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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