The stewardship of coffee from its origin to the consumer can be a heavy responsibility, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. For 2-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., roaster and retailer Pura Bean Coffee, the literal transport of coffee and supplies around town is one of the highlights of their business, as it takes place by way of the bright orange, cheerfully branded Volkswagen bus that’s practically the company’s mascot.
“That’s my daily driver,” Pura Bean founder Chris Diedrich told Daily Coffee News. Diedrich grew up in Austin, Texas, which he described as being a sort of hippie haven at the time, full of enviable VWs, though he never had one of his own. Even later in life it was an automotive predilection that his wife flatly refused to indulge. But when he pitched it as a business investment for marketing and visibility purposes, it finally all made sense. Said Diedrich, “I always joked with my friends that I had to start a company in order to buy a Volkswagen bus.”
Pura Bean takes its name from the distinctly Costa Rican exclamatory spirit of “pura vida,” which can only be loosely translated as along the lines of “it’s all good,” or otherwise appreciative of the sunny side of life — hence the orange VW bus.
About ten years ago Diedrich and his wife started traveling to Costa Rica several times every year on vacation, and fell in love not only with the place and its culture but also specifically with its coffee. “It was our happy place, if you will,” said Diedrich, who later spread his love of coffee to other origins and revealed for himself the distinctions and pleasures of each.
Diedrich is of no apparent relation to the founder of the Idaho-based roasting machine manufactory, although he likes to think that it might still be possible.
“I’m sure there is some connection in some way, shape or form, but what it is, I have no idea,” said Diedrich, noting that the roots of that side of his family are generally around Michigan and Wisconsin. He figures they might still be distant, many-times-removed cousins, though he doesn’t expect to get any discounts. “I’ve already asked,” Diedrich said. “They said no.”
Pura Bean therefore roasts on a 3-kilo-capacity North roaster purchased from Mill City Roasters, and if all goes well, Diedrich hopes to upgrade to a larger machine of his namesake manufacturer in less than two years. The North has served him well in these early years of the business and continues to do so, but of course Chris Diedrich wants and needs a Diedrich roaster. “That’s my dream machine,” he said.
In the meantime, with his self-taught hands on the North machine, Diedrich sculpts his profiles mostly out of personal preference, which varies from bean to bean and sometimes takes a lot of experimentation. “My garden is full of very expensive fertilizer,” said Diedrich of the R&D profiling process.
For a recent Yirgacheffe, he enjoyed revealing its brightness, yet for a bean from Bali, he went much deeper into the roast, and for everything he tastes it himself first on the Chemex, then serves it to his wife, and then his friends, before going wide with public retail.
“Sometimes I may initially think I’m going to go a certain way with a bean, and I don’t like it, so I’ll just try something else until I do,” Diedrich said of his methods, with greens he sources mostly through Olam and Royal New York. “That’s what’s so fun about roasting, you get to play around with different things and come up with a different profile with each bean.”
Pura Bean over the past two years has built up a wholesale business as well as a fanbase among the community through a weekly presence at Jacksonville’s Riverside Arts Market.
This past July, Pura Bean opened its 1,000-square-foot flagship brick-and-mortar coffee shop in Jacksonville, serving a traditional menu of espresso drinks and V60 and Chemex pourovers alongside fresh baked goods made in an onsite bakery. Looking ahead, Diedrich said he’d like to give the first shop a full year to experience the full annual ebb and flow of Jacksonville coffee consumption, and after that, expansion will be swift.
Said Diedrich, “My goal ultimately is to have five locations in five years.”