The more we write about Colby Barr, co-founder and green buyer for Verve Coffee Roasters, the more we wind up just heavily excerpting his own words. He's a fantastic interview (see this Q&A with Stephen Vick), a brilliant public speaker (see 2013 Good Food Awards speech for coffee) and deftly excellent at getting the skateboard guys to move aside so there can be a dance floor (link unavailable).
We had some questions for Mr. Barr during our weekend in Santa Cruz for the Southwest Regionals, because Verve has been cooking up to a lot of stuff in the last few months. Remember that expansion to LA? Did you hear about them hiring a new CO? We ask Colby about all that and more, plus where he's headed next and why maybe, just maybe, we can all look forward to another trip to Santa Cruz for next year's Regional Barista competition.
Colby, we've heard there was a new hire for the front office at Verve – is that true? What's the deal? Tell us more.
Sure thing. We recently hired Chris Jordan to come on board as our Chief of Operations. Chris is a really talented, deeply invested coffee professional that has an incredible back story in coffee.
A lot of people in our industry already know Chris, but for those who don’t, he is actually moving to California from Kenya with his wife Taya after 13 years abroad. He has most recently been working for Dormans Coffee, growing their trading and supply chain business in Ethiopia and Rwanda and spearheading a really dynamic brand refresh for their wholesale and retail business that is just getting launched.
Prior to that he was the Regional Director for TechnoServe's East Africa Coffee Initiative where he supported 180,000 farmers and helped develop a lot of the coffees we are now seeing in the West (think Michiti, Nano Challa, Duromina, etc). And even before THAT, he actually spent 15 years at Starbucks where he wore many hats (including barista when he was just a wee lad), and his last position, which was Head of Global Quality.
We’re excited and fortunate to be working with Chris, but at the end of the day, the most important part is that he also happens to be a really good friend.
How did you guys meet? How do y'all know each other? Is he secretly from Santa Cruz or something? Did you guys meet at the Charlie Hong Kong?
We actually met a while back in Ethiopia and then just kept in touch via email, and spent some time together at events like the SCAA Symposium. We of course connected in Kenya, and even spent some time camping in Western Ethiopia in December with some other good friends in search of stellar white honey – and a bit of coffee. At some point, the idea came up, and it just clicked. We really see things in a similar light, and there couldn’t possibly be a better cultural fit. We’re a pretty lucky bunch.
What's next for Verve? We've previously reported on some movement from you guys down in Los Angeles, how is that progressing?
We're definitely an ambitious crew, but what's next for Verve is pretty much more of what we already do: find the best coffees in the world, roast them in our style, and serve them to people with smiles, whether it be to our amazing wholesale partners or in our own cafes.
Regarding Los Angeles, yeah that is absolutely happening. There is so much to say, but maybe it's better left for another story…
OK, we will bug you more about that later. This last year was a super successful SWRBC, and we love it when you guys host – great parties, very organized, and that ineffable mellow NorCal vibe. Can we look forward to another trip back to Santa Cruz?
Well, first of all, thank you for being such incredible media sponsors and taking what has traditionally been a pretty insular event to a wider audience. I think the more the information is available, the more engaged people will be with the event, itself.
As far as us hosting it again, we would love to. It is kind of nice to have the event someplace where people actually all hang out every night in the same place and aren't diluted across a metropolis.
Where are you heading on your next buying trip? What coffees should we be stoked about in the coming weeks & months?
Actually, I am in Antigua right now cupping day-lots. No volcano or flooding this time, so we're good. Before this I was in Costa Rica which has incredibly developed sugars this harvest, and then Panama where I tasted our fresh crop, Elida green-tip gesha. This will be its third harvest and I think it's only getting better. After this, I will head to El Salvador and then to Boston. Busy weeks right now.
As far as current offerings, we are right in the midst of our Southern Hemisphere menu, showing some stellar coffees from Rwanda, Colombia, Burundi, and Peru. Also our Streetlevel espresso is currently a 2-part Colombia, so there's that. Centrals, Ethis, and Kenyas are starting to hit the water this month so we should see them fairly soon – and the cycle continues. Can't stop, won't stop.