by Hanna Neuschwander, author of Left Coast Roast
David James Kennedy got started in coffee after spending time in Australia three years ago. (In case you’ve been living in a cave, Australia has a kickass coffee scene.) “When I got back home to Cali I was determined to figure out what made coffee so delicious to me down that way and discovered a handful of specialty coffee places that were serving wonderful coffee,” he says. The musician and former motorcycle racer decided to start his own roasting company (it’s a family affair, owned by Kennedy and his father; his brother will join them soon).
For now, the only place to get the coffee is online. “The plan is to build the brand online and learn what it is to actually sell coffee. If things progress well, we’ll open a brick and mortar showroom/cafe in a year.”
What inspires your roastery and your roasting?
I’ve been a musician since I was 4. I got into building stuff with my dad when I was probably 10. I see roasting as very similar to building a piece of furniture or writing a song. It’s all about getting to create something with your hands. I love being part of something that gives me and the people around me such a social connection. I fell in love with coffee sitting around, hitting pause on the day, and interacting with the people around me. So to be a piece in that puzzle for other people is really attractive.
What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?
I’m roasting on a 3.5k S.S. Roasting Corp. roaster. I mostly love that it’s not a popcorn maker. It was made from scratch in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The guys that made it are good dudes.
How did you get started roasting?
I started on a popcorn maker. I read books, researched online, and have since been able to meet a few guys as well. It’s a lot of practice.
Take us through highlights on the James menu. How are you finding the coffees you buy? What are you especially excited to feature?
I only have a few coffees and I’ve really catered it to my own tastes. I enjoy all of them a little differently. I’ve always been much more attracted to single origins because, good or bad, I like the adventure of trying a new coffee from a new place. But since I’ve also got a few blends I’ve found myself just simply enjoying a more ambiguous cup of coffee.
Celebrity death match: Single origins or blends?
Forging?! In addition to roasting coffee, you make metal objects with fire. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got started forging, what you’re making, and why it’s part of your identity as a coffee company?
I got into it from being around my dad. He didn’t work with metal but he was always showing my brother and I how to build stuff. As I got older, metal just clicked with me. Its part of the company because it’s part of me. Like the coffee, it’s an element of things I love.
Poway, California: A place few coffee watchers have probably heard of. What’s Poway like and what do you love about the coffee scene there?
I mostly grew up here in Poway. I was actually born in Wisconsin and besides that first year of my life I lived in Galesburg, Illinois for the next half dozen years. On our way out west we lived in Wyoming then Utah before finally settling in California when I was 10. Poway is northeast of San Diego; I could probably say we’re in San Diego, but I like Poway better. There’s no coffee scene here, really.
You’re a guitarist with Angels and Airwaves. Wikipedia tells me you also race motorcycles. How do you find the time to be a coffee roaster and a daredevil?
I haven’t raced in a couple of years. I hope to get back to it, but for now I’m roasting coffee. So, yeah, there isn’t time for it all.
What’s rock’n’roll about coffee?
Passion and a commitment to discovery is what created rock’n’roll. Those same elements push the community of coffee to better itself. So it’s an attitude, an outlook on life.
Preferred soundtrack for roasting?
Honestly, roasting coffee and listening to music seems like the best combo ever, but I really just listen to the machine and the beans.
More in the ’10 Questions’ Series by Hanna Neuschwander:
Hanna Neuschwander is director of communications for World Coffee Research. She has been communicating about coffee and science since 2004. Her writing has appeared in publications including Travel + Leisure, The Art of Eating, Portland Monthly, and Modern Farmer. Based in Portland, Oregon, she is the author of Left Coast Roast, a guidebook to artisan and influential coffee roasters on the West Coast.