Update on California Coffee Growers
By Perry Luckett (CoffeeMan1)
Early in 2018 we highlighted plans by Jay Ruskey and Frinj Coffee cooperative members to produce and harvest a new crop in San Diego County, as well as to make Southern California the next leader in the “super specialty coffee industry.” They also were on track last year to harvest their first full crops from Goleta, Carpinteria, and Encinitas, California. Starting from small numbers of coffee trees planted in Ruskey’s avocado orchard in 2002, the cooperative has now expanded to 35,000 trees at 36 member farms.
Although first harvests from new coffee orchards typically don’t produce beans of the highest quality, initial results suggest Frinj has a winner from their customized farming and production methods. Testing (tasting) reviews have averaged in the low- to mid-80s on a hundred-point scale, suggesting the cooperative’s future product will reach into the 90s and become a staple in California’s high-end coffee market.
Custom farming produces unique quality and taste
Frinj’s coffee cultivation occurs across northern San Diego County and southern Riverside County, long known for their avocado production. Nearly 25 farms are contributing to the harvest. The others planted their first trees in 2018. They grow 15 coffee varieties in all—one reason they can demand higher prices.
Another reason is the range of tastes a Frinj coffee drinker experiences in the cup, in part because their farms also grow fruit or flowers near the coffee trees. Jay Ruskey’s Good Land Organics farm in Goleta describes their coffee’s taste as having caramel, grape, and tropical fruit flavors, with a juicy body and a lingering florally sweet finish. Ocean View Farm near Carpinteria is offering coffee with blueberry, vanilla, and almond notes, plus a bright grapefruit acidity and sweet fudge finish. Quail Ranch, in San Diego County, produced a 2018 harvest that reflected “tropical red fruit aromas, with a rich bouquet of other flavors that contributed to its candy-like sweetness.”
Freshness at harvest also adds to Frinj coffees’ quality. The cooperative takes its mobile processing equipment to each farm instead of transporting them for hours by truck to a processing center in Goleta. On-site coffee processing resolves a further potential problem: Mediterranean fruit flies, whose eggs could contaminate the coffee cherries and prevent them from being transported out of the county. With Frinj’s onsite method, the harvested pulp and any potential fruit fly eggs would remain in the area while the beans move on. The flies’ eggs are staying with the pulp and are buried, so nothing interferes with the coffee’s quality.
High quality means higher prices
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters is the first outlet in Santa Barbara to sell Frinj’s Cuicateco varietal beans at one pound for $100. Blue Bottle Coffee, a California chain that buys much of Frinj’s harvest, bought 270 pounds of highly rated, organically grown beans in different varietals from the 2018 harvest at $60 to $80 per pound. They sell coffee from these beans in Blue Bottle coffee shops for as much as $16 a cup—a not so cozy price.
Even Bird Rock’s price per pound of beans is steep compared to the $15-$22 per pound you’re likely to pay at a local coffee roastery for typical roasted Arabica beans. But as Bird Rock President Jeff Taylor says about gourmet coffee drinkers: “If the coffee quality matches the price, that's all that matters.”
Besides, a pound of beans usually produces about 23 12-ounce cups of coffee, so you can still “drink Bird Rock with a difference” at home for about $4.35 per cup. With Starbucks charging an average of $2.05 for a cup of over-roasted but otherwise undistinguished Pikes Place coffee, you might be willing to try an occasional Frinj favorite.
Frinj’s coffee future looks cozy
Frinj Coffee looks for new systems and advanced science that will help them increase harvest quality and production quantities. For example, they’re working with Denver-based Bext360’s blockchain technology to get real-time analysis of its harvest from the field. They also signed a five-year contract with Front Range Biosciences to ensure Frinj farmers get quality plants.
Jay Ruskey says of the Front Range agreement: “It ramps up to 5 million plantlets over the five years and creates a backup for my genetics. There is some genetic drifting that we see within the varieties. There is open pollinating and there’s the ability for 10 to 15% cross-pollination with other varieties. If individual plants are performing better than others, now we can take clones of that specific plant and don’t get that genetic drift.”
As unfavorable climatic conditions cause coffee production to decrease in other parts of the world, Frinj’s forward-looking approach will make their product even more valuable. So save up your pennies in case Frinj coffee comes your way through Blue Bottle Coffee or another distributor. You’ll want to be the “first kid on your block” to taste those rich, layered notes . . . and then brag about it to your friends.
No matter what kind of coffee you’re drinking, you can make your “happy time” last longer with our Kup Kaps—they have 3M™ Thinsulate™ insulation to keep your coffee hotter up to 45 minutes in the cup. Have information or a comment about California coffee? Tell us in the Comments section below.
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10 News San Diego at www.10news.com
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