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