Richmond, one of America’s venerable towns, is having a bromance (and womance of course too) with coffee. With a handful of roasters, coffee shops, and neat cafes driving the city’s scene instead of each fending completely for themselves, they all club together to form an elbow-rub of love for the bean. Call it camaraderie, if you will.
One of these roasters, with more than 10 years of expertise in this town, is Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Company, founded by David Blanchard. With a brand new roasting space that just recently opened, the roastery is doing big things for the city, the state, and the country. As it happens, at Blanchard’s roastery, they simply give coffee away to whoever weighs anchor at the space. “During our regular operating hours, whatever we’re drinking, anyone can come and drink as well—they just have to bring their own cup,” says Stephen T. Robertson, Director of Sales and Marketing, who is also their on-hand copywriter.
A decade ago, weary of not getting a solid caffeine fix with all that nuance and beauty, Blanchard sold his wife’s car to buy a small Ambex coffee roaster (which was valiantly set up in the garage) and that is how his notion sallied forth. The initial gist was a “coffee of the month” club for friends and family, but that quickly turned a sharp corner and Blanchard's transmuted into the specialized regional craft roaster that it is today. “We focus on three major markets: roasting for coffee shops and other brewers looking for a specialty coffee program, roasting for retailers like Whole Foods and Wegmans, to independent markets and smaller regional grocers, and our web store, which now has regular customers in all 50 states,” says Robertson.
And Richmonders are learning all along the way. “You still get to see wonder on a lot of faces in Richmond when you hand them a cup of coffee,” says Seth Bauserman, Director of Operations and the Head Roaster. “The mindset here is still in tradition, and we try to honor that, but we also get to be a part of shifting some of the population towards a new kind of coffee experience, and that is very exciting to be a part of,” he continues. The city, filled with young people and a creative crew at that, is starting to place itself more firmly in the series of alternative East Coast cities in the US comparable to Greenville, Asheville, Beaufort, and even Savannah.
One of the ways Blanchard’s is buddying up with its local community is through public coffee courses on Fridays (the rest of the week, the city’s coffee lovers float in to purchase their beans and bring their mugs to sample the latest loot). “The Richmond coffee industry is still in its infancy, and one of our biggest goals has been to make specialty coffee approachable and accessible to everyone,” says John Kruegler, Director of Education and Assistant Roaster—it seems everyone here wears two hats.
But really what attracts coffee fans, from all over the country, is Blanchard’s broad appeal. “You like fruit-forward, bright, juicy coffee? We got you covered! You like the dark, bold, rich cup to wake you up in the morning? A fresh bag of Dark as Dark will do the trick! You need just the right coffee to start your next Toddy brew? I have just the bag for you!” promises Jake Hansen: Distribution Manager, also an Assistant Roaster. “We believe that we speak to coffee novices and aficionados alike.” And if you ask the locals they’ll say just that—no coffee snobs with too many highfalutin spars here.
For now the crew is focused on roasting, and perfecting that. “Other coffee [companies] roast their own coffee but oftentimes have their own cafes to manage and maintain, but we don't have that,” says Hansen. “We roast amazing coffee to sell to anybody who wants some, and don't have to clean up a messy cafe at the end of the day to make ends meet.” After all, if you bring your own cup to taste with, you're packing it out, too. With the new location, Blanchard's is now employing a Toper 30-kilogram roaster, Loring Kestrel 35-kilogram roaster, and a San Franciscan one-pound sample roaster.
Blanchard’s is so much about inclusivity—with beans from all over the globe expressing that. “Right now, we are working with Bayardo Reyes in Nicaragua at Finca San Jose to produce some outstanding coffee. We have a few different sectors of his farm and all of the coffee that he sends us is spectacular,” says Hansen. “We also receive coffee from Daniel Velasquez in Colombia who runs Campesino Specialty Coffee and Finca El Ocaso. The other avenue that I love to work with is Ally Coffee. They know our palates better than we know our own and never fail to send us incredible samples.”
And this band of insiders, all friends, share everything. Attitude is what makes this generation of coffee enthusiasts so, let’s call it what it is, cool. Hansen agrees: “Our generation of coffee enthusiasts is pushing the industry to a position of transparency. For decades the various processes built into the ladder of ‘seed to cup’ have been hidden and thankfully we are closing the door on the days of discreet sourcing. I see so many roasters and cafes now displaying clearly where their coffees come from and the traceability is spectacular.”
“One of the most beautiful things about coffee is how it has a shared language,” says Bauserman with a smile, “that makes the world smaller.”
Daniel Scheffler is a Sprudge staff writer at large. His work has appeared in T Magazine, Travel And Leisure, Monocle, Playboy, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Butt. Read more Daniel Scheffler on Sprudge.
All photos courtesy of Cameron Lewis.