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The Bootstrapping Subscription Service of Northwest Roast

Northwest Roast's own roastery packaging and logo. All images courtesy of Northwest Roast.

Northwest Roast’s own roastery packaging and logo. All images courtesy of Northwest Roast.

Years ago, while owning and running a coffee shop in the Virgin Islands, Mike Miller discovered a powerful appetite for the exotic among travelers from the American East Coast and heartland — not only in the warm sea breeze and lush tropics, but in coffee.

It was more than a decade ago and Miller was serving coffee supplied by his previous employer in his hometown of Eugene, Ore., Full City Coffee Roasters. Tourists found in the coffee not only pleasing and new flavors, but also a new name outside of the familiar ones like Dunkin’ or Starbucks. For many, it was an introduction to the coffee of the great American Pacific Northwest.

Fast-forward a few years and a few more jobs in coffee, and Miller is applying that same theory of curation and introduction to a bootstrapping new venture called Northwest Roast, an online subscription platform that focuses exclusively on coffees roasted in the region. More specifically, Northwest Roast will only include coffees from roasters within practical-enough driving distance from Miller’s home in Eugene, as his pledge is to drive to roasteries, buy coffees roasted that day and mail them directly.

“My focus is making sure the coffee is as fresh as possible,” Miller recently told Daily Coffee News. “I want people to be able to taste how a coffee tastes from day two to day six. I think that’s a really fascinating thing about coffee.”

Mike Miller cupping at Coava Coffee in Portland.

Mike Miller cupping at Coava Coffee in Portland.

Northwest Roast’s model involves a monthly, flat-rate, $25 subscription fee, and he mails a new bag of coffee — to this point, all single-origin offerings — from a different roaster each month. Along with the coffee, Northwest Roast sends a printed mailer with some details on the coffee, its source and its roaster, although Miller prefers to largely let the coffee speak for itself, while offering additional details online.

Diverging from the direction many other subscription-based services has taken, Miller’s approach is not to cater to individual consumer preferences, but rather to rely on his own interests, as well as those of the roasters. Miller has worked closely with each participating roaster since the launch — including From the Grounds Up Coffee (Antelope, Ore.), Badbeard’s Microroastery (Portland) and Coava Coffee (Portland) — to taste and identify a single offering for subscribers each month.

“There are companies that really try to have the customer tell them what they like best,” Miller said. “I’m really trying to keep it focused on what the roaster might like best, and we’re trying to keep a good variety month to month.”

Miller said Coava represents the bigger end of the types of companies he hopes to work with, as one of Northwest Roast’s goals is to provide subscribers not only opportunities to try new coffees, but to get to know much smaller roasters that may not have much of a presence outside their local markets. “I am going over the smaller guys,” Miller said, “those just on the cusp of being nationally known or even regionally known.”

Oddly enough, Miller has found that many of the company’s early subscribers have come from coffee-saturated markets in the Pacific Northwest, despite his expectations. “I’m finding a lot of people who live here actually just don’t have the time and they benefit from having a personal coffee buyer,” said Miller, who provides his personal notes and opinions on each coffee on the website.

badbeards coffee

Justin Kagan of Badbeard’s Microroastery.

To this point, Northwest Roast has existed as a kind of passion-driven side project in between barista work for Miller, who also began offering his own roasts under the same name late last year. While he hasn’t ruled out introducing his own roasts to the subscription program, Miller said he’s taken personal pleasure in sharing the coffees of others in a more personalized, curated manner.

Said Miller, “My focus is creating more contacts within the industry, and then building those contacts and being able to write about them and share their stories.”

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