We recently shared news out of Portland, Ore., regarding the establishment of the Aspect Coffee Collective, an all-encompassing roastery incubator centered on a shared Probat L12. Prior to the collective’s individuation, it had already been operating for years as a sort of unnamed sub-business of the Portland home-roasting equipment and supply store Mr. Green Beans. In order to understand the natural genesis and grass-roots origin of the Aspect Coffee Collective, you have to know Mr. Green Beans, which is a fascinating and uniquely Portlandian facet of coffee culture in its own right.
Mr. Green Beans was founded in 2010 by the husband-and-wife team of Trevin and Ginny Miller. As the name implies, coffee was always intended to be the central focus, but since there was no proven model for success in the brick-and-mortar retail green coffee business, the Millers figured they should cover their bases by diversifying into a sort of DIY craft and hobby house.
“My wife and I have been roasting our own coffee for years and years and years,” Trevin Miller recently told Daily Coffee News. “We always wondered why nobody catered to the home coffee roasting market, other than that it’s a fairly small market. It still seemed like somebody would have a retail shop that would be geared towards that market.”
Based partly on their own personal interests and partly on customer requests, the scope of the store widened to include soap-making, cheese-making, canning and preserving supplies. “We weren’t convinced that there would be enough business to sustain itself just on home roasting, so we added all our other hobbies,” said Miller. And yet, it soon became evident that the mish-mash was actually more confusing for customers than it was satisfying. Said Miller, “People didn’t know what to make of it.”
When the opportunity presented itself to move into a smaller space just a few doors down, it was also an opportunity to narrow the focus of the store back to its original vision, coffee, which had proven in the interim to be a sustaining-enough source of revenue to keep the lights on. “I loved all those things,” Ginny Miller told Daily Coffee News. “But I had a really hard time because the reason that I make stuff myself is that I’m a huge cheapskate. I ended up feeling conflicted because I really just want to help people not have to pay retail prices, but that’s hard if you’re a retail store.”
So, within the first two years of opening, the other DIY craft categories were culled from the inventory, and Mr. Green Beans settled squarely into the niche that the Millers had always hoped it would — home coffee roasting.
Education, including classes and workshops in coffee roasting and coffee brewing, were part of the business model from the beginning. As an expansion of those services, as well as to offer their more advanced clientele a means of roasting larger batches for special occasions such as parties, events or holiday gatherings, Mr. Green Beans soon acquired a beat-up but fully functioning 1996 Probat L12 from a roaster in Eugene that was going out of business. The Probat’s pilot had hardly been lit before rumors started spreading around town about a 12-kilo roaster for rent by the hour, owned by good people that coached others on the process and the craft. Soon enough, calls and emails to Mr. Green Beans from coffee shop owners and aspiring commercial roasters started piling up, and so were sown the seeds of what evolved into the Aspect Coffee Collective as it is known today.
Now that Aspect has splintered off into its own individual thing, the Mr. Green Beans store continues unabated. And whereas in the beginning, area coffee shops and professional roasters were somewhat wary of this upstart that taught people how to fend for themselves coffee-wise, today the two models form a sort of symbiosis that couldn’t be more copacetic.
“It’s been fun to develop those relationships in the coffee community here in Portland, where they were a little leery when we first started — you know, ‘what are these people trying to do, are they taking away our customers,'” said Ginny Miller, who describes an almost 180 degree change in perception that has created a healthy, supportive coffee community. Said Ginny Miller, “If they don’t have something, if people have questions about roasting, they send them down to us.”