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We Got the Dirnt on Oakland Coffee Works

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For all the incredible luxuries that celebrities enjoy, the one that they do not is the ability to deflect attention away from themselves when it suits them. The media whirlwind surrounding Oakland Coffee Works, the new company founded by Mike Dirnt and Billie Joe Armstrong of the band Green Day, is far more focused on the involvement of famous punks than it is for their all-compostable packaging or the actual beans inside it. But credit is no less due to the guys for the fact that nowhere on any of OCW’s packaging, print or web materials do their own names or the name of their band appear.

“Oakland Coffee Works is a team of people and we are all super proud of what we are doing,” Green Day bassist and OCW Cofounder Mike Dirnt told Daily Coffee News via email. “Billie Joe and I love being involved, but this is something bigger than just the two of us.”

Humility aside, kudos are also due for the company’s dedication to environmental friendliness, using its start-up financial fortitude and its instantly high profile to set a new standard for compostability in coffee packaging, thereby raising awareness of the landfill-stuffing nature of the alternatives. OCW’s 12-ounce coffee bags, already for sale online and soon to reach grocery shelves, were a collaborative achievement. The compostable bag itself is made by packaging specialist company TC Ultra Flex, while a degassing valve made of compostable plastic was developed by the bio-plastic injection molding company Urthpact.

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There’s also a single-serve Keurig-compatible cup-type product on the way, which will also be 100-percent compostable when it goes to market. That is being developed by the San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee company, which recently spoke to Daily Coffee News regarding its generous Rust Trust replanting initiative. SFBGC also designed the Oakland Coffee website, and is handling its online order fulfillment and other services. “I’ve met Mike Dirnt, we’ve had beers, he’s come up here,” SFBGC Art and Web Director Jim Schuett told Daily Coffee News. “Both Mike and Billie Joe are very involved in the day-to-day business end of it.”

According to Schuett, every detail goes through the bandmates before going forward — not just artwork and flavor profiles, but packaging materials and all the rest. “It’s a meeting of the minds,” he said. “The two organizations have the exact same goals. Why go out and do something on your own when you can partner with someone that’s got the exact same idea?”

Roasting for the whole-bean products is being done by Mr. Espresso, the Oakland-based company known for its oak-fire roasting process as well its espresso equipment expertise. The single-serve coffees are roasted and packed by SFBGC. Oakland Coffee, for its part, is the engine behind it all, curating the blends and profiles, paving the way for the compostability innovation, and then funneling a portion of the proceeds to their Fueled By Love initiative, which supports projects and organizations helping communities at origin.

So far OCW’s Fueled By Love efforts have gone towards building and improving schools and medical facilities in the Yanatile Valley in Peru, in partnership with the Peru-based non-profit Crescendos Alliance. “We have been working with Crescendos Alliance for a few years now and appreciate all of the work that they do,” wrote Dirnt. “We are also looking forward to expanding our partnerships with different organizations and different coffee-growing regions.”

From an outside perspective, this whole thing may seem a little random, but its turns out Green Day has been pretty discerning about their coffee for a long time, going so far as to bring their own custom blend with them on the road — there’s no tour-bus Keurig machine for these guys. “We’ve always loved coffee, since we were kids, but we weren’t really finding exactly what we liked,” Dirnt wrote. “A little over 10 years ago we started having our friends at a local roaster source and mix a special blend for us.”

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After years of adjustments and tweaks to taste, this special blend is what has been refined into OCW’s signature Organic High-Altitude Andean blend. The single-serve product, while not identical in its components, is sourced and roasted to adhere to the same flavor profile as the marque Andean blend. OCW representatives have visited the farms that grew the coffee, and Dirnt and Armstrong took part in the cuppings through which it took shape. Said Dirnt, “We attended formal cuppings with our farmers in Peru, as well as our roasters. We have been working on our blend for many years and have fine-tuned it to be very low in bitterness, with a bold, smooth flavor profile.”

Here’s a bit more from our email conversation.

What experience do you have in coffee aside from drinking a lot of it? Was anyone in Green Day a barista back in the day?

I have served many cups of coffee as a teen working in restaurants. I consider myself a barista of sorts backstage at every show on tour. I’ve also enjoyed the pleasure of visiting some of the very best, artisanal coffee houses in the world.

Will there be an OCW café? What’s the next move for OCW?

We do not currently have plans for our own brick and mortar, but we look forward to partnering with other cafes, markets, and restaurants to carry Oakland Coffee. We are also excited about upcoming pop-up cafes and events, where we can meet people, have them taste the coffee, and let them experience what the compostable bags and pods look and feel like.

How much time do you get to spend in Oakland these days, and what are some of your favorite Bay Area coffee roasters or cafes?

We spend a lot of our time in Oakland. Oakland is where we are from and where we are raising our families. We love the community and spend more time here than anywhere else.

Oakland is a hotbed for coffee. Mr. Espresso has also been a longtime favorite. They roast great coffee! Naturally, we are fans of Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe. Bittersweet Cafe has some great confections and they roast their own blends. We also love SubRosa Coffee — good coffee and delicious vegan doughnuts.

It’s awesome that you’re setting a new standard of environmental responsibility in the single-serve market with the compostable cup, but why bother even making a k-cup at all? Why not stick with whole beans and try to motivate coffee-lovers away from cups altogether?

We know that a majority of people use single-serve cups and that the problem of single-use plastic will not go away unless a viable solution is presented. Compostable pods are a great solution. That being said, as a parent of three, I also understand the need for a cup of coffee immediately.

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