Words by Kathy Myers, SDCN Experience Director. Photos by Julie Rings, SDCN Social Media Manager.
San Diego Coffee Network is beyond pleased and proud to see the attention drawn to San Diego coffee as our community works to perfect the craft and take it to new directions. A ranking of America’s Best Coffee Cities by Travel & Leisure lists San Diego at #17. (Although undated, we know that this list was from no earlier than 2013 because it features Dark Horse which opened in January 2013. It also refers to Modern Times beginning to roast their own beans using their unique barrel aging techniques, a taste that is now a familiar craving for San Diego coffee drinkers).
Most recently, KPBS Web Producer Kristina Bravo talked with SD Coffee Network Founder & CEO Jessica Percifield Henry about the report from SmartAsset.com that ranked San Diego as the 6th best city for coffee fanatics. Jessica highlights the importance of local coffee, our special connection with the Tijuana coffee scene, and the enthusiasm that San Diego coffee lovers have for coffee-centric events.
This conversation brought to mind the early days of exploring the current wave of specialty coffee in San Diego and an interview Jessica had back in 2012 (in her San Diego Joe Coffee Blog) with SCAA’s Peter Giuliano that gives a window into the early days of San Diego coffee.
We are republishing that piece (with some minor edits) here to share how far we’ve come as a coffee city in just the past 4 years. How many years in the making is the coffee culture in San Diego? If it weren’t for Pannikin Coffee and Teas getting things going back in 1968, we would not be the overnight success we are today.
*Admittedly, the criteria that SmartAsset.com used included coffee house density and the price of coffee in each city, which doesn’t reflect quality. It also took into account the “level of enthusiasm” for coffee based on Google search data and the ratings of cafes on Yelp. In addition, they identified the number of roasters in each city as an indicator of the strength of the coffee community.
San Diego Coffee Network is creating a directory of cafes and roasters for San Diego. We invite cafes and roasters to contact us about a featured listing.
From San Diego Joe Coffee Blog first published September 12, 2012
Will San Diego’s Coffee Culture Boom or Bust? That Depends…
First and foremost, I want to thank Peter Giuliano for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to meet up with me a couple weeks back at Lofty Bean in his native Encinitas. I’d also like to thank The Reviewer Library, for allowing me to reblog Giuliano’s background and photo. I couldn’t have written a better background myself (please see below).
A lot has happened since Giuliano contacted me via Twitter to set up a meeting–my first cupping, my trip to San Francisco, and the opening of the San Diego Public Market–the latter two I hope to post updates on today. The subject of our meeting was whether I would like to help organize a cupping event in San Diego. My answer was of course–Hell yeah! And I’m happy to report that those plans are underway and will hopefully come to fruition in mid to late October 2012.
At the time of our meeting, I was just figuring out who Peter Giuliano was and what his contributions were as a pioneer of direct trade specialty coffee. I had some idea I would be sitting down with a coffee icon, although it became clear as he walked me through his background and history that he indeed was too humble, but that’s what makes him so likable. He knows his stuff, no ego needed. And he is most excited about the science behind quality coffee.
Our discussion briefly spilled over into East Asia. In fact, while he admitted that specialty coffee is a big hit in Japan, in Korea it is a cult following, and “It was a little weird,” he said, “to have people [actually] recognize me [on the street] and line up for my autograph.” We talked about the history of specialty coffee in San Diego and how it took off with Pannikin Coffee & Tea, which in in its heyday boasted historic locations all over San Diego, such as The Whaley House in Old Town. A potential buy of Pannikin that went awry with the ownership stunted this boom by causing a loss in momentum and direction. As a result, many of their cafes at historic locations in San Diego closed. At that time, Giuliano was the GM, and moved on to Cafe Moto, which was a spin-off of Pannikin focused more on the wholesale aspect of the business. According Giuliano, this retraction occurred around 2000, and San Diego’s coffee culture barely in its infancy lost steam for about eight years or so.
Specialty coffee roasters, however, have recently started making a name for themselves in SoCal, which has historically lagged behind many major cities in creating a true coffee culture. When you think of good coffee you often associate it with cities like Seattle, Portland or San Francisco, but, Giuliano says, that is starting to change. Roasters are cropping up in L.A., Orange County and here in San Diego; Bird Rock Coffee Roasters was just awarded 2012 Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine. A handful of other San Diego coffee roasters are scoring in the high 90s on coffee quality and catching some buzz at local farm to plate cafes, which pride themselves on fresh, local and even organic foods. One such local example is Kensington Cafe who just began using West Bean coffee roasters for their in-house coffee bar.
One of the reasons Giuliano returned to Encinitas besides the fairer weather of course, is he really sees San Diego’s coffee culture once again reaching a critical turning point. He is encouraged by those, like Chuck at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, who want to work with other roasters in San Diego to raise awareness about the great coffee’s they’re producing. A healthy competitiveness and cooperative relationship between roasters, Giuliano asserts, is the cornerstone of all successful coffee cultures across the US. The only thing that could hold San Diego’s culture back is a closed shop mentality among roasters; the idea that working with your competition is bad for business, when the opposite is true.
I have to agree, especially from a consumer point of view. I want options. And I want really good options. I respect local businesses that are concerned with the three P’s: People, Planet and Profits. Making San Diegan’s aware of their options beyond Starbucks and other national chains can only serve as a win-win for all local roasters in the business of creating, what I like to call, coffee with a conscience (I’m gonna TM that stat!).
I’ve talked to a lot of people about local coffee since I began this labor of love over a year ago. And it doesn’t surprise me that many are not aware, I must acknowledge with crushing sadness, that there are other options beyond Starbucks in San Diego. Many are hungry for and excited to learn more about specialty coffee, but the exposure just isn’t there. Even I was completely unaware of local roasters in San Diego before I made a concerted effort to pursue a locally roasted and hand crafted cup of coffee. Roasters aren’t the only ones suffering from underexposure in San Diego.
Coffee cafes that purchase local roaster’s delicious beans who are perfectly crafting quality espresso are also suffering. I’m not saying business isn’t good, I’m saying that market share is not even close to hitting its potential. This is why I think any opportunity to work together is an opportunity to win the exposure and acknowledgement of a public yearning for more than a pick-me-up.
There is a revolution going on in the mind of the modern consumer. Social responsibility has seeped into our collective consciousness and we enjoy rewarding the socially conscious business, especially when there is a reward in it for ourselves. In this case, damn good coffee. We’re looking for those seeking the three P’s, as I said before creating a win-win for all involved. Businesses that cling to the “To win, there must be losers” paradigm, are losing out as consumer’s begin to see their dollar as a powerful tool for change. We could also talk about how this old paradigm stunts innovation and growth, but that’s a conversation I’ll reserve for in-person discussions.
Peter Giuliano is now working as the Director of the SCAA Coffee Symposium, dedicated to cutting edge ideas, innovation, education and discussions of key issues in the coffee industry. His goal is to essentially be the TED talks of the coffee world. He is also passionate about playing a part locally in encouraging San Diego to explode onto the coffee scene. I’m of course excited about this too, and looking forward to taking part in future events that will be a means to this end. And of course continuing to share with all of you.
Peter Giuliano, above, the (then) director of coffee for the influential roaster
Counter Culture Coffee, announced to his staff that he is leaving the company to become the director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Symposium, an annual ideas conference for the industry. He is one of the pioneers of direct trade, a practice that revolutionized how coffee is sourced: if you ever had a coffee from a particular farm or micro-lot, direct trade gets some of the credit.
New Ideas for Coffee? They Picked the Right Man
“I’m continually inspired by what Peter has done,” said James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee. “What he has implemented is a guidepost for all of us, and it’s something we aspire to do as well. I’ll also say that he’s done more than anybody. Nobody’s a close second.”
Mr. Giuliano, 40, has been in the business since 1988, when he was asked to pull a shift as a barista after a co-worker failed to show up for work. He went to Counter Culture Coffee, based in Durham, N.C., in 2000. The following year, he started visiting the farms that supplied Counter Culture as the company’s buyer — a highly unusual practice at the time for a small regional roaster.
“I was on a mission that year to really figure out what made coffee taste like it did,” Mr. Giuliano said. “After having worked in coffee for 13 years already, I was finally understanding coffee preparation, roasting and tasting, and I was finally ready to go deeper into agriculture. I had experienced other food epiphanies in my own front-yard farm, and I knew that there was something to discover by spending time working on coffee farms. Turns out, that was the beginning of an entirely new rabbit hole.”