare coffee subscription. Chief Executive Marcus Young has consulted with Frinj, and as the yield increases, intends to offer more in the future. Once coffee plants are established, trees can produce coffee annually for over 25 years.

Frinj also supplies plant material, support for cultivation, and sales opportunities for other coffee farmers. Coffee is essentially a fruit tree crop, which means establishment can be a long process as it can take 4 to 5 years to produce a first crop. Once coffee plants are established, trees can produce coffee annually for over 25 years, “so we are still very early in the California coffee industry’s developmental phase.”

Currently, roasted coffee of various varieties from several farms is priced at $15 to $125 on the Good Land Organics website. A coffee named Sundays at Toro, grown in Santa Barbara County by Chris and Kristina McCausland, is a Pacas variety with tasting notes of black cherry, passion fruit, cacao, and Port wine.

Frinj coffees made an appearance at the 2023 U.S. Brewers Cup in Portland, Ore. Elika Liftee, director of barista education at Onyx Coffee in Arkansas, competed in the finals with a blend of coffees grown at Rancho Delfino in Carpinteria.

Read More @ LA Times

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