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Jeff Taylor embarked on his journey with coffee and Direct Trade long before he accepted his current role of chief executive officer at San Diego’s acclaimed Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. His passion for coffee hit the ground running in ‘93. Taylor subsequently cycled through roles as barista, roaster, salesman, quality control lead and finally CEO. “Each step of the way I’ve moved up and I’ve replaced myself,” says Taylor.
Initially based in Topeka, Kansas, Taylor was in the process of scouting out a larger market to expand his business when his friend (and the founder of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters) Chuck Patton gave him a call and asked him to move to Southern California and run BRCR. Taylor acquired BRCR in 2017. “Chuck founded a great company and he built it the right way,” says Taylor. “I knew I could continue that because I had all the same skill sets he had.”
With six current locations and two more on the way, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has cemented its status as a beloved local roaster. “Each cafe has its own personality and design, and we tell the staff to be a part of their community,” says Taylor. “Because that’s what coffee shops are: community meeting places.” College students and professors from the University of San Diego swarm the spacious Morena location, especially during midterms and finals, to snag a sip of Monkey Bite Espresso, while the upscale Little Italy location attracts white collars on the way to their downtown San Diego offices.
What is Direct Trade?
What makes BRCR so popular amongst San Diegans? It could be their farm-to-cup coffee. Roasters who attach the term Direct Trade to their business buy directly from farmers in order to eliminate middleman buyers, sellers and organizations that regulate certifications like Fair Trade.
The resulting producer-buyer relationship between the farmers and the coffee roasters ensures increased profit for the farmers and secures exclusive, quality coffees for the coffee roasters. Many Direct Trade roasters pay significantly more than the Fair Trade price. BRCR pays at least 50–100% over the Fair Trade price.
In terms of environmental standards, it’s up to the roasters to ensure that the farms follow environmentally friendly practices. Direct Trade ultimately thrives on trust and firm business partnerships, which often involves significant foreign travel on the roaster’s part.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and Direct Trade
“When I talk about Direct Trade, it’s not necessarily about Bird Rock,” explains Taylor. “I started in Direct Trade before Bird Rock existed. I was one of the first people to start a Direct Trade relationship … and what it boils down to is that coffee prices tend to be extremely low. Farmers have trouble making a living growing coffee because the price is so cheap. It’s sold as a commodity, which means it’s a widget and there’s no value out on it … The only way to break that cycle and allow farmers to make a fair living is to put a value on the product.”
Taylor sources his producers through Cup of Excellence, a coffee competition that began over 20 years ago to increase integrity and transparency in the coffee industry. The competing coffee farmers in Latin America and Africa undergo a strict competition and selection process, which has revolutionized the speciality coffee movement.
Cup of Excellence auctions off the winning small farmers’ coffee online at a premium price, which garners the recognition these producers deserve but have previously been denied by an absence of transparency, often due to the presence of middlemen in business partnerships. The farmers also gain the tools to understand the value of their products. It’s with these farmers that Taylor strives to build direct and long-term relationships.
“My goal was meeting the farmers who are winning, because I want to buy their coffee next year out of auction,” says Taylor. “And if they were getting paid two or three dollars per pound of their coffee, I go meet with them. If we get along and there’s a good connection, then I’ll offer five or six dollars a pound on their coffee. All of [a] sudden I’ve pretty much got an exclusive with that farm, where they want to work with me, and I’ve secured my supply chain.”
It’s no wonder Bird Rock Coffee Roasters has won regional and national accolades, including Micro-Roaster of the Year in 2012.
The pandemic hasn’t slowed them down, either. In fact, subscriptions and online sales quadrupled in March and April of 2020, and BRCR has managed to retain those numbers. They even added to their food menu to boost ticket counts. San Diego’s favorite roaster will continue to expand going forward, and thankfully it looks like Jeff Taylor has no plans to retire. “I love what I do,” shares Taylor. “I love coffee. I love my staff. I’d bend over backwards for any of them. And San Diego is just an amazing place to be.”
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