Thanksgiving Coffee Company
Founded in 1972, Thanksgiving Coffee came to our attention as 2017 Roast Magazine Roaster of the Year. Accolades aside, what got our hearts aflutter is the honest, pure, clear-heartendness of this roastery. Join us as we chat with co-founder Paul Katzeff and Roast Magazine publisher Connie Blumhardt.
Ray: I’m Ray.
Kandace: I’m Kandace.
Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee. This week …
Kandace: Thanksgiving Coffee out of Fort Bragg, California.
Ray: Thanksgiving Coffee has been around for a long time. It started out as a restaurant with a coffee service. They were founded 1972 by Paul and Joan Katzeff. Is that right?
Kandace: Right. That’s right, Ray. You’ve done your research. This is amazing. Look at you.
Ray: Paul was also one of the founding members of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
Kandace: Yeah, and its third president.
Kandace: You know, their tag is, “Not just a cup, but a just cup.” They’re pretty incredible example of a coffee roaster that’s grown over the years and is kind of making the world a better place.
Ray: So they won roaster of the year, macro roaster of the year for 2017 from Roast Magazine.
Kandace: Connie from Roast Magazine came by and told us a little bit about that.
Connie: We really just wanted to highlight the work and the effort that roasters go through to produce a great cup of coffee. I’m Connie Blumhardt, publisher of Roast Magazine.
People don’t realize how much work goes into it. Every applicant has to send in a written application. We pick three finalists from two categories. It’s a micro category and a macro category. We pick three finalists from each category, and then we ask them to send in three pounds of coffee, each roasted differently, and all the coffees are cupped using SCAA standards. We take the points that they receive from the cupping and the points they receive from the written part, we add them together, and we pick a winner.
I think the most interesting thing about Thanksgiving winning, to still be a contender ahead of the curve and really stretching the limits of what most roasters do, was really impressive to me that they still have this amazing culture that they’ve adhered to for 30 plus years. The passion really comes from the owners and the founders. They are just always impressive to me, that they’ve kept this culture going for so long and they do it so well, and they still produce this amazing product.
Kandace: They talk about following this mantra from a Carlos Castaneda book.
Kandace: You know, “Take the path that has heart.” I mean, that just kinda gets me.
Ray: We also had a chance to talk to Paul.
Paul: I was an activist community organizer in the 60s, and I burnt out after ten years of that. I didn’t have anything left for me. I didn’t have a home, I didn’t a wife, I didn’t have kids, I didn’t have land, I didn’t have … and then the back-to-the-land movement happened, and the hippies happened, and LSD happened, and I sat next to Timothy Leary on an airplane and I left New York for Colorado. And where I met Hunter Thompson and worked with him on his campaign for sheriff, and I worked previously with Robert Kennedy in New york. I was the first social worker to become a coffee roaster.
When I got into the industry, all there was was about price and profit. There was no … it was very uninteresting. You know, it was price and volume. Well, how long can you do that and keep your interest unless you’re pretty crass and pretty shallow? So, my intellect pushed me into doing certain things that made coffee interesting. And it brought me back to the social justice advocate that I had been in the past part of my life. And when you bring two ideas together for the first time, or two professions together for the first time, you’re gonna get an explosion of new ideas. It’s just the consequence of the way life works.
So, I became a messenger in the coffee industry for ideas. My most important contribution, in my belief to, the industry is two fold.
One thing I did was create tasting laboratories in Nicaragua. I guess it was 2000, I got a $400,000 grant to build tasting labs. They were the first cupping labs at smaller farmer company-ops in origin countries. And the cupping lab idea enabled this industry right now to be so granular.
Anyway, that’s one thing and the other part of coffee that I did through SCAA was create the Environment Committee, which later became the Sustainable Committee, which brought the environmental movement into the coffee industry. And that’s one of the things that I’m really most proud of.
I could not have done the work that I’ve done in the industry without my company. You can’t do it as an individual. You have to put your money where your mouth is. You have to have some sort of substance in the industry in order to lead the industry. So, it was my company and my ability to take ideas and to put them into packing, and to take the ethereal and put it on to the physical plane. That’s a powerful tool. And I’ve had a really great time, and I’m still having a good time.
Kandace: As one of the founding members and a former president, Paul’s got a lot of insight into a lot that’s happening with SCAA now. It’s been in the news a lot, coffee news, communities news. We had such a great conversation about that and such an in depth conversation that we’re gonna kick that to another post.
Ray: Thanksgiving Coffee of Fort Bragg, California.