THE CONVERSATION

Kandace: Can you just start by saying your names, where you’re from, what you do? Just a really simple introduction.

Leticia: Leticia Pollock, co-founder of Panther Coffee Miami. Originally from Brazil, but we’ve been living in Miami for about 6 years now after living in Portland for a little bit.

Joel: Joel Pollock, co-founder of Panther Coffee.

Panther Coffee's Joel and Leticia Pollock at KEXP

LA MARZOCCO RESIDENCY

Kandace: What are you doing here in Seattle?

Joel: We have the luxury of a one month residency at La Marzocco at KEXP, and we’re going to be serving our coffee with the talented team here and sort of just a collaboration with La Marzocco.

Kandace: Can you tell me about your setup? When you come in, you can do whatever you want or how does this … What is your setup like?

Leticia: They gave us a lot of flexibility, so we got to choose the equipment we’re working with. They are very flexible. It was very fun.

We’re doing 5 different single origins. We’re going to brew them as the chemics as well as batch brewing, and we’re doing three different espressos plus decaf. We’re doing our East Coast, West Coast, we’re doing a single origin, I think a Kilimanjaro by Ida, and the decaf.

ON TRAINING THE KEXP TEAM

We’re going to tell them a little bit about how Panther came about and what’s important for us, which it’s the quality of the coffee and the quality of the relationship, so we’re going to practice the recipes together, we’re going to make sure the coffee’s tasting it’s best, and start a new team with them. It’s very exciting for us because we have a very tight team in Miami, and expanding that a little bit for a month is very exciting.

Joel: Yeah, I think tasting the coffee together is the most important part in my mind because we have such a familiarity with the coffee and when you taste the coffee for the first time, you may like it, you may not like it, but you might not know exactly what it’s best rendition could be, and so for us, we’ve got a pretty clear idea of these coffees and last night we tried to get them dialed into the right spec, and tonight we’ll taste as a group.

Leticia: Especially when you’re talking about espresso, we’re not going to be here every morning for all 30 days, so they’re going to have to dial in those coffees and decide what is the best representation of both East Coast and West Coast, as well as the single origin, I think a Kilimanjaro.

We want to really get on the same page as well as we want them to know a little bit about Panther so when people come and they’re like, “Who’s coffee is this?”, they can share a little bit about the story of the company, as well as the producers behind the coffees.

Panther's Joel and Leticia Pollock with hearts

MEETING & FOUNDING PANTHER

Leticia: Joel and I met as SCAA, I think 2007 or 8. We really agreed on pretty much everything when it came to coffee. He had a trip 2 weeks from SCAA. He was going to Brazil, landing in the same city where I was living. We got really friendly, and he was like, “Okay, I’m going to Brazil. You’re going to go on this trip.” Went on the trip, helped translate for the team, and got to hang out.

I got invited by a company in Portland to work with them, so I moved to Portland. I started working with Ristretto Roasters. Joel was working in an importing company, and we just started our business plan.

In the meanwhile, we got married and we finished our business plan.

We decided what we wanted to do and we had to choose a city and we chose Miami after drinking a lot of wine, looking at a map on the wall at our tiny little table at the apartment in Portland. We were like, “Miami. Who’s in Miami? No one’s in Miami.”

There was a lot of coffee, a lot of coffee in Miami. People love coffee, but it’s Cuban coffee and a little bit of big chain presence, but no specialty coffee, coffee carefully sourced, carefully roasted, carefully prepared in specialty style. So we moved to Miami. We just flew back to Portland, packed everything, and drove down. We got there.

Kandace: I heard you drove a roaster.

Joel: We drove the roaster. We had an espresso machine. We had a Fetco.

Leticia: Grinders.

Joel: Everything that we owned.

Leticia: We got there, it was December 31st, 2009. We started finding a space in Miami, getting to know the city because we really didn’t know anything.

Panther Coffee location

LOCATION, LOCATION

Joel: It took us a little while to get our feet on the ground in Miami. There were so many things happening there that moving from Portland, we were really not aware. We had heard about the real estate bubble and to some degree you know about it, but Miami was the biggest pit in the nation as far as I understand and sort of retracted from that, so at that moment, we’re opening a business, we’re at a 30-year high in green coffee prices, and eventually, we stumbled upon this awesome area in a great little spot which is where we started and continues to be our-

Leticia: Flagship.

Joel: Where we produce coffee. It’s our flagship, yeah.

Leticia: It’s called Wingwood. It’s a really up-and-coming neighborhood, now it’s kind of up. It was up-and-coming 5 years ago, now it’s really trendy. It’s a great place, we know everyone there, and we have a little community. It’s pretty great.

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Then after this first location, we opened 2 more locations, 1 in Coconut Grove, which is an area that’s also going through a lot of transformation, it’s very nice, and Sunset Harbour, which is a little enclave on Miami Beach.

Now we’re building two more, one in the Mid-Century Modern District and one in Little Haiti, it’s the new up-and-coming area.

Kandace: Oh wow.

Leticia: It’s exciting.

Kandace: Yeah.

Joel: It’s going to be our world headquarters.

Leticia: Absolutely. Having a training lab, new roaster.

Joel: Roastery, offices, coffee shop.

Panther Coffee's Leticia Pollock Quote

MIAMI COFFEE SCENE

Kandace: What is the Miami coffee scene in comparison to what we know, which is Northwest?

Leticia: It’s changed a lot. There was no Miami specialty coffee scene 6 years ago whatsoever. None.

There was a very Cuban coffee culture, which is very cool. You have the little windows and you have coffee with a lot of sugar and it’s a ritual. It’s very beautiful. That’s what existed. Now, in the last 3 years or so, you have lots of new roasters popping up, people learning how to roast, now we have some big names coming to Miami this year.

It’s interesting to be able to welcome everyone, being established and now welcoming the new specialty coffee scene in Miami. It’s in it’s very beginning.

Joel: We moved to Miami from Portland, Oregon, and we noticed right away, once we started roasting coffee and preparing coffee beverages, that there was a difference in taste preferences and we played with that a little bit just because our goal and idea was to try to encourage people to try different tastes and experiment with coffees rather than when you go into a coffee shop and just get the same thing you have every time and it needs to be the same. Our ideal is, “Well, let’s try some new stuff”, and realized that coffee from different farms and different origins tastes different without adding anything.

Panther Coffee Joel Pollock on experimentation

EAST COAST / WEST COAST ESPRESSO

The East Coast idea was that coffees in the East Coast, as well as preferences with wine and beer and other things, tends to be more of a rounded profile, more chocolatey, full-bodied, creamy, lower acidity, yet you could still use a fantastic coffee for that and show something beautiful in that realm. We took a very Brazil-based idea of an espresso blend.

The West Coast, more of like a preference for acidity, lighter-body, and it’s funny because if you taste our West Coast espresso, it’s based on Ethiopian coffee. It also has the in it, which is a honey processed El Salvador, very sweet. It’s got a little bit of body but it’s more about crisp sweetness.

It’s not like when you go to the West Coast and you order an espresso, that’s what it tastes like, it’s almost a play on that, but our idea was, here’s a way to get the conversation going without a lot of milk or sugar whipped into the drink or whatever. I’d be roasting a few months into that project and I hear people that are regulars, “I’ll take a West Coast cappuccino”. I’m like, “Ooh!” It’s working.

We got people to try different coffees that maybe they normally wouldn’t have tried.

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Leticia: The customers brought a lot when it comes to how is it more South American. I think Joel and I opened the first location, and we started with, very much like we used in the West Coast, barely any food items, barely had any pastries. You had fairly large milk drinks. When we got there, people want small, strong coffee, they want savory items to eat with their coffee rather than sweet items. Those things, it was more like the customers brought that into request than us bringing it in and trying to glue it together. It happened organically.

Joel: Yeah, one thing I noticed as, because we’re a shop roaster still. That’s about to change. We’ll still be a shop roaster, but we’ll have an offsite roasting facility as well that you’ll be able to see but it’s back a little ways from the retail area. Roasting coffee in the shop everyday and people come in, they place their order, they wait for their drink, and the roasters come up on their way out. We’ve always got a couple coffee bags hanging out or our stack of green coffee bags. You can kind of almost tell where people are from based on what bag their commenting from. Brazilian people get really excited when they see not just café du Brazil, but exactly where in Brazil that it’s from. Colombian people, Guatemalan people, Nicaraguan people. We had a situation where, we didn’t really anticipate it, but so many people that came through our doors were from coffee-producing companies and you contrast that from roasting in a shop in Portland, Oregon, and it’s just a different world. It was like the inverse.

In so many ways, we built our business around green coffee and sourcing coffee, and I really felt that that was a huge influence. We were showing people coffees that were export products from that country that, in some ways, they weren’t even that familiar with because they were going to other countries or other cities. I think we both feel really proud about showing those coffees in an environment that hasn’t previously celebrated them. It’s a great coffee scene, as we talked about, but it’s more of a basic coffee with more of a ritual. It’s fun to be a part of that.

Kandace: I heard that you do most of your own, or all of your own, sourcing. Is that …?

Leticia: It’s like 90%.

Joel: We do, for the most part. Sometimes we buy coffee in groups. Ultimately the desire is for that to evolve into something bigger, but we have some relationships from previous engagements that we’ve been able to work into some purchasing that is full-container purchases, which is good for us. We have a 10 kilo roaster. You look at a full container of coffee, it’s 40,000 pounds of coffee more or less, and you realize you’re going to roast it 20 pounds at a time. Seems like a lot, but we’ve done a decent little wholesale program, so I think the goal is to work on a container per origin. We’re just in the beginning of that.

Leticia: Some producers also have smaller quantities, which is also exciting. We just have a new coffee, kilo metro. It’s exclusive and we met through a friend. Some new relationships that are very exciting, as well as some older relationships.

It’s really nice, we had a few green coffee offers straight from the trunk. Producers come, they park. “You guys roast coffee. We want to show you a coffee.” Open the trunk and just, “Here’s the coffee. Do you want to buy this bag of coffee?” We have a lot of people from origin. It’s really exciting.

THE SOURCE

Kandace: I heard that you do most of your own, or all of your own, sourcing. Is that …?

Leticia: It’s like 90%.

Joel: We do, for the most part. Sometimes we buy coffee in groups. Ultimately the desire is for that to evolve into something bigger, but we have some relationships from previous engagements that we’ve been able to work into some purchasing that is full-container purchases, which is good for us.

We have a 10 kilo roaster. You look at a full container of coffee, it’s 40,000 pounds of coffee more or less, and you realize you’re going to roast it 20 pounds at a time. Seems like a lot, but we’ve done a decent little wholesale program, so I think the goal is to work on a container per origin. We’re just in the beginning of that.

Leticia: Some producers also have smaller quantities, which is also exciting. We just have a new coffee, Kilometro. It’s exclusive and we met through a friend. Some new relationships that are very exciting, as well as some older relationships.

It’s really nice, we had a few green coffee offers straight from the trunk. Producers come, they park. “You guys roast coffee. We want to show you a coffee.” Open the trunk and just, “Here’s the coffee. Do you want to buy this bag of coffee?” We have a lot of people from origin. It’s really exciting.

Colombia Coffee Picker

Joel: We get offered Colombian coffee probably 2, 3 times a week from different people.

Leticia: From people in Colombia.

Joel: We have a joke in the roasting department. “Hey, I just found a guy who’s willing to sell us Colombian coffee.” It’s a good problem to have.

Leticia: It’s not a problem, it’s really fun.

Joel: No, it’s not a problem. Many of our relationships did start in the shop. The…Himalayan that we have here this month, this was a guy who was in shop for a whole week with his wife. He was wearing a polo shirt, Miami Dolphins, full turquoise. Never thought too much, but I noticed I’ve never seen that guy before. The Friday of the week that he was there, he came up and introduced himself as a producer of coffee.

Leticia: Mauricio?

Joel: Yeah. He introduced himself, and we were actually planning a trip to El Salvador the following month. He’s from Ataco, it’s in Ahuachapan. We visited him. The coffee was fantastic. We bought 80 bags from him, which is a nice place to start with a new relationship.

Leticia: A lot of people from South and Central America love taking vacations in Miami. It’s the entry door to the U.S. There’s Disney World, which I always wanted to go growing up. You have a lot of producers that come on vacation and end up stumbling up on us, researched, and they go visit us, so we end up meeting a lot of producers. It’s very nice.

Kandace: Yeah.