When it was announced that Verve would be replacing Peet’s in the Library Cafe of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), The Lutrinae and its students wondered: how would it differ? To some, coffee is coffee- why complicate a good thing? Though to others, especially of the Bay Area, coffee is an art form that involves intensive training and processes to achieve the perfect cup.
“Verve” is defined as the spirit, vigor and enthusiasm surrounding the creation of art. Though deliberate, the company lives up to its name through the dedication to its craft and the satisfaction of their customers, as well as Fair Trade practices and transparency of the journey from seed to sip.
The Lutrinae had the pleasure of being invited to tour Verve’s roasting facility, located at 104 Bronson Street in Seabright, Santa Cruz. Our tour was led by Northern California Wholesale Account Manager, PK Hattis, who was nothing short of welcoming and accommodating.
Verve Coffee Roasters was founded in 2007 by Ryan O’Donovan and Colby Barr, the first location being at 816 41st Ave. in Santa Cruz. They have since expanded to 11 different locations throughout Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Japan, with anticipated launches in Palo Alto and another roasting facility in the Arts District of Los Angeles by the end of this year. The Seabright location is currently the only roasting facility in operation, distributing to the other 11 storefronts, as well as their wholesales locations. It also serves as a training lab for the various location’s employees, including those at CSUMB.
The facility consists of only two industrial roasters, one 40 kilogram machine and the other, a 15 kilogram machine. Roasting consistently takes place Monday through Friday, as well as Sunday, producing over 18,000 pounds of roasted coffee per week with an average roasting time of 10 to 15 minutes per batch. The Verve in Seabright serves as a versatile location of operations, as it employs approximately 40 people distributed between the cafe, offices, and roasting and packaging departments. Verve’s desire to support local and independent businesses extends from their coffee to the art displayed around their warehouse, almost all of which was exclusively created by Santa Cruz artist, Jeremiah Kille.
Verve offers both blends and single origin coffees, of which are being sold in individual bags at the Library Cafe for students to purchase and brew in their very own dorm! Single origin coffee tends to be slightly more expensive, due to being sourced from the same farm which helps form beneficial relationships with farmers and favorites among customers that keep them anticipating its arrival. In honor of their industrious suppliers, Verve created the Farmlevel Initiative, emphasizing the importance of Fair Trade and the individuals directly involved with such a strenuous procedure. An example of this was the several bags on display from Rio Paez, an associate from Columbia. If the Rio Paez single origin performs well among consumers, Verve is more likely to purchase from them again which provides incentive for the farmer to continue producing quality coffee, thus creating a personal relationship that benefits everyone involved.
A crucial aspect of coffee production is the harvesting of coffee cherries at the primal stage of ripeness, as it ensures quality and consistency. Most coffee producers, especially global corporations who value quantity over quality, gather coffee cherries regardless of their ripeness, causing an impaired taste that is not representative of the coffee’s true potential. Due to Verve’s expectations of the quality of coffee, employees and associates are extremely skilled in identifying the appropriate stage in which to collect the coffee cherries. In addition to this, old coffee beans that are past their shelf life are donated or used to make cold brew.
Historically, there have been three prominent “waves” of coffee consumption throughout the United States, dating back to the 1800’s. The first wave was convenience, as coffee became a household commodity due to its affordability, accessibility and innovative marketing. The second wave was experience, as customers became more interested with the experience of socializing at coffee shops such as Peet’s and Starbucks, while also broadening their knowledge and palettes. The third wave was transparency, as smaller businesses and dedicated consumers became more concerned with the coffee itself, being able to trace batches back to the origin, farm and even farmer. Verve prides themselves in being associated with the third wave, as consumers should not have to be concerned with where their products are coming from and instead, be more aware of the labor that contributed to the cup in their hands. As stated by Verve, “It takes years to farm, months to process, weeks to export, days to taste, minutes to roast and seconds to brew.”
Cuppings are offered daily to the public, a practice that observes the complex tastes and aromas involved with brewed coffee. Coffee tasters are encouraged to inhale the aromas deeply, as well as slurp the coffee to completely envelop the tongue with its flavor. By isolating the coffee and the senses, measurements of body, sweetness, acidity, flavor and aftertaste are much more prevalent. In most cases, tasters are even able to identify the origin of the coffee due to its identifiable characteristics. For example, coffee from Africa tends to be more fruity, while coffee from Asia is recognized to be more dense and rich.
The Lutrinae was also fortunate enough to sit in on and participate in a “Brew Tang Clan” meeting, which is a company cupping that occurs twice a month in an effort to train employees on the dynamic aspects of a coffee’s flavor. This week’s exercise focused on sensations of acidity, sweetness and saltiness present in coffee that contribute to the overall taste. Participants were provided with nine sample cups consisting of the three flavors at three different intensities (acidity one, acidity two, acidity three), and were then asked to organize them by their respective flavor and increasing intensity levels. The following round consisted of combinations of at least two flavors, requiring participants to determine the different flavors and their individual intensities. This proved to be a challenging task, as too much of one flavor can easily overpower the others. Once it was realized that there was a tie, a winner was determined by an extremely intense thumb wrestle, though all of the employees won by broadening their knowledge of flavors and ratios.
If there was one takeaway from The Lutrinae’s experience at Verve, it is that the company lives up to their mission statement of, “We believe the coffee experience is our responsibility from seed to cup. Coffee is our craft, our ritual, our passion. It drives us and inspires us. With this simple truth and responsibility, we are bridging the gap from farm-level to street-level.”
The people of Verve are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and passionate about their work, which translates effortlessly through their products and services. The next time you enjoy a coffee from Verve while studying in the library, The Lutrinae advises that you take some time to reflect on the people and processes that contributed to providing you with the perfect cup of coffee.