Roaster believes cold coffee is hot
Uncommon Coffee looks to capitalize with corporate cafés and innovative packaging.
The coffee industry is heading into unknown territory with cold-brew coffee, but Saugatuck’s Uncommon Coffee Roasters is preparing to capitalize on the trend.
President Guy Darienzo said several members of his team went to the Specialty Coffee Association of America annual conference in Atlanta last month and participated in a session on cold brew, along with more than 200 other people from across the country.
The SCAA has studied coffee for more than 40 years and has issued guidelines on brewed coffee and espresso, but not for cold brew. Despite its relative newness and obscurity, Darienzo expects cold-brewed coffee to be big — and soon.
“Cold coffee will be as big as hot coffee some day,” he said. “It’s new to everybody right now, and everyone is using completely different methods, but this market will expand.”
To Darienzo, that possibility is exciting. When he started Uncommon Coffee Roasters in 1994 as an engineer from Chicago — he still lives in Chicago part of the time — he said people were saying the coffee market there was saturated, but there were no specialty coffee shops in Saugatuck at the time. Since then, Starbucks has taken the nation by storm, and micro-roasters and specialty coffee shops popped up on seemingly every street corner.
In 1999, Uncommon Coffee started roasting beans and in 2004 began connecting directly with coffee farmers across the globe. Working directly with half a dozen farmers in Central America and fostering relationships in Ethiopia this year, Darienzo hopes to create connections with farmers in Colombia and Brazil this fall.
“It renewed my passion in coffee — a whole new reason to do this,” Darienzo said. “They know we’re going to go back every year and buy their coffee, when in years prior to that, they didn’t know if they’d be able to sell it or what price they’d get.”
Five years ago, Uncommon Coffee opened its Institute and Roasting Facility in Douglas with just Darienzo and a head roaster. Now, the facility has 11 employees.
Darienzo loves the coffee industry as it continuously changes, and he learns new pieces of the industry every day. In its 22 years, his business has grown into supplying coffee beans to more than 225 cafés. Some are in corporate locations, such as two at Whirlpool Corp. offices and another at Herman Miller.
Darienzo said those partnerships are, in part, thanks to Uncommon Coffee’s status as a Certified LGBT Business Enterprise through the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The GLCC works with many Fortune 500 companies that want to enhance their Human Rights Campaign Equality Index Score.
The cafés are marketed as Uncommon Coffee with displays, equipment and coffee.
“When you walk into Whirlpool, it looks like you’re walking into our business, because it has all our materials,” he said.
Approximately 25 percent of the business is in Chicago, but Darienzo said he’s trying to figure out how to expand its café partnerships beyond the 80-mile radius in which it’s currently operating. Uncommon Coffee finances and services café equipment as long as the café buys its product.
“I want to expand in Chicago; I split my time there,” Darienzo said. “We’re going in a lot of new directions.”
One of those directions coincides with the new popularity of cold brew. Uncommon Coffee fills milk-like cartons with three cold brew flavors — coffee, half-and-half and chocolate milk — and Darienzo hopes to use the products to expand into retail locations.
Soon, he plans to can single-origin cold brew coffee that’s been “hot bloomed” — pouring hot water on it prior to its cold-brewing process to bring out its distinctive flavors.
He said he could see pursuing a boxed version in the near future.
“I’ve always hesitated to put whole-bean coffee in retail location stores because the cafés where we serve and sell our coffee aren’t special anymore if you can find the coffee in Meijer,” Darienzo said. “If these are out in the grocery store, those cafés will be OK. They will get our name out there … and market our company without taking away from our cafés.”