A Film about Coffee - Tulsa Style

Ian, John and Dana in the Q & A following the film. 

Ian, John and Dana in the Q & A following the film. 

We are well aware that specialty roasters want direct connections, relationships, and face-to-face time with those producing their coffees.  As farmers and millers, we want the same.  At Cuatro M, we are quite proud of our relationships with our clients.  We don’t simply wish to sell coffee.  We want to create bonds with our importers and roasters.  One hundred percent of coffee that leaves our mill ends up in the hands of people we call friends.  We have visited their roasteries, met their staff and cupped coffees with them on their turf.  We feel fortunate to have this privilege, and have worked hard to achieve this goal. These mutual relationships guarantee the best coffees and best processing methods for each respective client. 

Last week I was invited to visit one of our clients, Topeca Coffee Roasters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The purpose of this visit was twofold.  John (Chip) Gaberino, the owner of Topeca Coffee along with Tor Nordstrom of Nordaggio’s Coffee and Espresso Bar wanted to bring “A Film about Coffee” to Oklahoma in the hopes of elevating the awareness of specialty coffee.  Additionally, all of the proceeds from the ticket sales of this film will be used to fund a teacher training and school library program in the community of Ayutepeque, which houses one of our family farms.

The coffee centered screening garnered 165 people, mostly from within the state of Oklahoma, but also attracted travelers from New Mexico, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.  The audience was a crowd of all ages and varying degrees of coffee interest and professional involvement.  Of course there were the coffee fanatics; baristas, roasters, nerds and hobbyists, but also people who cease to think of the brew beyond their morning cups.  Following the film, moviegoers stayed for an hour long Q&A and were treated to Chemex pour overs and Espresso coffee service.   I joined the answer section of the panel, speaking on behalf of farming and milling for Cuatro M, along with John (Topeca’s owner) and Ian Picco (Director of Coffee for Topeca).  Together, we fielded questions covering all sides of the supply chain, including buying practices, soil management, roasting profiles and business competition and camaraderie within Tulsa. 

During my visit, I sat down with Ian to learn more about the latest events of Topeca Coffee and the Tulsa coffee scene in general.  Here is what he had to say:

What is Topeca’s approach to coffee and how does it differ from other roasters in Tulsa?

Our approach has always been one of A) How do we make coffee taste the best it can?  And then B) How can we repeat that? So over the years we've made it a priority to learn as much as possible about coffee and all the variables of quality at all steps of the supply chain. Being connected to the family farms and Cuatro M has given us a unique vantage in not only understanding, but also directly affecting the quality of the coffees we roast.  Secondly, we are big proponents of the SCAA and take advantage of the great skill building and professional development resources they have to offer. We are fortunate enough to have a really dedicated staff of highly skilled and qualified employees, as well as a quality control lab and QC program.  This is what really sets us apart from other roasters in Oklahoma.

Having 3 Q graders, 2 Level II Baristas, 3 IDP Certified Instructors, and the resources for quality analysis helps us out tremendously when it comes to understanding the effect of roast and extraction variables, as well as maintaining consistency.

You are expanding.  Can you tell us a bit about your new space?

This month we purchased a 2500 sq ft. building next door to us, and will commence shortly in building out a full coffee quality and training lab. It will be the first SCAA Certified Teaching Lab within 1000 miles. We are hoping this will attract a lot of coffee professionals from the middle of the country, who would otherwise have to travel to one of the coasts to attend SCAA skill building workshops. In addition to SCAA courses we will offer general coffee classes and events for the public.  The space will of course serve as our in house QC and Training lab for Topeca and Topeca wholesale partners.  What's also super cool about this space, is that we are teaming up with Noah Bush of Hodge's Bend to build the lab as a dual purpose space that will also serve as a training facility for craft bartenders, and an education center for spirits, wine, and boozy things. I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure this will be the first place of its kind.

What are you most looking forward to as a roasting company in the upcoming year?

Obviously the lab is what I'm most excited about.  It is what I'm going to be putting much of my effort towards for the next several months. Not only will it be a great asset for Topeca, but also will have a huge impact on coffee culture in general for our region. 

What is your favorite thing about roasting and operating in Tulsa, OK?

Roasting specialty coffee in Tulsa is not without its challenges. It's taken us a long time to get to where we are, and I feel like there is still a lot of room for growth.  The problem is that Tulsa doesn't have quite the population density of larger coastal cities, or metropolitan cities. Being that coffee is a volume game, that lack of density (lack of potential wholesale customers) makes it difficult for growth and stability. Though things have generally been in the upward trend since we began, and I hope will continue to be that way.  All that being said, I love Tulsa.  John and I grew up here, and we've both lived other places: Seattle, Brooklyn, Portland, New Orleans, San Salvador.  There's a real unique energy that exists in Tulsa.  It hasn't always been here, maybe it last existed here in the 20’s, but it reminds me of a young Portland or Austin.  Cost of living is cheap, rent is low, gas is crazy inexpensive, there's things to do no matter what you're into.  In two words: "Easy Livin'." From a business perspective I would love to see Tulsa grow into a city like Austin or Portland, but at the same time I moved away from places like Portland (and Brooklyn) for a reason.  It all seemed to be turning into homogenized culture. I know that's probably an inescapable trend of modern society, but for a little while I want to enjoy Tulsa as it is now; a cool unassuming place that's a little off the map. Keep tulsa weird...dude.