Stumptown, Manhattan. It’s a rainy, humid day. I step inside, enveloped by cool air. I wait for the line to clear then walk up to a tall, blond-bearded barista in front of the till. He’s new and directs me to the shift lead. I move along the counter to speak with a dark haired woman working the bar. The first things she tells me when I mention sustainability is that they are from Portland, Oregon. I know by this she means to convey they are green-aware.
Direct purchasing from farmers. Stumptown pioneered that practice the barista boasts. They’ve been with one farm in Guatemala for over 15 years and it is first in that country to receive a carbon neutral certification. The specialty drip today (which sells for around $40 a pound) is from the Guatemalan farm. I try some, asking for it in a for-here cup. “You sure you don’t want it in a paper cup?” the barista playfully teases. I’ve had the thought before, by talking sustainability, my preference is probably obvious. Nonetheless, I still ask to be on the safe side.
I had noticed when I walked in most people sitting had disposable cups. I’m told the cups are recyclable, including paper. “Really?” I ask. Grabbing one, the shift lead flips one upside down to look at the bottom. Without seeing what she’s looking for (I’m guessing it was the recycle symbol) she tells me that they ask people to return their cups and the staff put them in one of their many colored bins (they don’t keep these out front due to space). They also compost their coffee grinds. I ask if they partner with anyone in the community. They don’t. They’ve tried this in the past but it wasn’t feasible with the quantity of grinds they produce.
I see a carton of organic milk. “You use organic?!” This is actually an exception today – they had ran out of milk. While they appreciate organic, the prioritize local sourcing. Their milk comes from Hudson Valley Fresh. I’m told that each Stumptown store makes connections with local suppliers, not just for their milk but their baked goods too.
Their new coffee packaging is made from eco-friendly materials. I later find on one of their blog posts that the bags are made from a combination of renewable wood pulp and plastic. There is an added component to the material to help break down the plastic faster.
When I ask more about the cup situation, I’m told they use ceramic mainly for espresso and macchiato – drinks meant for-here. Ceramic keeps the drink warm. I find out they offer a 25¢ discount for bringing your own cup. I don’t see it advertised anywhere and comment on that as well as ask (rather bluntly, realizing mid question) why don’t they encourage the use of for-here cups more. Branding. Or at least this is her guess. People walking with their cups help others know their store is close by, bringing in customers who may have otherwise defaulted to a bigger coffee chain store.
As the lead is talking to me, I become aware of her tremendous multi-tasking ability – taking orders, serving customers, training baristas, and cranking out beautiful latte art. My attention is particularly captured by the iconic foam-coffee heart designs that keep passing my eyes. I go a bit off topic, commenting on how latte art has become a huge phenomenon, thanks largely to Instagram. My discussion diversion quickly diverts back to waste. The lead brings up training sessions. She tells me of the horror experienced by the amount of milk and (hand-picked) coffee beans they go through. She tells me her sister is a chemist and would like her to develop something from the practice foam and coffee. “There’s a market right there!” she jokes. Hey, who knows?
I mention an idea that pops into my head that it’s too bad training sessions couldn’t be integrated with some type of customer taste workshop. She smiles, telling me she likes the idea but that the drinks taste awful at this stage. Maybe they could still do something but towards the end stages of training?
I thank her for talking with me and move off to the far end of the bar. As I begin to write, a guy with a gentle disposition approaches me. “I’m not trying to be a creep, but…” I stop him. I realize he’s overheard my conversation. I express my delight in his interest and curious what he has to say next. He begins telling me he’s also doing research and going around to different coffee shops. He’s a designer studying for his masters at Parsons and interested in opening a shop (he hopes in NYC) offering coffee sourced from Yemen. I interrupt him to ask his name. Abdul.
“Why Yemen? What’s the story behind it?” Abdul’s eyes light up; his expression conveys it’s long. “The shorten version” I interject. He begins telling me about his volunteer experience there, helping people extract juices from Khat – a narcotic banned in many countries (I know this sounds shady, but trust me, that’s not the vibe I get from Abdul) – as well as grow coffee. Knowing the value of coffee and barriers to exporting Khat, Abdul revealed a perplexity: why weren’t more people focusing on growing coffee? There are a multitude of reasons, but the combination of extreme poverty, lack of resources and awareness of the demand has brewed (no pun intended) up the current situation. “They’ve lost their heritage” Abdul says, explaining how Arabica coffee is native to Yemen, but now grown in other places, like Ethiopia and Brazil. (I later check this fact. It’s not clear if it originated in Yemen or Ethiopia, but more interesting is the whole coffee history of this country). The Yemeni people need to be lifted from their situation. They need to be empowered and educated. It is these motives that are driving Abdul.
I recently found out about this entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk (I devoured both his books The Thank You Economy and Crush It in a matter of days). One of his consistent messages is the value of making, and continually pumping out content. The thought “content” comes to mind when hearing Abdul talk. He’s story is great. He clearly has been deeply moved by he’s experience and I sense he has taken on some level of responsibility to help the Yemeni people. At one point in our conversation, Abdul mentions he is Muslim – maybe this is where part of his sense of responsibility comes from. I encourage him to begin sharing.
I begin telling Abdul about my ideas of promoting a BYO cup mentality and/or a cup-hire system. Abdul raises a point about the challenge of behaviour change. I refer to the California and UK bag tax I had discussed with Kramer (Coffee Shop Hop #3). He’s not aware of the ban in California, but tells me he visited the UK in May and remembers the first time he went to a store and was charged for a bag. “I don’t want to be charged for this each time,” he recalls thinking. Like that he started bringing his own bags. I point out “that’s behaviour change” and how quickly it occurred. Abdul kindly compliments the way I articulate things to make sense and illustrate the possibility of real change.
Bathroom inspection came at the end of my visit. Eco toilet paper, looked like paper towels, and hand soap in a refillable bottle. I also notice on my way back a stack of disposable plastic cups by their customer water tap. Not too happy about that.
I’m Stumptowned that this Portland based coffee company doesn’t do more to encourage customers to use for-here cups, but other than that they seem quite conscientious about engaging in sustainable practices, from local sourcing of milk and baked goods, recycling cups, and composting their grinds. Oh yes, and there’s the 25¢ discount for bringing your own cup.
Original visit October 9, 2017.