CoffeeSphere: Top Seed to Cup Coffee Shops in San Diego

By Noreen L. Kompanik

Who knew coffee tasting could be this fun? That’s exactly what we asked ourselves after our experience with “coffee cupping” at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.

Jeff Taylor is the brand new co-owner of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters – the company responsible for putting premiere, direct trade coffee on the map in San Diego. Boisterous and fun with loads of energy, Jeff brings with him an impressive 25-year stellar career in the coffee industry.

Along with his lovely wife, Maritza Suarez-Taylor, originally from Bogota, Colombia, the plan is to ensure every single coffee bean that comes through their door is of top quality and without peer. And what’s in it for the customer? Only “the best-tasting coffee imaginable” according to Jeff who’s also the Director of Coffee Operations at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.

Great tasting coffee happens because Bird Rock’s direct trade philosophy sources coffee directly from the farmers. The Taylors make several visits to each coffee farm throughout the year in pre-harvest, during and post-harvest in celebration of each year’s crop. By giving recognition back to the producers, it instills a sense of pride in their product.

Coffee beans from these farms are shipped in then, skillfully roasted on-site daily in the California-produced 35-kilo stainless steel Loring roaster by Bird Rock’s Tony Gomez. Next, comes the process of ensuring the beans meet Bird Rock’s standards. This is where the fun begins.

Maritza is the coffee roaster’s Director of Quality Control. Growing up in a coffee region with her extensive background in the industry, she knows what it takes to make an excellent cup of coffee. How that quality is ensured is through a process called “cupping.”

Three coffees, each with a distinct profile, a Sumatra, Guatemalan and Ethiopian were on the cupping schedule the day we visited Bird Rock. Ground coffee beans are uniformly measured out in individual cups, and hot water is added. Breaking the crust pulls back the natural “crema” covering the surface of the coffee. This is done to release the aroma of the coffee. Testers then place the nose as close to the coffee as possible and deeply sniff the coffee. Depending on the regional beans, aromas can vary from smoky, earthy to floral or tobacco-scented.

Now it’s time for the tasting, done by quickly slurping the coffee so it spreads to the back of the tongue where bitterness can immediately be detected. “If any coffee tastes bitter,” says Maritza, “something is wrong.” Maritza calls the slurping the “rain of coffee on the palate.” Coffee beans embody telltale flavors from the region they were grown, and an experienced cupper like Maritza can identify the region just by the taste.

Woodsy, nutty and dark chocolate were some of the flavors we detected in the Sumatra coffee. The Guatemalan tasted like a combination of citrus and brown sugar and the Ethiopian, fruity and floral. The fun part was being commended by the Taylors for my “good slurp” which would never be acceptable anywhere else but at a cupping!

An interesting fact learned during our cupping adventure is that areas of higher altitude tend to produce better coffee as the beans grow at a slower pace. Great care is taken by Jeff and Maritza to select only the highest quality producers in the best coffee regions of the world and help them to develop and improve their sustainable coffee operations.

Given the care at which Bird Rock takes in selecting the finest coffee farms, their superb roasting process and the love that goes into every bag of coffee or beverage prepared at their facilities, we weren’t at all surprised at the awards Bird Rock has received. Tasting a cup of their caffe latte and cappuccino was like being in caffeinated heaven.

Winners of the Good Foods Award in both 2016 and 2017, this prestigious honor is bestowed to establishments whose food and beverages are not only delicious but respectful of the environment and demonstrate sustainability and social good. Bird Rock was the only San Diego recipient in any category in 2017 and one of only three coffee awardees in the State of California. In 2016, they garnished a #1 spot on Coffee Review’s “30 Best Coffees of 2016.”

With coffee this good, it’s not surprising the menu includes San Diego’s most expensive coffee that sells for $11 a cup or $50 for an 8-ounce bag. The Geisha varietal from Panama’s Hacienda La Esmeralda is heralded by one of Bird Rock’s patrons as being “worth every cent.”

Besides the roasting facility on Morena Blvd which also has a coffee bar on-site, the company has two other locations, one in San Diego’s Little Italy district and the other in the Bird Rock community of La Jolla, just two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. With a Starbucks located just across the street, we had to admire Bird Rock Coffee Roasters for boldly taking on the competition. But, it was quite clear as we walked past the empty Starbucks while Bird Rock was filled with cheery interactive patrons that this was no mistake in their planning.

Because Bird Rock Coffees is a seasonal coffee roaster, they only buy and roast single-origin ‘in season’ coffees, which for patrons of their coffee club members means getting different coffees shipped to their homes each month and the opportunity to get the best coffees available.

According to Jeff, future plans include sourcing more award-winning coffees from more countries and increasing socially responsible direct trade coffee consumption throughout San Diego. If this all equates to more great coffee for its patrons, we’re in!

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