(Note: This is the first installment of what will be a new series in which our buddy Sunny takes an in-depth look at something awesome about the neighborhood. We’re thinking of calling it “It’s Always Sunny in the Mission.”)
By Sunny Angulo
The Mission is a breeding ground for coffee shops and their requisite groupies, each one drawing their own line in the sand that separates their distinctive mini-fiefdom from the competition. So when my friend Greg told me that he was the new delivery guy for De La Paz coffee, I had to rack my brain to place the shop. That’s because the local small-batch roaster doesn’t operate a café, but supplies retail and private customers with their 100% fair-trade and organic beans out of their Treat Street hideaway.
They further piqued my interest when Greg told me that they make all of their deliveries via bicycle, and are the only shop to screenprint all of their packaging and propaganda on biodegradable and recycled materials. Sweet.
I swung by their warehouse, which they share with Kachusha “Chuey” Munkanta, founder and sewing wizard behind CHUEY BRAND caps. There I found the 3-person crew hard at work roasting a new batch of San Emilio beans from El Salvador, with colorful swatches of their handprinted labels drying on the table. (You, too, can own a used roaster for the low low price of $30,000!)
De La Paz Cofee is named after founder Jason Benford’s wife, MariPaz. He was bitten with the coffee bug while doing his graduate study in agro-ecology at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
“We studied sustainable farming practices, and spent a lot of time on small coffee farmers. I was struck at the gap between organic quality and high-end pricing,” Jason said. “We source only fair-trade and organic, and put a lot of focus on the small farms that supply the beans. Honestly, I got into this with the idea that I’d just be happy if we could get this message out to a larger audience and make organic accessible.” Jason has visited most of the farms that he buys from, and some of them are pretty cool. One of the co-op’s De La Paz sources beans from consists of 76 families, all of which own and operate their own small farms in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The collective model has helped the members set aside money for healthcare, childcare and educational opportunities. (For more info on fair trade coffee, check out the epic documentary Black Gold.)
So…do-gooder coffee, check. Mission warehouse with crafty co-tenant, check. Other things to dig about De La Paz? Their dedicated bike worship. Jason said that was a deliberate move on their part to complete the whole ecological package. They recently co-sponsored Bike To Work Day and donated “a shitload” of coffee to energizer stations around San Francisco. Greg Rodgers is the official man-about-town on his trusty Kona HUMUHUMU-NUKUNUKU-APUA’A, souped up by one of Jason’s friends to take on the hills of San Francisco with some serious coffee poundage.
I thought Greg’s personal best of 15 bags (roughly around 60 lb.) was impressive, but Sharky Senesac (real name) put Greg to shame with a fabled 105 lb up front in the cargo basket and 15 lb on his back. Showoff.
Sharky is the “warehouse guy” and very serious about his beans. “I love coffee.” Enough said. Over half of their average 1,000 lb a week are single origin medium roast, and I noticed that several shops around town sell both Ritual Coffee and De La Paz, but for different uses.
“Yeah, there’s definitely more of a curatorial taste for coffee right now, it’s the hot product. A lot of cafes will offer multiple selections to give customers different options, like a bar,” Jason said. “Somewhere like Mojo Bike Café uses our espresso products and Ritual drip coffee, but it’s the reverse at Haus who use our drip and pressed coffee products and Ritual espresso. A lot of it is how baristas make the coffee. It could taste totally different if it’s not made properly, which is why we place such a big emphasis on training café staff how to get the most flavor out of our coffee.” On that tip, Sharky is flying out to Texas to train staff at a new café brewing De La Paz coffee this week. Jetsetter.
What of the tense air of competition between roasters and cafes in the Mission? (Word is that non-competition clauses and loyalty statements are being circulated among the coffee triumvirate of Blue Bottle, Ritual Roasters and Four Barrel.) It definitely surprised Jason, but he tries to steer clear of anything smacking of pretension. “Yeah, I never thought it would be that crazy. You know, I don’t have a coffee background at all, so I guess I thought there’d be more of a communal vibe with so many people all interested in the same thing, more communal hangouts. But, I think we’re the only outfit run by a grown man.” Touché. It’s true that Four Barrel often reminds me of a giant boys’ clubhouse, industrial din and all. And Ritual is like being in a tattoo salon with wireless and no seats. Greg chimed in, “Well, we’re not a café, so we don’t have to worry about affecting an atmosphere and stuff like that. We’re just here to make good coffee.”
Yes, coffee: do the crew have their favorite beans? “Hmmm… well, coffee is a fruit, so it’s seasonal. We don’t keep anything for a long time, because you have different flavors in different seasons. Currently, I like our Costa Rica Las Lajas. I like how that particular farm processes their coffee, they dry it differently than other farms in the region.” Greg is into the nuttiness of the Peru El Norte, and Sharky likes the Brazil Poco Fundo. The Mission Blend is one of their top sellers (Jason thinks it has to do with the name), though it’s one of the few blends they do, as they tend to showcase the specific farms the beans come from.
One other perk that Jason is going to wish I hadn’t reminded people of? Somewhere on their website, De La Paz offers free delivery to all its customers – even individuals. He says they actually used to deliver to a lot of private homes, but now it’s mostly firms, plus the cafes and retail outfits like Bi-Rite, Blue Fog and RJ’s Market. Who is one of Jason’s favorite wholesale customers? “Rainbow Grocery, probably. I like what they’re all about.” He’s also into Stable Café at Folsom and 17th. “They do an excellent job of brewing the coffee the way it’s supposed to be made.” There’s a full list of the cafes that stock their beans on the site, but Haus and Pirate Cat Café are two in the Mission for people that want to keep it local and people do seem to like the coffee. I myself took home a bag of the San Emilio, which I’ve already drunk too much of. If you’re going to pick up an addiction in the Mission, though, I guess this is better than some other popular standards…