Ground to Grounds
San Francisco, California
What other coffee jobs have you had?
I’ve had very little experience in the coffee industry here in the United States. In 2007, I worked for TechnoServe in Tanzania on the production side of the business. We helped coffee farmers access the specialty market through improved quality control including access to pulping machines as well as direct marketing connections within the industry. Through my experience working in sub Saharan Africa, I got the opportunity to lead a company selling health products overseas called Living Goods, which I’ve done for the past 6 years.
I recently left that venture and started Ground to Grounds. This is my way to get back into coffee—my true passion. There are so many farmers, green buyers, roasters, and baristas doing amazing work—I want to do all that I can to promote these unsung heroes of the coffee industry. If the average consumer has a slightly better understanding of the people and places behind their coffee, then we’ve been successful.
What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?
There are three things I absolutely love about working in coffee:
1) I am continuously amazed that I can consume a product every day that has come from thousands of miles away. I’m a part of a network including the farmer, the roaster, and everyone in-between. I am connected with humanity when I drink a cup of coffee.
2) I love the daily ritual of making coffee. I have an old Sylvia Rancilio at home and it takes me about 15 minutes to pull a cappuccino in the morning. It’s a meditative practice that I would not give up for the world.
3) The social interaction that coffee encourages is infectious, particularly in the industry. Since we started Ground to Grounds, everyone has been incredibly welcoming and generous. It’s cliched, but the specialty coffee industry engages a certain type of person: passionate, engaged, and magnanimous.
Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?
Given that 5 years ago I started a company selling health products in sub Saharan Africa, and 5 years before that, I was in the Peace Corps, I literally have no idea what I’ll be doing a few years from now. That said, I would love to see Grounds take off as a community and coffee drinkers’ resource—both online and offline. And we are working hard to make that vision a reality.
Who and what inspires you?
Steve saw an opportunity to help cafes and brew bars enter the roasting game. He’s created an amazing company that benefits all involved – cafes, roasters and producers. He’s going to do great things with the Pulley Collective.
In Four Barrel, Jeremy has created the company of his dreams – he has the happiest (and lowest turnover) baristas and employees I’ve seen in a cafe. He is genuinely concerned with his consumers and has built and incredibly successful business on that principle – it’s inspiring.
What are you drinking right now?
I’m currently obsessing over Roast Co’s Yirgacheffe and Ceremony Coffee’s Destroyer – both of which I’m pulling as espresso. I also just got my hands on some Congolese beans from Sweet Maria’s, and I’m home roasting them in my old school popcorn popper. I can taste the terroir in these beans (you don’t see a lot of Congolese beans around) and it’s fun to play with the roast. That said, I haven’t gotten the profile right yet – it’s a work in progress.
Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?
When I arrived in a rural mountain village in the Philippines for my two year stint in the Peace Corps, I was thrilled to find wild coffee trees growing at altitude. A New Zealand development agency had planted them to promote coffee farming in the highlands. No one had any idea what these were for, so I began picking, pulping, drying, hand-processing, and roasting myself. I roasted in a giant wok using a ladle to promote convection. My first few roasts literally tasted like dirt (my younger, delusional self would have tasted ‘nutty’ flavor notes). I eventually nailed the roast and was able to drink fairly decent coffee in my remote village for a few years. Because of this experience, I have a deep appreciation for, and fascination with, the entire coffee value chain – from farm to cup.
What are you doing when you’re not doing coffee?
I do a lot of consulting work in international development leveraging my past experience working in Africa and Asia. I also spend a lot of time running, taking bad photographs, and home roasting coffee.