This Santa Cruz roaster spreads its laidback Northern California vibes to Los Angeles, Tokyo, and coffee lovers around the globe.
Verve Coffee Roasters came to be through the serendipitous union of surf, sweat, and a love of life. Founded on 41st Avenue, this NorCal roaster’s roots remain planted in Santa Cruz, California.
How did you get started roasting?
Verve was founded in 2007 by two college friends, Colby Barr and Ryan O’Donovan. Colby and Ryan met thanks to their shared passion for music, design, and of course, the pursuit of an amazing cup of coffee. The pair saw the need to create a company that reflected their vision for third wave coffee. It also turned out that they were the perfect duo to embark on a coffee journey together. Ryan’s extensive background in the coffee industry paired with Colby’s deep knowledge of agriculture and his entrepreneurial aspirations, the dynamic combo launched their coffee concept.
Why the name Verve?
The name Verve was inspired by a jazz record label Colby and Ryan had in their extensive vinyl collections. They instantly gravitated towards it as their business name because of its definition: The spirit and enthusiasm surrounding the creation of art.
Tell us about your Farmlevel Initiative.
Our Farmlevel Initiative supports each and every hand involved in the coffee journey. From seed to cup, we’re committed to positively impacting our local and global coffee community. By connecting the people who love to drink Verve with the coffee producer, we’re creating an open line of communication that transcends language, culture, and distance.
We believe this initiative is vital to the future of coffee. It brings much needed attention to the coffee farmers, spotlighting their work, dedication, and attention to detail. Verve understands the intense effort and commitment necessary to producing quality coffee so we pay above-market premiums to the farmers that exceed Fair Trade minimums. Every time, no exception.
The three key points of our Farmlevel Initiative are to improve the lives of smallholder farmers, help combat the impacts of climate change on the coffee industry, and to preserve heirloom coffee varieties. We’re traveling the world, taking risks and forging new partnerships with the goal of bringing you the very best coffees on earth.
… And your Nursery Project?
Coffee producers across the globe are facing multifaceted challenges due to climate change, global pricing, and a rapidly growing market for low-quality, industrialized coffee varieties. Our response was to literally roll-up our sleeves, and get our hands dirty by starting a nursery in a remote region in Colombia.
We kick-started this project by distributing 60,000 high-quality, endemic coffee trees with the hope that this pilot program will create a brighter future for smallholder coffee farmers.
How has your Santa Cruz location shaped your approach to coffee?
Santa Cruz roots run deep at Verve. Santa Cruz captures the essence of Verve; surf, sweat, craft and a love of life. We welcome the new, but pay tribute to what has come before. We’re excited to share that we now roast Verve coffee at two locations; the Seabright Roastery and the soon-to-be-opened Roastery Del Sur in the LA Arts District.
We roast on vintage Probat roasters upgraded with modern technology with an emphasis on traditional roasting methods. We roast daily in small batches and have stringent quality control practices to ensure that every batch is just right. We’ve expanded our café footprint beyond Santa Cruz, and now have locations in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Japan — but the endless surf of our rugged coastline will always be home.
What do you look for when sourcing coffees?
First and foremost, quality. Secondly, we are always looking to partner with producers who are actively working towards improving their processes and value their community and their part in the industry.
Besides that, we’re also seeking out the weird stuff. Our coffee team searches the world for show-stoppers; seeking out the types of coffees that might normally drive the timid away. We don’t shy away from unusual cultivars, off-the-radar processes or eccentric, yet proven growing methods.
What excites you most about the third-wave coffee movement?
So much, we’ll try to contain ourselves. We’re excited to see the beginning of the shift from people buying a pound of coffee for $5, towards understanding why certain coffee might cost $5 per cup. It’s the movement towards humanizing the coffee supply chain and we’re proud to be a part of it.
Facilitating a connection for our coffee drinkers to know who grew their coffee, who selected it, who roasted it — there are so many people and hands involved in a single cup. It’s truly astounding and, to the majority of coffee consumers, unknown. We’re also encouraged by how the industry is addressing the impact of climate change on coffee and we are hopeful for what is ahead.
What differences have you noticed between American and Japanese coffee habits?
Great question! In general, we quickly learned that our Japanese customers preferred drip and pour over coffee. They instantly gravitated toward the hand-poured brewing method which makes total sense now. The art and intention involved in a flawlessly executed hand-poured coffee is something our Japanese customers truly appreciate. We joke that hand-poured coffee is “the latte of Japan.” It’s the go-to order at all Verve Japan locations.
We also learned that the Japanese market tends to sway toward darker roasts, but were swayed when introduced to our lighter roast profiles. Fruit plays an important role in Japanese culture, so it was a love-at-first-sip situation once we introduced them to our vibrant offerings. The bright flavors in our coffees opened their palette to a more fruit-forward cup of coffee.
Which current roasts are you most excited about?
It’s always hard to single one coffee out as “the favorite,” because we put so much love and intention into every selection. But if we had to spotlight one coffee we’re stoked on at Verve HQ right now, it would be Candelaria Lot 603. Our coffee team has been working with the farmers of La Candelaria for five years now, so there’s quite a foundation built on both friendship and a shared passion for coffee.
Because of our strong ties and direct communication, we’ve been able to watch the coffee develop unique characteristics and grow in quality over time. A twist happened in June 2018, when Volcan De Fuego unexpectedly erupted, devastating the farm where La Candelria is grown. This tragic event completely destroyed roughly a quarter of the farm while leaving the entire area buried under ash and debris.
The La Candelaria 603 had been completely cloaked with ash and other deposition from the eruption and what the farmers were able to salvage from the ash had emerged completely transformed. This lot of La Candelaria tastes like something closer to a coffee coming out of East Africa than Guatemala. With strong aromatics, and an acidity like pear. This coffee will intrigue you with its dense herbal quality similar to fennel and anise.
Describe Verve in one word.