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Birmingham Becoming Coffee Roaster Heaven?

primavera-cupofexcellence.jpgWhen we were at V. Richard's recently, we were struck by the display featuring locally roasted coffees.

Red Mountain Coffee Roasters, the "first-born child" of O'Henry's Coffees in Homewood, has been around since 1995, but it's strictly a wholesale business. They do custom roasting and blends for numerous coffeehouses, bakeries, specialty markets and restaurants, which generally receive their beans two to 14 hours out of the roaster. While you won't see the name "Red Mountain Roasters" in the retail market, you can buy O'Henry's coffee beans at O'Henry's Coffee locations, online at their web site, and at some retail locations such as Bruno's, Piggly Wiggle, Western and V. Richard's.

Then along came Higher Ground Roasters in nearby Leeds, which sells wholesale, direct on its web site, and through local retail outlets such as V. Richards, Tria Market and even Publix. Higher Ground roasts exclusively Fair Trade, shade grown, organic coffees of specialty grade.

Primavera Coffee Roasters in Cahaba Heights has a retail shop where they sell their precisely brewed coffee as well as coffee beans and related items. They also sell online or by phone, and can be found at V. Richard's. It's the brainchild of Brett and Havilah Burton and their colleague Holly Rodricks. Coffee purists, they don't offer flavored coffees, and want to educate customers about coffee. We recently tried one of their "Cup of Excellence" coffees, and it was amazing. You can read their blog going all the way back to 2004 and 2005 and their time in Guatemala learning first-hand about growing, roasting and brewing coffee before they started the Birmingham roasting business.

okafes-logo.jpgOne of the newest on the scene, which we also found at V. Richard's, is O'Kafes. Kirk Summers and Erin Isbell started o kafes! (pronounced “oh-kah-FESS”) coffee roasters in 2005 with a mission to bring environmentally-friendly, socially conscious (or “sustainable”) coffee to the central Alabama market. They offer premium Fair Trade coffee from around the globe and are a fixture at the Saturday Pepper Place Market in the summer. In addition to V. Richard's, you'll find O'Kafes at Red Rain in Homewood and Sojourns on 3rd Ave. North, or you can order online. And in a few months, you'll be able to visit their new retail shop and roasting facility in the Martin Biscuit Building at Pepper Place and enjoy freshly prepared coffee drinks as well as buying the beans to take home. They're taking over the current Amani Raha space, and hope to be open in mid-May.

One of the benefits of locally roasted coffee (besides supporting local businesses, which we're all for), is that freshness is key. The Primavera coffee we bought at V. Richard's indicated it had been roasted only a couple of days previously. Contrast that to the Starbucks I bought on sale at the grocery store about the same time in late December, which said "May." I don't know if that meant it had been roasted last May or was supposed to be fresh till next May, but either way, that's hardly what I'd call fresh, when you compare it to what you get locally!

Posted on Monday, January 14, 2008 at 08:36PM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , | Comments8 Comments

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Reader Comments (8)

I stumbled across Higher Ground at my local Publix. I'm not crazy about the burnt taste of Starbucks, detest the insipid flavor of Folgers, and I was growing weary of my Eight O'Clock french roast. So I grabbed a bag of their House Blend. Wow!!! It has a great balance. I'm hooked. I plan on trying as many dark roast varieties as I can. I especially like the fact that they offer a french press grind. I recently bought a press for a friend (trying to get him weaned off of Starbucks) and have turned him on to Higher Ground as well. If you love coffee, definitely give Higher Ground a try.

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

I have had the pleasure of meeting the good people at Okafes, and I have to say, their coffee used to be the only reason I would drive down to the Pepper Place market on Saturdays. The "calico blend" is amazing. I'm happy they are going to open a coffee shop in the Pepper Place area too, that will be such a cool location.

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJarrod

So is the Kafes place in the Biscuit Building going to include actual brewing? Because if it's open on Saturdays/Sundays I'd walk down there from the Sheraton to wake up, grab coffee and read the paper.

January 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterColm

The o kafes! website will be down for a few days (starting Wed. Jan. 16) as we migrate to a new host. We invite everyone to check us out after we're back up and running!

January 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKirk

The folks at Primavera are really into the details. It shows in their beans as well as in their coffee. Have a talk with Brett if you want to find out more about anything from roasting beans to frothing milk. A true expert.

January 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWill

i used to be very excited about places like higher ground and o'henry's, both reputable local roasters. there's something great about supporting grassroots efforts like these, and that always added a kitsch value to the experience.

the thing is, i've tried many local coffees, but there's no way that i can stand to drink anything other than the stuff from primavera these days. i've been educated, i've been trained, i've been well-equipped, all thanks to the hopelessly coffee-infatuated crew there. suddenly, i love drinking black coffee for the same reason a car enthusiast drives a manual transmission. there are things coffee can do on your tongue that you haven't experienced. "dark roast" and "balanced flavor" are about as helpful as "delicious" or "awesome". what about a coffee whose "sweetness drips with toffee undertones wrapped in creamy butter and dark chocolate"? oh yeah, it's all in there at primavera, guys. and it's a new ride in every bag of beans.

they know that the only good way to get the right flavor is through good beans and tedious preparation, and they are eager to show you how to do things right. they know their beans, they know flavor palettes, they know grinders and french presses and espresso tamping. and if you've never seen a rosetta or any other kind of latte art... well, you need to. it brings the visual appeal to the level of the flavor appeal.

instead of making coffee preparation into some sort of trade secret, primavera crafts an infectious passion. they want only to share it with the world. you can feel it as soon as you walk in to the place. the shop is inviting, the decor is stunning, the music is always on point. primavera, as a shop, a brand, and a product, is an invigorating, eye-opening experience. every visit is like that first sip in the morning. it trumps anything else i've experienced in the southeast, much less birmingham. i can't say enough about how much i love primavera and the warmhearted people who run the joint. i'm glad they're getting some more well-deserved attention.

January 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

o kafes! will be a full-service coffeehouse + roasterie at the Martin Biscuit Bldg. in the Pepper Place complex. We will serve espresso-based drinks, signature lattes, blended ice drinks, organic teas, and pastries. You can expect paninis and quiches in addition to some Greek fare.

Our roasting operation will be on site where we will be producing coffee that is 100% Fair Trade Certified and organic. Our current wholesale business will continue.

Our projected hours are 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday thru Saturday (closed Sunday). Our space will be available for private parties and gatherings after hours. We will be holding Small Stages events (official and unofficial) there as well.

Projected opening date: May 12, 2008. We are, of course, subject to the whims of various inspectors and builders, so that date may change. You should still be able to find us in the Pepper Place Saturday Market selling coffee as usual.

Keep watching our website for more information!

January 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKirk

It is wonderful to see the greater Birmingham coffee options growing. There is plenty of room for more quality roasters and retailers. Primavera is doing a wonderful job. Havilah worked for O'Henry's a ways back and did a great job. Brett has done a ton of homework and the coffee and latte we had recently were excellent. Josh, the roaster at Higher Grounds, was also a former O'Henry's employee and I personally taught him how to roast early in his career. I am sure he has learned much since then. Higher Grounds has won industry awards and has garnered a nice reputation in the area and beyond. All of us have a responsibility to raise the bar in what we do so Starbucks is always a second choice. O'Henry's is in it's 15th year. We have much to be grateful for, including some of our alumni making their own positive impressions.

February 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRandy

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