While the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 an unspeakably brutal year for many existing coffee roasting companies large and small — especially those that leaned heavily on wholesale — a fresh crop of roasting startups managed to sprout up through the trampled dirt.
A number of these new roasters are leveraging their founders’ personal and familial connections to specific coffee-producing farms, resulting in near-direct connections between consumers in the United States and certain producers in Kenya, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Colombia and more.
In several instances, workers furloughed or laid off from one coffee company struck out on their own to start a company of their own, proving that even in what’s otherwise a dark time for the industry, silver linings are there to be found.
Every startup story is one of ambition, perseverance and hope for the future, and so it was with particular pleasure that we reported on so many new companies this year. Here’s a look back at 20 such stories that shined through the fog of 2020.
A new roasting business has literally rolled into the San Diego market, with a 2-pound fluid-bed Sonofresco roaster mounted inside a commercial coffee truck. Neff Coffee Roasters (Facebook) now winds its way through automotive traffic in order to park in areas of heavy foot traffic, selling fresh-roasted beans and carefully crafted drinks to passersby in parks and near offices.
For coffee-loving outdoor enthusiasts and event-goers throughout Colorado, a new coffee outfit called Fitzroy Coffee Company is serving specialty espresso, manual brews and tapped coffees from inside a retired gondola that once soared over slopes at the Winter Park Ski Resort. Now detached from its cable and freshly branded with the Fitzroy name, the gondola is free to roam thanks to a custom trailer design.
The compact operation was co-founded by seasoned industry vets Ant Walach and Rita Kaminsky way back in 2017, although fresh roasts didn’t accumulate for consumer sales, wholesale distribution and private-label relationships until late last summer.
As it turned out, while green Kenyan coffees are generally prized by specialty coffee buyers far and wide, the local demand for fresh roasted coffee inspired the establishment of a separately registered Zabuni roasting company, which continues to gain a regional footing today.
As Rako co-owners and sisters Lisa and Melissa Gerben entered the coffee industry first as importers, working directly with farmers in Ethiopia, the pair now maintain those partnerships as well as new ones with producers in Guatemala, which was the country that inspired their coffee journey in the first place.
The woman-led roasting company, which tends to focus on coffees sourced from women-run farms, recently opened the doors to the Southeastern Roastery Coffee Lab, a presently limited retail space with much larger aspirations for community programming and engagement.
The robots may be coming for coffee, although behind every ‘bot there’s at least one even better human. This is certainly the case with Botz Coffee, whose crudely lovable robot avatar helps to inspire fun human connections with specialty coffee lovers.
With the hope of raising the bar for coffee service many times over in Houston, Tenfold Coffee welcomed the public into its new 3,000-square-foot Greater Heights roastery and coffee shop earlier this month.
Co-founded by Howard Chang and Jeff Wong, Shared Roasting employs its own staff to handle machine maintenance, facility management, cleaning and other routine operations, leaving its clients free to focus on the intricacies of roasted coffee production as well as further education in the craft and business of roasting.
Cano, who hails from Union Cantinil, Huehuetenango organized a coffee producer group in 2006 called the Asociacion de Caficultores de Union Cantinil (Association of Coffee Growers of Union Cantinil, or ASOCUC), with the goal of earning better prices for specialty coffee growers. Now a U.S. citizen and CEO of La Coop, Cano sources coffee from ASOCUC for wholesale and retail roasting, while serving those coffees directly to patrons in D.C.
Drinks served at a new walk-up coffee window at the recently established roastery of Red Arrow Roasters have been hitting the mark for summer-goers along the Southeastern shore of Lake Michigan.
Proving that youth is not always wasted on the young, Volkema is already light years ahead of most coffee professionals, passing the notoriously difficult Q at age 13 before launching her own roasted coffee brand at age 14.
In the COVID-19 era, setbacks and slowdowns in the coffee shop business are all too common, even for Vermont’s Uncommon Coffee Co. Yet after various holdups since last fall, Uncommon Coffee is this month debuting its 5,000-square-foot roastery cafe in Essex.
Through equitable partnerships and artful roasting, a new company outside Tampa, Florida, called Storyteller Coffee aspires to present the final chapter of coffee’s often difficult journey.
A Rhode Island company that launched over the summer is forging the freshest possible connections between a family-owned coffee farm in Risaralda, Colombia, and coffee drinkers in the United States.
While widespread layoffs are a terrible repercussion of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are occasional silver linings in new beginnings. One example is Favor Coffee, a roasting startup that went live over the summer after its founder was a victim of downsizing.
“Folks who have been here their whole lives are being pushed out of the city because of property taxes,” Onwuchekwa told DCN. “I saw coffee as a good way of supporting the community and changing the perception people have about coffee… I saw it as a great way to highlight Black and brown stories.”
The new 1,400-square-foot roastery is home to Happy Monday’s two-machine production line, including a US Roaster Corp 12-kilo roaster and a Mill City Roasters 10-kilo machine. The space is split down the middle between the roasting operation and a new Happy Monday retail coffee house, featuring a coffee bar poised to open in November that Alexander told Daily Coffee News is designed with pandemic-era considerations in mind.
A new coffee company called Importin’ Joes has launched to form a two-way conduit between South Bend, Indiana, and Ethiopia, while effecting positive social change at home and abroad.
“I have a saying, ‘You can roast a good bean bad, but you can’t roast a bad bean good,’” said Dietrich. “That’s why it pays to be picky about the green coffee you source.”