Featured

Family Ties

Coffee connections around the globe

A company whose name includes “brothers” is obviously about family. But for Rick and Randy of Evans Brothers Coffee – Sandpoint’s most popular coffee joint – that bond extends beyond themselves and all the way to the fields of El Salvador and Colombia.

When the two “military brats” discussed building a coffee company together, they knew they wanted to do things differently than other small roasters. Rather than relying entirely on partnerships with coffee buyers, Rick and Randy sought to know the families running the farms from which they buy their favorite beans.

“From the beginning, we were traveling to countries of origin more than most,” says Rick. “We really wanted to know the story of the coffee – the farms, the producers – because they’re doing 90% of the work.”

They’ve enjoyed their longest direct-trade relationship (about 10 years) with the Menendez family in El Salvador, which has seven small farms. Rick and Randy spend time with the family, learning every step of their process, and cupping samples from 40 to 50 lots of beans that represent variations in shade, elevation, soil, varietal, processing and other factors.

Rick (left) and Randy (right) with a member of the Menendez family in El Salvador.

“We’ve always wanted to have full transparency with our coffee,” says Randy. “It’s important for us to know the producers and for them to know the roasters, to have continued dialogue – it keeps the motivation and the passion going.”

For the last seven years, they’ve also bought coffee from Maria Escobar in Colombia, where the brothers discovered her coffee after it placed in the top 15 in Colombia’s Best Cup auction. They participated as judges and buyers, along with 15-20 other coffee buyers from around the world, sampling hundreds of quality submissions from farmers in Colombia. Over a 5 day period, the judges tasted and graded Colombia’s best lots of coffee, narrowing down the field to the top 15 highest scoring, which were then put on live auction – an event that turns into a community-wide celebration. Here, coffee buyers like Rick and Randy are willing to pay more, knowing that the extra proceeds directly benefit the producers so they can re-invest in their farms.  For the brothers, it’s an investment to ensure quality.

“The families are so overjoyed – it’s life changing for them,” shares Rick. “We have meals at their home. It’s such a sweet experience and really just an invaluable part of our business. We feel honored to share those moments with our producers”

At left, Randy samples coffees for the Best Cup auction; at right, Rick celebrates with producers.

Even the coffees that don’t make it to top 15 sold at the live auction still yield a greater profit to the producers than they’d otherwise see. Plus, the farmers receive input from agronomists on how to improve their outcomes.

For Maria, a relationship with the Evans brothers is like free insurance. They purchase her entire crop of  approximately 30, 60 kilo bags every year at a price premium, whether or not her beans make it back to the top 15 in the annual auction. For them it’s about long term relationships and commitments to the producers they work with.

The brothers have also traveled to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil and Ethiopia to source coffee, and they’ve treated a number of their most interested baristas to the experience as well. For Randy, who does most of the traveling now, Ethiopia (the origin of coffee) is a favorite destination.

Bringing it Home

Once those selected beans arrive in the panhandle, it’s up to Randy and his roasting team to develop the roast profiles that showcase the highlights naturally present. 

“Roasting is a craft, for sure,” he says. “There’s a lot of chemistry going on and much to understand about time and temperature, and how that relates to developing flavors in the coffee bean. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and I’m still always learning.”

There’s chemistry between the flagship Evans Brothers Coffee shop and its Sandpoint community, too, as residents consistently name “EB” a favorite destination for both coffee and environment. The old grainery on Church Street has a rustic presence and a funky vibe where young artists display their work and old men play chess. Now over a decade old, the original Evans Brothers shop is a staple in Sandpoint.

In 2017, the brothers expanded to Coeur d’Alene, ultimately partnering with Bean & Pie on the buildout of an in-house bakery, which matches quality hand-pies and other baked goods to the coffee. More polished and urban than the northern sister, the CdA location also features live music and is a popular spot for people to work away from home.

The third location is in Spokane, inside the newly remodeled Wonder Building on the north side of the river. Life is just now hopping in the rebranded Wonder Market, which faced plenty of fits and starts during the COVID-19 pandemic. With other new restaurants and a family-friendly game center in the building, Evans Brothers Coffee in Spokane is finally gaining some traction.

Getting Here

They were brothers first and best friends next. How would life as business partners be?

Rick, the elder sibling, had been in resort real estate and marketing for luxury properties in Maui, where Randy got his start in specialty coffee, before each headed separate directions to continue honing their career skills. Eventually, both began thinking about wanting to raise their kids together, and looking for an ideal location, which they found in Sandpoint with its skiing, lake and small community.

The brothers were settling into their new hometown as the 2008 economic crash unfolded, providing ample fodder for conversations about what to do with their lives.

“We were riding Chair 6 at Schweitzer and I asked Randy what he wanted to do with his life, and he said, ‘I just want to work in coffee and I want to do it here,’” says Rick.

And so Evans Brothers Coffee was born, with Rick handling business development, wholesale relationships, sales and marketing, and Randy as green coffee buyer and roaster.

“We found our groove,” says Rick. “It was harder than I thought it would be. We learned things about each other that we didn’t know. Being business partners was very different than being best friends, going to concerts and skiing together. It’s nice to have come through, and to be in a place where we each respect what the other one brings to the table.”

Randy shares the sentiment. “I’ve grown to respect my brother even more through this business. I truly couldn’t do it without him.”


Founders’ Faves

Rick and Randy both favor the fruity, bright, floral flavors of Ethiopian coffees. Randy’s current choice is Dame Dabaye and Rick’s is Kayon Mountain.

If those delicate tea-like qualities of an African roast aren’t your style, and you prefer deeper flavors and richer bodies, you’re still in luck.

“That’s the beautiful thing about coffee,” Randy says. “With more than 700 flavor compounds identified in coffee, there’s something for everyone.”

Author’s Advice

Don’t be afraid to ask the barista what beans are in the grinder for making your espresso-based drinks. At Evans Brothers, there are usually two options – one house blend and one seasonal single origin option. I enjoy “testing” the flavors with a traditional macchiato (not to be confused with the contemporary macchiatos full of milk and sugar), and found that my palate preferred the Kayon Mountain Ethiopian over the house blend. You never know unless you ask!

Also, try something new. I followed my stout espressos with a vanilla-mint cold brew – delish!

Pictured: a traditional macchiato at the Spokane location, inside the Wonder Building.

Locations

Sandpoint – 524 Church St.

Coeur d’Alene – 504 E. Sherman Ave.

Spokane – 835 N. Post St.

What I learned about @evansbrothers #coffee: relationships and quality go together like cream and sugar. Via @wordsncoffee.

Featured

Come As You Are

Originally published in “For the Love of Coffee,” Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living, August 2021

By Kate Vanskike

This year, amid the chaos of ever-changing guidelines for business during COVID-19 restrictions, Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters opened two new locations, bringing the company total to 19. After 28 years as a local independent roaster, its crown jewel, a community coffeehouse, opened on the South Hill.

In bold, black brush strokes on a white wall, lyrics from Kurt Cobain call out: “Come as you are.”

That message was an important distinction for founder Tom Hammer, who wanted to build an actual coffeehouse, harkening to the 1960s metropolitan gathering places that fostered conversation and the exchange of ideas and beliefs. “Especially at this point in our country, we need a place to get together and hear each other,” Tom adds.

He’s always wanted a shop on the South Hill, but the right space was difficult to find. He knew that when he finally got there, he would bring everything he had dreamed. “Like a celebration,” he says.

It would have a variety of good, quality food and a selection of beer and wine. It would have a blend of comfort and elegance. It would offer an elevated coffee experience not available at his other shops. It would be a place where people wanted to stay a while, a place for community.

The Right Place and People

The ideal arrangement came from Washington Trust Bank, which wanted a partnership for property it was developing on Grand Boulevard, and for almost three years, Tom’s team collaborated with others to make it the coffeehouse of his dreams.

For the food inspiration, Tom reached out to Merrilee Lindaman of the longtime favorite South Hill restaurant, Lindaman’s, less than a mile away, for collaboration on his menu. “I wanted to pay homage to them even before we knew they were closing. We were fortunate to have had Merrilee’s touch and her validation.”

He adds, “She’s a passionate, soulful person and if I can carry a portion of that along, I’m doing my job and the community right.”

For the coffee, Tom borrowed from the concept of Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery, calling his line “LTD Reserve coffees,” which he finds a perfect match for the new space.

That space – designed by HGD Architecture – accomplishes what Tom describes as an “elegant Palm Springs” vibe, layering lines and textures with warmth and regality. His favorite elements: the door, a tree bar, and lots of unique pods of seating.

For sure, the door is a statement piece. At 12’ by 6’, the massive wooden entrance sets the tone for customers, says you’ve arrived somewhere special. A live tree grows in the middle of a square-shaped bar with chairs. Customers can choose from cozy spots and small tables, a glass-enclosed coworking space, a counter with an up-close view of the action, or outdoor seating.

Separation & Duplication

The aesthetics are amazing, but the real genius of the design at the Grand Avenue coffeehouse is a completely separate service area for the drive-through.

“Drive-through is just critical today, but I didn’t want people to come through the front door and have the experience clouded by baristas wearing headsets and talking to someone out a window,” says Tom. It was a serious financial additive, as he had to replicate all the equipment and utilities to create that separation, but it was a gamble he was ready to take.

“I like to think that after 35 years, I had one really good concept,” he says. “It’s been a cool project. And there’s a lot more coming down the pike.”

Continuing the Magic

It’s been quite the journey. At age 18, Tom was slinging joe at Nordstrom’s coffee bar, then working at Four Seasons, and driving around with bags of coffee in his car, trying to get businesses to buy wholesale. While an M.B.A. student at Gonzaga, the dean of the business school, Bud Barnes, took interest in his projects. Today, Bud is still a strategic partner, who Tom calls the ultimate mentor in professionalism, business ethnics, being community minded, and having a work-life balance.

“Three decades of tutelage from someone like that is pretty special,” says Tom. “He’s always concerned about the quality of business, not quantity, and that’s led to where we are today. We have more than a dozen crew members who’ve been here more than 12 years because there’s a culture that people like.”

As Tom thinks about the next steps in his business, it’s actually more of the same. “We’re a customer service company that roasts coffee,” he says, clarifying that he tends to avoid the latest trends that  highlight the precision technical processes.

“Coffee has traveled so far and been touched by so many people,” says Tom, “including the barista who was up til 2 a.m. studying before coming in to work. So a little artistic expression needs to be expected, with a smile.”

He adds, “At the end of the day, it’s just a cup of joe. That’s the beauty. Just enjoy the drink, and the connection with others.”


Founder’s Faves

Blend: “I love the LTDs (limited releases) because they’re simply different. But I also love the Signature blend because it’s been with me since 1987. It works for espresso and it’s balanced in drip and pour-over. It’s like a Swiss army knife. I’m proud of it and it’s value priced.

Drink: “When I’m not having a cup of black drip, I’m having a double espresso with a micro dot of chocolate, topped with some milk, so small you almost can’t see it. And always an 8-oz. It’s the exact right recipe for the 2 shots of espresso and some milk.


Thomas Hammer Locations

  • Spokane: South Hill, Downtown, North, Valley, Fairchild
  • Idaho: Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Hayden
  • Malls: Northtown and Spokane Valley
  • Medical Centers: Sacred Heart, Deaconess, Rockwood, Providence (Valley)
  • Colleges: Gonzaga, EWU (Cheney), WSU (Pullman)

Featured

White Coffee and Wise Community

Published in the July 2021 issue of Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Living magazine

A few blocks north of Gonzaga University on Hamilton Avenue sits a small coffee shop with two garage doors indicative of a previous automotive life. Permanently parked in front is a classic 60’s VW Beetle, black, with the Arctos Coffee logo (a bear in the woods) painted on the door. Given its proximity to the college campus, Arctos is a hot spot for students, furiously studying or simply hanging out.

But there’s another kind of customer who’s usually first in line any day of the week: a septuagenarian named Kent Ross, who orders a mocha every time. Several times a week, friends meet him for conversation; other days, he passes the time in a bit of small talk with students and other regular customers.

“I like getting to know the owners, and Jason here is a good guy,” Kent said.

Having worked for and then owned his father’s trucking business, Kent knows the value and challenges of a small business in Spokane, where he’s lived his whole life. Once an adventure runner who trekked the mountains of the Northwest and completed 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, life following a major stroke isn’t as active as he might like. He traveled to Europe, enjoyed hearing authors at Auntie’s Books, and volunteered for the food bank. But things are slower now and showing up at Arctos when the doors open is what keeps him going.

“When they had to change things during the pandemic restrictions, I asked if they could open at 6:30 instead of 7:00, and they did,” Kent said. “That’s why I feel like I should be here every morning.”

Owner Jason Everman created Arctos in 2018, with the help of his dad, Jim. His business focus would be on a small selection of beans for a standard blend that can be roasted to consistent perfection. The Arctos staple comes from two South American beans roasted separately then blended. He also has made white coffee a standard, which offers an extra boost of caffeine with a unique flavor.

“White coffee is a very beautiful alternative to your traditional espresso-based drinks. It tastes completely different,” Jason said. Roasted for half the time of a regular medium roast coffee, these beans are dropped into the cooling bin soon after they lose their green hues, producing results he describes as “beautiful golden beans that smell and taste nutty, and are less acidic.”

Visitors to the flagship café see the tiny roastery upon entering the building, often with Jason seated at the console. In the service area, the ceiling is lined with the burlap bags from around the globe that once held beans, and flags from Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Washington State, and Whitworth universities add a bit of a campus vibe.  

But it’s the community atmosphere created by customers themselves that Jason appreciates most.

“Kent sitting in Arctos every morning sipping his 12-ounce mocha and chatting it up with the baristas and customers is a perfect example why coffee is so amazing.” Jason said. “It helps us get out of bed every morning. It brings us together. It’s comforting. It’s community.”


>> Author’s Choice: The Logan Latte – caramel, brown sugar cinnamon, and Irish cream

>> Drive-up service: Arctos partners with the Joe Coffee app to provide online ordering for a quick pick-up from the counter. Or, you can stay in your car and visit Grind Central, a drive-through coffee stand located near Millwood, 8015 E. Trent Ave.  

>> Credit where credit is due: It’s my husband, Jeff Bunch, who learns the stories of every business he visits, from the owners to the customers. He’s forever a connector; I’m just the one who whittles down the stories into pieces you can savor with a cup of coffee.

Featured

A Coffee Roaster’s Lifegiving Motto

Story by Kate Vanskike | Portraits by Luke Kenneally

(Image courtesy of Indaba)

With coffee start-up company Indaba, Bobby Enslow had the dream of creating community in the economically challenged West Central neighborhood despite neither experience roasting coffee nor running a business. And yet, he succeeded—achieving awards, receiving recognition, and continuously adding to his list of retail locations. An inspiring tale, but one that’s been told. Indaba’s story runs deeper than that.

The people—and their stories—are what set Bobby apart from other aspiring business leaders.

Meet Mary Kay McCollum, a Navy veteran; Phil Hocking, a computer technician; and Hannah Hicks, a rising business leader. Seemingly on disparate paths, yet sharing the same testimony: Indaba’s slogan—Love people, love coffee—is more than pretty words. Bobby lives by it.

A Path to Healing

“I get really emotional when I talk about it,” says Mary Kay McCollum.

She’s speaking of her experience of sexual assault by a fellow Naval officer, whose abuse back in the ’80s left her terrified and isolated for years. But the statement is also true of recalling the first time she walked into the Broadway Indaba location in 2015.

This was the year McCollum attended a retreat for veterans to tackle their trauma, where she thankfully met a journalist who helped her secure payment for the suffering caused by a member of the military. After more than three decades of silence, the pain of processing was unbelievably hard, compounded by telling her story to secure disability pay for the years she was unable to work. McCollum was suicidal, and when she entered the coffee shop, she told the owner just that.

“When I first talked about PTSD, I was terrified. But Bobby was just so encouraging and supportive,” McCollum says. “His compassion really affected me. He got me on the path to healing. I started writing and talking about it.”

Bobby was instrumental in her progress, she says. Every time she returned to Indaba, he remembered her name and asked how she was doing.

Six years later, McCollum continues her healing through photography, her relationship with Jesus, and encouraging other women to find their voice.

She still finds comfort in good coffee from Spokane roasters, including Indaba. Her favorite is a whole milk latte with no added flavor, so she can savor the coffee.

“’Love people, love coffee’,” she quotes the Indaba motto. “That isn’t just something to hang on the wall. [Bobby] really does it.”

Mary Kay McCollum. Photo by Luke Kennealley

Dignity Restored

As a child, Phillip Hocking had symptoms indicative of autism spectrum disorders that weren’t widely understood at the time, and, without treatment, he suffered from a lack of social skills and friends. After his parents acquired a PC and internet service in 1994, he found a placed he belonged through computer technology networks.

Phillip dropped out of school and pursued tech success, and when he scored, he began whittling away his earnings on drugs and alcohol. He was good at what he did, but as addiction took control; he began smoking meth in the bathroom at work. No longer employable, he became homeless.

For five years, Hocking lived on the streets. A church near the Broadway Indaba coffee shop had been operating a shelter and when it closed in the mornings, Hocking made his way across the street where Bobby was still learning to run his first business and not yet making a profit.

“I basically lived there,” Phillip says. “I was bipolar and having public freak-outs in the shop, and Bobby never asked me to leave.”

Bobby gave him day-old cookies and let him wash dishes to earn his coffee. He even played chess with Phillip, establishing a weekly tradition they maintained until pandemic restrictions.

“Once, I walked in and was crying, and said, ‘Bobby, could you just pray for me, man?’ And he did. And it was really impactful,” Phillip says, “despite my mental health issues and living in active addiction.”

Between that prayer and reading Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability,” Phillip found an ability to recognize his self-worth. He began helping others, caring for a friend’s family while a member was incarcerated, delivering food and toilet paper to addicts on the street.

In 2015, Phillip stopped his drug use, secured a job, and began paying for his coffee. Today, he oversees tech services at Excelsior Wellness Center.

“Things that once led to HR involvement or loss of employment now aren’t issues. I don’t have to pretend that I don’t have autism or social issues. My behavioral health is no longer a barrier to my success,” Phillip says. “I’m a homeowner, I’m married, I have a kid. And I have a future.”

Phillip is a coffee snob by admission, and proud to say he spends quite a bit of money on coffee. His favorite Indaba drink is the Natatorium—a vanilla caramel latte with cinnamon.

“He’s serious about ‘love people, love coffee,’” Phillip says of Bobby. “He was amid his start-up, and dealing with the pressures of someone like me there was a risk. But he put his Christian principles above a business principle. It’s pretty indicative of who the man is.”

Indaba owner Bobby Enslow (left) with Phillip Hocking. Photo by Luke Kennealley

Creating a Future

Hannah Hicks and her siblings grew up in West Central before the Kendall Yards development was a reality. They were bored highschoolers when Indaba opened in 2009; they hung out at the intriguing new Broadway shop. All the time.

“We would trick Bobby into giving us free lattes,” says Hannah.

But it was no trick. Bobby turned that “free” coffee into a dishwashing job.

One day, Hannah was talking about what to do after school. Bobby had been considering an internship program to teach technical coffee skills to support the growth of specialty roasters in Spokane, and approached Hicks with the opportunity.

“I became Bobby’s first intern, spending twenty hours a week learning from him,” Hannah says. After she gained work experience at another business, Enslow asked her to manage the Broadway location, and then another Indaba shop.

“Bobby was so intentional about giving me opportunity and really trusting me with it. He sent me to barista camp for certifications; he was constantly investing in me,” she says.

Hannah felt she was an active part of Enslow’s dream to create community. She and everyone else on his team were inspired to be family to their regular customers.

Just over three years ago, Hicks moved to New York City, where she had multiple job offers and selected one with a local coffee company where she started off as the manager of its busiest location in Manhattan.

“I don’t think anything could have prepared me like having worked for Bobby,” she says. “He inspired me to lead people in a way that’s focused on them.”

An ambitious young woman in a major metropolitan area, Hannah dreamed big. She applied to Columbia University and was accepted, in part, she says, to Enslow’s impact and recommendation. She became an operations manager, then a senior manager for quality overseeing a business in six cities.

“At every stage, Bobby has supported me,” Hannah says. “Yes, he taught me technical skill, but also about business and leadership. And to think it started with washing dishes.”

Today, residing in the Big Apple and studying sociology at Columbia, Hannah says she lives off simple drip coffee. She’s still enjoying her favorite blends from Indaba, shipped to her regularly from Spokane, where the people-first motto is alive and well.

“It simply blows my mind,” is all Bobby can say. “My little shop in West Central is making a difference.”


Featured

The Comaraderie of Cupping

Indaba Coffee owner Bobby Enslow prepares a weekly cupping session. Shown also is roaster Josh Adrian.

Around the perimeter of the wooden table were 10 plastic cups, each with a number noted on a white piece of paper. In the center, a couple of water cups with spoons, and five shot glasses, one for each of us who would join in cupping.

It’s a weekly occurrence for the Indaba Coffee roasting staff, and I was invited to partake. As we chatted, owner Bobby Enslow ground beans from 10 distinct coffee varieties, and placed a sampling into the 10 cups. We rounded the table slowly, each of us inhaling deeply, picking up specific characteristics, then moving on until we’d filled our nostrils with the aromas of each cup.

The crew, of course, was prolific in identifying the slightest trace of fruit or a scent affiliated with a country of origin. “Pomegranate,” said Sarah Wellenbrock. “Raspberry La Croix,” said Josh Adrian. On and on they went. Cedar. Fajitas. Raisin. Beef broth. Nougat. Kombucha. Cocoa Puffs.

A novice, I was ashamed that a writer who loves coffee struggled to find better adjectives than “mild” and “bold” in my head. It was a proud moment when I said, “I’m picking up hints of alcohol in #2” and Adrian later validated it, explaining that #2 was Rwandan coffee from fermented beans.

After two more rounds for tasting, I jotted in my notebook, numbers 3, 4, 6, 8 and 10 as favorites. When Enslow revealed the names of each coffee in our blind test, it was no surprise, these were Sumatra, High Drive, Bowl & Pitcher, and Lilac City – selections I’d bought from Indaba off and on for a few years.

The Science of Coffee

Today it’s easy to find videos demonstrating virtually every method and aspect of coffee service. But they were were slim in 2009 when Enslow was starting his business, so he learned from industry leaders in the Pacific Northwest – like DOMA, a Post Falls wholesaler, and Stumptown Roasters in Portland. He also purchased a service from Facsimile, which provides blind samples for experimental purposes.

Everything about coffee production is an experiment, he says. You learn which cups hold a consistent temperature, what percentage of coffee to extract for its full potential, the time a specific selection should roast and on what setting. You test the moisture and color, not just with the eye but with digital scans that provide precise analysis.

“You have to be humble. You’ll never know it all.
Just learn to enjoy it.”

– Bobby Enslow

The complexity is why he fell in love with coffee. “I love the academic part – the constant learning.”

He supports ongoing education for staff members, too. Everyone who wants to roast must complete a related certification from Barista Hustle, and then any additional certifications they wish to pursue on their own will yield them a pay raise.

From my brief experience with the cupping team, it was clear that the learning was not the only perk (pun intended).

“What I love most about cupping is our team collaboration in perfecting our quality control,” says Wellenbrock. We’re always trying to determine how our coffee could be better, and in the process, it’s elevating our team.”

That synergy was apparent. Josh, perched on a stool, had the clipboard and a detailed chart for scoring 10 attributes of each sample, from aroma, texture, and flavor, to acidity, sweetness, and aftertaste. Wellenbrock and Crystal Walton called out their observations at each stage and Adrian handled the scoring.

At left: Sarah Wellenbrock and Crystal Walton; At right, Josh Adrian with Wellenbrock

A Shift in Focus

The same humility Enslow embraced in learning the science, he also built into his motto and business philosophy. In the first decade, “Simply Great Coffee” reflected his passion for quality. But entering the next era, Enslow wanted to focus on the reason he opened his first shop in the economically challenged West Central neighborhood: He cared about creating and fostering community.

The new Indaba motto – now plastered on mugs, posters, and stickers – is “Love People, Love Coffee.” And Enslow only hires team members who understand that putting people first is non-negotiable, no matter how great a person’s coffee-making knowledge and skills are.

A few Indaba customers have shared their own stories of the ways a humble little coffee shop on West Broadway changed their lives. That story appears in the June issue of Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine.


Choose Your Indaba Adventure

  • 1425 W. Broadway: The original shop, two blocks west of the Courthouse. Neighborhood feel with indoor and outdoor seating.
  • 1315 W. Summit Parkway: Great for a quick pick-me-up while shopping in Kendall Yards.
  • 419 N. Nettleton: In a shared space with Hello Sugar donuts, this spot is mere steps away from Centennial Train and a lovely spot that overlooks the river.
  • 210 N. Howard: Grab a drink here and mosey to some of downtown’s best shops, or across the street to Riverfront Park.
  • 518 W. Riverside: Pre-COVID, this location featured live musicians on weekend evenings, providing a fun yet chill atmosphere for hanging out. Here’s to future tunes and treats.

Featured

Beans and Brews on the West Coast

Spokane has bragging rights.

With the birth of “For the Love of Coffee” in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine, I and Editor Megan Rowe have one central aim: To inspire Inland Northwest residents to celebrate boldly the name Spokane can make for itself with coffee. Seattle thinks it’s the coffee capital because Starbucks started there? Come on. The humble home of the Hoopfest and Bloomsday doesn’t play that way. 

Spokane Falls in spring, and a classic mug by local artist Chris Bovey

Within a 5-mile radius in Spokane, a coffee lover can easily locate, walk to or park near, and enjoy half a dozen quality local roasters, and never have to rely on a corporate chain. Our small community’s wealth of locally owned coffee deserves the same billing as our wineries, breweries, bike paths, and parks.

Every journey I’ve taken outside our region in the last few years has fostered this truth. Last year, just before COVID hit, I spent several days in Napa Valley on a work trip. I’m not a wine connoisseur, and while I did enjoy the experience of wine tasting, I still wanted my coffee. The cute burg where I stayed had ONE option. Every morning, I wondered: How can a place that invests so much in marketing the fine art of a good drink somehow overlook the need for equally noteworthy coffee?

This spring, on a road trip with my daughter to visit colleges along the West Coast, I found local roasters who put heart into their gig. Urth Caffe in L.A. had a good drink, fine pastry, and a strong sense of purpose: Only organic, heirloom, shade-grown beans. San Fran? Intelligentcia (also in other major metro areas like NYC and Chicago) wants to “elevate a daily ritual into a culinary experience” as well as to be “stewards of the earth and advocates for values of diversity, inclusion and equity.” Portland? Coava, which invests in “long-term relationships with coffee producers” also prides itself in featuring mostly single-origin brews instead of creating blends.

When I find those businesses, I support them by buying a bag to bring home, and by letting them show off their expertise a bit. “What do you have that’s medium-dark and not fruity, good for pour-over and French press?” I’ll ask. The barista at Coava (an alternative to Portland’s more widely marketed Stumptown) answered, “I think you need Nayo.” I picked up a bag and discovered its beans hail from Guatemala – always a safe bet for me, so her hunch was right.

So, other cities have great coffee … what’s my point? In one word: Convenience. In two words: Bragging rights. I happened to be lucky that Urth Caffe in Santa Monica was an 8-minute walk from my hotel, that Intelligentcia was around the corner from Haight-Ashbury where I wanted a glimpse of hippie lore, and Coava was a 5-minute drive from another destination on my Portland list. But this isn’t the norm for major metro areas. When my husband and I traveled to New York City, I had to put a good coffee shop on our itinerary, the same as the bookstore he wanted to visit, because if you don’t plan for those stops, they won’t happen. And even when you do plan, you also have to negotiate the transportation. Are we renting bikes, scheduling an Uber, risking mayhem to park our own vehicle?

Here in the Inland Northwest, treating a guest – or yourself! – to great coffee just doesn’t take that kind of effort, nor does it require good luck.

Last Drop

The next time you find yourself coaxing a friend to visit Spokane, or you’re sharing on Facebook what’s great about our region, be sure good coffee is one of your talking points.


Next Cup

For next month’s column, I’ll share about Bobby Enslow, owner of Indaba, and what I learn while doing some cupping on roasting day with him. But in the meantime, I want to hear from you. Specifically, I want to learn how churches, schools and community centers are using coffee bars to facilitate their mission. Drop me a line below.

If you missed the inaugural launch of “For the Love of Coffee,” read about Roast House coffee here.

The Power of the F-Bomb

This article is the inaugural entry of my new column – “For the Love of Coffee” – in Spokane Coeur d’Alene magazine, April 2021.

The signature brew of Roast House Coffee – F-Bomb – came by its name honestly, regardless of how you feel about cursing.

Owner Deborah Di Bernardo was giving up sugar and chocolate, and when her team roasted the Mexican bean for this brew, its aroma wafting through the warehouse-style facility, she swore someone was tempting her. “Who’s making f***ing brownies?” she yelled.

Deb’s favorite word and her deep love for this consistently rich, chocolatey coffee sealed its fate: It would be called F-Bomb.

The name alone has been magic for Roast House. “Many people in Spokane still haven’t heard of Roast House, but they know F-Bomb,” Di Bernardo says. It sells on its own and is also a key element in half a dozen blends at the shop, including the popular Café Americas, which is a mix of F-Bomb and Rio Cocoa from Nicaragua.

But the real propeller of Roast House’s trajectory is something else entirely: A fierce commitment to sustainable coffee growing and fair trade practices.

Deb Di Bernardo. Photo: Annisa Hale

That has been Di Bernardo’s mainstay since she began her passion project 11 years ago. Where other roasters label products as “ecofriendly” or sustainable because they’ve used a small amount of organic beans, Roast House’s supply is 100% organic.

You can bet that makes it more expensive. Her costs are 40% higher because she pays the coffee farmers a living wage to hand-sort and hand-wash the beans – all of which are shade-grown. These practices ensure that the coffee coming to her Spokane warehouse is free of the defects present in other coffees. And because she doesn’t want to impact costs more by traveling to the coffee farms herself, she partners with trusted and certified importers, like Sustainable Harvest from Portland, to be her eyes and ears around the world.

“Staying committed to sustainable coffee is more important today than when I started,” says Di Bernardo, “because our eyes have been opened to the threat of coffee extinction.”

Coffee extinction? Is that possible?

In the next 20 years, 50% of the high-end Arabicas will be gone, she says, due to do the microclimate created by deforestation in countries producing coffee. The nationally and internationally known mega-producers of coffee strip the hillsides so they can produce higher quantities, but not higher quality, java. The result, says Di Bernardo, is “crap, sun-grown coffee,” and a major hazard to the physical and economic health of the developing countries whose food supply is already a precious commodity.

“The apathy toward our food sources is a real threat,” she adds, noting that pure vanilla is almost nonexistent for the same reason coffee is in danger.

Di Bernardo’s commitment to sustainable practices extends from the farming to the packaging. When she decided F-Bomb (and other seasonal selections) needed to be available in single-serve packets for camping and traveling, her team selected a Santa Cruz, California, company that makes every piece of packaging from eco-friendly sources so there is no waste. While the coffee maven doesn’t travel much, F-Bomb is her companion when she does.

If you stop by the tasting room (423 E. Cleveland), don’t expect a trendy, hipster joint with retro couches and people sipping coffee with their earbuds in and laptops open. Instead, expect a simple storefront coffee counter with the roastery in the background, and amazingly friendly team members who will help you select a brew to take home, and whip up a unique drink with their homemade simple syrups. Come back another time and don’t be surprised if they’ve remembered your name and your likings.

[Briefly]

Author’s Choice:               I’m in a committed relationship with F-Bomb and 423. But when summer comes, it’s all about the ice-cold Cocoa Fuego, which is sunny-Friday-afternoon-hammock-time-with-Pink-Floyd-queued-up in a bottle.

Sticker Message:              Damn Fine Coffee. (Also at the bottom their RH branded mugs.)

Notoriety:                           While Roast House isn’t yet a household name in the Inland Northwest, national coffee experts have taken note of the small company from the Lilac City, offering 1st– 2nd– and 3rd-place awards among North American competitors 20 times.

Sample Review:                Nathan writes: Amazing variety and expert brewers. As an experience and as a product, I believe it gets no better.

[The Boss of F-Bomb: Deb Di Bernardo]

Daily Dose:                          French press at home, Americano at the shop

Partner in Crime:              Jim. (Saint Jim, really, I mean, if you know Deb…)

Best Buddy:                        Lucy, a labradoodle now trained as a service animal

Personal Passion:             Bringing attention to the need to be more intentional about our foods and resources.

What Staff Say:                 Jon says: “She’s the most honest, best boss I’ve ever had.”

[Where to Buy: Spokane]

Roastery/Showroom:     423 E. Cleveland Ave, off Foothills Drive

Coffee House:                   First Avenue Coffee, 1011 W. 1st Ave, Downtown

Grocery Stories:               Huckleberry’s, Natural Grocers, My Fresh Basket, and some Rosauer’s and Super One locations

Time for a Word about Coffee in Spokane and Beyond

Good coffee shops matter as much as good coffee itself. And it’s about time that WordsnCoffee put down some words about coffee.

Here’s what comes to mind as I sip my espresso from my Bialetti moka pot, made with a dark roast sourced from Guatemala, roasted by Evans Bros.

At Home in Spokane

Some people (west-siders, I’m talking ’bout you) may scoff at the idea of Spokane being a great spot for coffee. But while you deal with traffic and parking, and eventually have your venti-skinny-PSL from Starbucks, the eastern residents and guests of the great coffee state of Washington have their choice from a couple dozen locally owned roasters who take great pride in fair trade practices to support the people actually growing the beans – and they exist in myriad styles of shops that are all easy to get to in just minutes from anywhere in the city. Take that, Seattle!

Social vibe: Indaba

While Howard St. is more of the run-in-and-grab type of joint on a popular shopping block, sister locations on Broadway, Nettleton, and Riverside have distinct settings for specific vibes. Broadway: worker bees. Nettleton: retirees enjoying the morning sun on the patio off the trail, and parents taking kids to Hello, Sugar for donuts. My favorite: Riverside, which, COVID-aside, often has local musicians providing chill ambiance for evening outings. Also, owner Bobby Enslow is just a nice guy. (Almost forgot: There’s another Indaba/Hello Sugar partnership waaayyyy out in the Valley on Dishman-Mica. Pink décor is a nice new twist.)

Classic: Atticus

The brick walls, the eclectic shop, the smell of books, the retro poster art from Vintage Prints and stacks of mugs with designs by the legendary Harold Balazs – Atticus just feels like a place you want to sit and stay a while.

Shown here: Evans Brothers | Ladder | Indaba

Commute Stop-worthy: Arctos

Hamilton Street is no fun on workday mornings, and when you can’t avoid it, embrace it. Arctos is a hip place for local college students to study, and its claim to fame for my husband is the sipping-chocolate mocha.

Serious about making it right: Roast House

Deb Di Bernardo is Italian, so … nuff said. I love her mostly for her passion about sustainable production. Roast House’s tasting room is an industrial setting with plenty of room for classes or other groups who want to know about best practices in environmentally sound coffee growing. Also, this is a great source for your home brew supply of what Deb proudly calls “damn good coffee.” The most important two words: Café Fuego. Bottled chocolate-spice cold brew. Oh-em-gee.

Loftspace: First Ave. Coffee

It’s Roast House coffee, but with a coffee-shop feel. Beautiful, long wood tables, a window into Deb’s bakery (keto-friendly), and a cool loft above the rafters.

Thank you from the Valley: Ladder

The flagship store resides in a former firehouse (hence the name) at the edge of Browne’s Addition, and this place is ridiculously cute. You can smell the fresh bread from the baker across the hall, which will put you in the mood for avo-toast. But this Valley girl is most excited about the new location on East Sprague inside the Canopy credit union. Totally different vibe, but a welcome reprieve in the Valley for times we really don’t want to go downtown.

Longtime Service: Rocket Bakery

Rocket falls into the category of coffee shops to note mainly because the bakeries have been a staple in Spokane for a lonnngtime, at locations in Millwood, South Hill and downtown. While the cinnamon rolls and quiches are “to die for” as my Aunt Sharon would say, I honestly don’t even know their coffee story. When I once asked where they source their coffee, a barista said, “I think downtown?” Anyway, I’m listing Rocket because they also have a drive-through option called Spaceship. (Get it?)

Shown above: Roast House | Liquid Planet | Mela

Day Trips

The great PNW has so much beauty, and so many coffee shops to visit while you’re out exploring. Here are just a few.

Moscow, Idaho: Bucers Coffee Pub

This is an iconic spot for a small, rural college town. The walls are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and the seating is at oversized wooden tables, giving it the nostalgic feel of an old Carnegie library.

Sandpoint, Idaho: Evans Brothers

Charm? Space? Comfort? You can have all of those at the Sandpoint location. The oversized shop has ample room for guests to spread out – none of those tiny tables crammed so close you might as well share your snacks with the patrons around you. There’s a fireplace, and a table always set for chess, and the walls proudly display art by local high school students and teachers. Lemme go make my second cup of espresso with my EB brew …

Glacier Country: Montana Coffee Traders

MCT has locations around the Flathead Valley, including Whitefish’s large shop nestled downtown, and the Columbia Falls shop on your way to or back from Glacier National Park. On a Saturday morning, expect to wait. The Columbia Falls location is the only good coffee around for all the campers and adventurers in their hiking boots, and they will gladly wait in their Northface coats and wool socks to get inside for a tasty (and healthy) breakfast with their joe. Thank you, online ordering service, for those of us leaving our KOA cabin and hitting the road for Spokane!

Missoula: Liquid Planet

My first foray with Liquid Planet was inside the doctors building at Sacred Heart Medical Center here in Spokane, but this brand actually hails from Missoula, where a University of Montana professor dreamed of “raising the culture of beverage to a wholesome new level and to do so in a way that is good for the body, mind, and planet,” according to the website. The quirky college town has multiple locations and they all sport some creative concoctions alongside the best avo-toast I’ve ever had.

Wenatchee: Mela

After navigating the crowded, narrow main drag of this charming town in summertime, stopping in at Mela is a real treat. A spacious setting in an old brick-walled building provides an abundance of good food options, along with their own locally roasted beans.

Further Away from Home

Any travel – whether a day-trip for work or a longer vacation – requires investigating the local coffee shops. Here are a few notables.

  • Arivaca, Arizona: Café Aribac, in the middle of the desert, boasting shade-grown coffee because “migratory birds love it.” I never did learn where the shade-grown beans actually come from, but it clearly ain’t Arizona.
  • Philadelphia: Le Pain Quotidien. Not specifically a coffee shop, but I can’t forget a place that brings you a ceramic coffee pot and matching creamer cup so you can serve yourself an endless supply.
  • Portland: Stumptown. This popular brand is now hitting the shelves in grocery stores throughout the West, which drops it down a notch in my book, where small batches are king. Still, while in PDX (the only city I know that calls itself by its airport code), Stumptown visits are a must, along with visiting Powell’s for endless book shopping.
  • Seaside, Oregon: Seaside Coffee House. Hippie vibe and cool art.
  • St. Charles: Picasso’s. Art and java: the perfect combo, on a cobblestone street.
  • St. Louis: Second Breakfast. Cute corner shop in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
  • Tulsa: Topeca Coffee. Worth bringing home a bag.
  • Venice Beach, California: Intelligensia. Kick-the-sand-off-your-feet, grab your joe and go.

But here’s the drip about traveling: I often have to search high and low, near and far, to find a great coffee option, and it usually requires actual plans in my itinerary to make it possible. That just isn’t the case at home in Spokane. I can visit a great shop on any day, regardless of which direction I’m headed and how much time I have. I think it’s time we boost the Lilac City’s reputation and give the boot to Seattle as the coffee capital.

Here’s a very generic shout-out to the many other Inland Northwest roasters and shops I didn’t name: I’ll come visit soon!

And here’s a very specific shout-out to my co-coffee-loving husband, Jeff, who has introduced me to a number of these great spots. Decades of great joe, coming up.

Shown above: Jeff at Bucer’s | treats at Thatchers (Vancouver WA) | me, who knows where