Earlier this year we moved to a larger roasting facility in NE Portland called Roast to increase our capacity and take advantage of more technology and tools. We're enjoying the new location - it's been a great move.
One of the most exciting developments for us this year is that we are now roasting coffee beans from Coffeerama Farms in Honduras. James and Sheryl visited Erlin and his farm in 2019, and it was no small feat to get his coffee from Honduras to Portland, which we did with the help of Ally Coffee. We're always learning more about the global coffee trade, methods for farming, harvesting, and processing and how to get the most from our beans in each roast.
Here is a video of James and Lily at work!
We've featured four coffees for a while now a rotating light-roasted Ethiopian coffee, a medium-roasted Honduran coffee we named "Boulder Blend" to reference all the boulders on Rocky Butte, a dark decaf coffee, and a darker-roasted Honduran coffee we've called "French Roast." Well, the thing is—it wasn't really a French Roast.
"French" refers to how dark the coffee is roasted, and ours wasn't quite that dark. "Italian roast" is a little lighter, and probably closer to the truth, but that can be confusing because a lot of people think Italian roast is actually darker than French. So what's a coffee roaster to do?
The hunt for a new name began! Of course, we looked for inspiration in our own neighborhood, and we know Rocky Butte is one of the best places to rock climb in Portland—there are several routes climbers can take. One of those routes is called "Mean Street." That resonated. Some of our streets around Rocky Butte might seem "mean." That's one reason we worked with our neighbors to paint them! We also know that the neighbors on our streets are awesome and kind, not mean. Still "Mean Street" has some grit to it we're embracing. We're proud to roast Mean Street coffee!
One of our biggest dreams came true when we opened an espresso bar in the Rocky Butte community! We had always envisioned this location (8505 NE Fremont St Portland, OR 97220) as a gathering space. We talked with Bennie Moore who pastors Consumed by the Harvest church about using their space when they aren't, and he was all for it. Wow - how simple was that? We were impressed with his willingness to work with us and partner together.
Opening during the Covid pandemic has limitations, but it gave us an opportunity to start serving coffee even without it all figured out yet. We've been able to meet neighbors and connect with people we hadn't met yet and hear their dreams for the space too.
In May we approached the church that meets two blocks from James's house in Madison South about opening an espresso bar in their space when they aren't meeting. Well that conversation progressed faster than we even expected, so we had to jump on preparing the space! With chose to prioritize opening soon to begin serving our neighbors during a time many of us don't leave our neighborhood as much because of Covid-19. Our friend Dennis Reed was invaluable in helping us put everything together!
As we prepare to open an espresso bar, a pop up coffee event at Bryan's brokerage, Rarebird Real Estate, was a great event to introduce people to our coffee. James shared photos from his trip to Honduras, and Bryan shared the vision for opening coffee shops in overlooked neighborhoods in East Portland. Nathan and Charrell Edwards-El served pour over coffee samples so everyone could try our various roasts.
While James and Sheryl were visiting coffee farms and learning Spanish in Honduras, their daughter Lily and Rocky Butte Coffee Roasters co-owner Bryan participated in the Prescott Elementary Winter Bazaar in the Parkrose neighborhood. There was a great community turn out. We had a lot of conversations and gathered that people in Parkrose are ready to have their own independent coffee shop. Someday!
Rocky Butte Coffee Roasters founder James Helms and his wife Sheryl had the amazing opportunity to tour Copán Ruinas, Honduras for several weeks! They stayed with local families and immersed themselves in Spanish language learning and seeing first-hand how coffee is planted, grown, processed, and packaged.
One of the most exciting parts of the trip was meeting Erlin Barillas, the owner of Coffeerama Farms. As a newer roasting company, it isn't easy to have great relationships with coffee growers across the world. Similarly, coffee farmers in Honduras don't always have the opportunity or ability to sell directly to coffee roasters either. Many end up selling to "coyotes," middlemen who pay way less than half than what roasters in the United States typically pay for specialty-grade coffee. Meeting Erlin and staff and observing his farm in action was the beginning of such a unique and exciting partnership! (As of September 2020, we have Coffeerama Farms green coffee in Portland ready to be roasted!)
Being able to pay above "fair trade" prices for our coffee directly to the farmer is a win-win for everyone. We care about People, Place, and Coffee. That starts with the people who grow and harvest the coffee and their community! We're passionate about our coffee because we know the dedication that it takes to get it from the farm to your cup.
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Visit Rocky Butte Espresso Bar
We had the pleasure of competing in the Fourth Annual Cascadia Roaster's Competition at Buckman Coffee Factory in Portland. Roasters from all over the western US competed, and we placed in the top-5 in the judges' voting! Both James and Lily Helms entered. How it works is all of the contestants receive the same green coffee beans without any information. Roasters might have an idea of how specifically they want to roast a certain bean based on where it's from. This levels the playing field and certainly favors more experienced roasters who have a developed palette and are systematic in their experimenting. The coffees are brewed and cupped for the judges, and they score the coffees on a detailed rubric. Their top-25 make it to the event day when the general public gets to try 5 coffees at a time and vote for their favorite. We learned more about other facets of the industry from sponsors Genuine Origin and Roast Magazine. We look forward to competing again!
We were invited by The Groves Church and the brokerage Bryan works at, Rarebird Real Estate, to serve pour over coffee for special events. The pour over method produces some of the most flavorful coffee, and it's what gives some Portland coffee shops a reputation for having slow service. It takes time, but the quality is so worth it! We had fun serving and connecting with people.
If you'd like to invite us serve pour over coffee at your small event, write Bryan Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whew what a ride! After receiving enough votes online from our video to advance to the final round of the Business Impact NW annual competition, we (Bryan, James, Nathan) drove up to Seattle to talk about our vision for our community development through coffee. We had a great time meeting people and being inspired by other community-minded businesses (and walking around nervously waiting to give our presentation). We didn't win the big prize, but we did win Best Veteran Owned Business (James served as a medic in the Army). It was a great learning experience for us and helped forge our team!