Social justice cobbler Toms announced Tuesday–via this press release dispersed at South By Southwest, naturally–its plans to expand into artisan coffee roasting. Toms founder and visionary Blake Mycoskie revealed the scope, if not the details, of his plans, in an exclusive interview/PR blast with Fortune Magazine.
From the Fortune piece:
Toms promises that by expanding its “one for one” model from footwear and eyewear to coffee, each bag of coffee it sells will result in 140 litres of clean water for a family in coffee producing regions, delivered via Toms' partnership with Water For People. At present, their lineup includes one espresso blend and five single-origin coffees from Honduras, Malawi, Peru, Guatemala, and Rwanda (the last of which is the star of a few “direct trade” photo vignettes on the company's new roasting micro-site).
We followed up with Toms about their roasting plans–the company disclosed to Fortune that it is roasting Toms branded coffee in Denver, Colorado, under the guiding hand of Master Roaster Angel Orozco, founder of Cafecito Organico–and learned that some of Toms' roasting is being done via Whole Foods subsidiary Allegro Coffee‘s infrastructure in Denver. Additional roasting will happen at a shared facility in Los Angeles.
Why work with Allegro, when Toms is based in Santa Monica and has no plans to bring their experiential retail model to Denver? The answer lies in part in Mycoskie's personal and professional relationships.
Toms brand coffee will be sold exclusively at their cafes, through their webshop, and at Whole Foods Markets nationwide. Roasting your beans at another company's facility is a growing trend in boutique micro-roasting that few mass-market consumers may be aware of. The level of independence can range from something like Joe Coffee's use of the Pulley Collective shared roasting facility in NYC, to the type of full-on private labelling being done by roasters like CBI, who supply Target's Archer Farms brand of coffees.
Mr. Orozco, speaking with Sprudge from Austin, confirmed that he will continue to serve as a managing partner of Cafecito Organico, while working in a Master Roaster relationship with Toms. “I help them with sourcing the coffees and developing the roast profile,” says Orozco. The roaster acknowledged that Allegro's larger facilities—outfitted with Probat roasters—are able to do “a lot of the heavy lifting for us,” while working with Orozco's profiles and regular QC input. Another portion of Toms coffee is roasted in the Los Angeles area at an unnamed shared space, on Loring roasters. Orozco speculates that Toms may be likely to open a centralized roastery of their own in the future, but says right now the operation is “very multi-faceted in many ways.”
As part of the launch, a new Toms cafe located in the South Congress neighborhood of Austin opened Tuesday. This shop joins the flagship Toms store in Venice, CA, which has since December 2012 functioned as a combination shoe store with a cafe in it, or perhaps a cafe with a shoe store in it. According to the Fortune interview, the company plans expansion of its cafe model to New York, Portland, and San Francisco, and intends to compete directly with “‘third wave' artisan roasters like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia and Stumptown“.
For now, curious folk in Texas can try the new coffee brand experience on for size at the South Congress shop, outfitted with a 2-group La Marzocco Linea MP, Curtis brewers, a Marco Uber Boiler, Mahlkönig K30 Twin espresso grinder and Guatemala grinder, Toddy cold brew system, Tiamo/Hario V60 pour-overs, and the like. They will also have signature drinks.
Expanding into the coffee world is part of Toms CEO Mycoskie's master plan to bring their “one for one” model to all manner of business verticals. Again from Fortune:
And what will the coffee taste like? “We're trying to be able to meet some of your sort of dark roast clientele, we do have one coffee that we are roasting dark [the Honduras Capucas], but everything else is the light to medium range,” said Orozco. He also cited fluctuating market prices as a big concern for the company, who are aiming to keep price points accessible while still showcasing smaller micro-lot coffees in the 85+ point range.
While the bags, tasting notes, subscription program, and region-based information sidebars all echo specialty coffee, from the Fortune interview it's clear that the name on the bag, and the cup, are what Mycoskie views as the main selling points:
All's well and good if it gets more people paying fair prices for higher quality, sustainably sourced coffee, and it's wonderful to think of coffee sales equating to the delivery of clean water to remote villages in Peru. We'll have our fingers crossed that this coffee can help make a difference, and taste good too. After all, it's only a matter of time before the paparazzi catches us all wearing the newly minted Toms' Roasting t-shirt.
The new Toms cafe in Austin is open at 1401 South Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78704.
All photos by Ethan Billips (@x34ERB) for Sprudge.com.