Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company
Coffee, Reconsidered: A homegrown Carmel company takes its java game in interesting directions.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Numbers offer a rich whiff of Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company’s success. On average, 1,500 customers visit one of CVCRC’s four locations daily. Director of Coffee and Tea Tina Muia roasts about 1.75 tons of beans a week – enough beans to outweigh an average rhino, and to brew about 112,000 8-ounce cups of coffee (adequate to pour each Monterey resident a cup for almost an entire work week). CVCRC vice president Janet McAthie estimates the company uses 1 million paper cups per year, each printed with the circular green logo.
It’s the beans, hotels and pork chops, though, that better illustrate CVCRC’s success.
Tina Muia and a second roaster work for nearly four days a week at the company’s Mid-Valley location, which seems like a lot to take on. But Muia reports there’s a simple reason why they can do it. “We’re just really passionate about coffee,” she says.
It’s a passion she shares. Every employee is offered the opportunity to learn the science of coffee and how to roast beans in her “roasting class 101.”
“My whole goal is to have them respect the bean,” she says. “We look at beans before, during and after a roast.”
That includes an understanding of the ever-popular Carmel Foglifter.
“It’s a good all-day coffee,” says Muia, who has roasted with CVCRC for the past 15 years. “It’s the beans that make the blend.”
The bean is Latin American sourced, but French roasted – dark in color and strong in flavor. Most full-French roasts are more acidic, with a pronounced toasted taste. Muia prefers a lighter roast that makes it smoother on the palate. As with all their coffees, the Foglifter is certified organic and Muia gets the beans fair trade.
“We support local plantations in El Salvador, Mexico, Sumatra, Ethiopia and Peru,” she says. “Every bag has a barcode that can be traced to the source.”
These practices helped a shop that started with a 1,200-square-foot space in 1994 grow to include outposts in the Mid-Valley Shopping Center, the Barnyard and the Crossroads and one on Ocean Avenue, between Lincoln and Monte Verde, and gain a foothold to climb into larger markets. When CVCRC recently served joe at a Casa Munras hotel eco-event in Monterey showcasing organic products the hotel used, reps from parent company Larkspur Hotels came away impressed with both the company’s business practices and its good tasting brew. Now a majority of its hotels – 18 in Northern California, Oregon and Washington – use CVCRC’s Latin-American coffee in-room and in the lobby.
McAthie and her husband Dean (CVCRC’s president and CEO) like getting their coffee out to more people, but they pick their spots judiciously.
“There’s a lot of attention to us from bigger [development] companies to look at new venues, but we always take a serious look at expansion,” says Janet. “We have a formula that works in this market and we value our customers. And we like to take a hands-on approach to running the stores.”
To that end, Dean visits each location every morning, knows most of the baristas by name, and enjoys teaching them the business side of the operation. Meanwhile, they’ve handpicked local businesses to provide pastries and lunch options. Pacific Grove-based Sweet Earth Natural Foods, for example, provides breakfasts and burritos.
Less traditional partnerships have made creative product placement possible and added steam to the already caffeinated buzz around CVCRC.
At the Harvest Food & Wine Festival in Carmel Valley this autumn, their coffee was paired with Chef Todd Fisher’s culinary creations. Fisher also cooked with their beans every day, creating a brine for roasted pork and a smoked duck breast over roasted beans with sliced oranges and sage (alongside some Foglifter). The assembled foodies flipped for it.
“People were pleasantly surprised and intrigued,” Fisher said. “It added an earthy component and definitely has inspired me to try new things in the future.”
Muia knows the feeling.
“We’re always looking at new origins and new tastes to use,” she says. “Our goal is to meet a variety of customer needs.”
Those include a hankering for pre-ground or whole beans in a multitude of bag sizes – “Our retail stores are really the crux of our business,” says Janet, “but our wholesale market has doubled in the last eight years” – and an increasingly popular byproduct.
“We’ll put coffee grounds out a few times a day and they are usually gone each time from before,” says Nancy Mouat, who co-owns East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey with the McAthies. “It saves on trash.”
Expect more intrigue – and enjoyment – to pour from the CVCRC cup from here. “It’s been a really fun, family business to run,” Janet says.