When I was planning my trip out to the Big Bend region, I was mainly concerned with one thing: Making sure that decent coffee would be available to me someway, somehow. Whether that came about by visiting coffee shops or by bringing my own coffee supplies and gear, I didn’t really care, but I was singularly focused on ensuring that I did not have another break down like I experienced back in Salt Lake City. All other concerns, like which restaurants to try and art galleries to check out, were second priority to my coffee preparations.
About a week before the trip though, my mother gave me an article from Texas Highways about Big Bend Coffee Roasters in Marfa, Texas. I don’t remember much of what was said in the article, but one sentence stuck in my mind: They give tours.
Immediately, my attention shifted. My coffee concerns fell away, and booking a tour for Big Bend Coffee Roasters became the numero uno priority.
And I must say that I was not disappointed at all with this tour.
That Thursday afternoon, after checking out Prada Marfa in Valentine, Texas, my mother and I headed over to the roastery, which is located in a nondescript building that we had unknowingly driven past several times upon our arrival in Marfa. The building is shared with an artist, so when you first walk in, you are greeted with not just the smell of coffee but with the works of LéAna Clifton, an abstract photographer based in Marfa.
The head roaster, Tyler Spurgin, welcomed us into the large, back room of the building which is where all the roasting magic happens. The room is pretty spacious, but bags of green coffee beans are stacked everywhere, and on the far right side of the room stand two roasters, one of which was prepped and ready to go for the next batch of beans.
As Tyler poured in a bucket of Sumatran beans, he explained that Big Bend Coffee Roasters supplies coffee to much of the Big Bend area as well as to stores in San Antonio and even Houston. They churn out around four thousand pounds of beans each week and sell at least twenty different types of roasts and blends at various stores and online.
Tyler also explained that the company eschews current light roasting trends and prefers to roast their beans to darker levels, with a focus on full body and balance. The idea is to make specialty coffee approachable, even to those old ladies who have spent their entire lives drinking Folgers brand.
As the Sumatran beans cooked in the roaster, we moseyed on over to the garage-like packaging room to our left where Tyler introduced us to the many coffees that they sell. We took our time grabbing handfuls of the freshly roasted beans and breathing in the wonderful aromas before heading back to the roasting room and switching out the batch of Sumatra for Bolivian beans, which is the base for most of Big Bend’s blends.
Try saying that ten times fast.
After talking with Tyler some more about his history, his opinions on coffee in Austin, and the company’s focus on only purchasing beans that are organic and fair-trade certified, he packaged us up a pound of coffee each (Texas Wildfire for Mom and Mexico Chiapas for me) before we headed off to an early happy hour.
The tour was short but sweet, and it left me thinking much about the state of coffee in the central Texas region.
It’s unfortunate, but we all had to agree (Tyler, my mother, and me) that coffee in Austin is very cliquey. It’s a strange phenomenon that happens a lot in the city, but when something fun and new shows up, residents become so excited and dedicated to it that they essentially suffocate out all of its good attributes. While I love visiting the various coffee shops in Austin, many of them eventually morph into something that is less of a coffee shop and more of an entertainment venue and/or bar (For example, Spiderhouse Cafe). Also, certain things that should be simple in regards to coffee shops, like finding a parking space, becomes some sort of an entry challenge that only the strong can survive (See my post about Once Over Coffee for one example).
For people just looking to chat with a friend over coffee, needing a quiet spot to study, or grabbing a quick cup before work, it’s not worth the hassle, and the shop eventually becomes a spot for a specific portion of the population. Unfortunately, once the clique is formed, it’s identity is forever changed.
This issue is also true for coffee that is roasted in Austin. Many of the locally roasted coffees are crafted with only coffee snobs like me in mind. As a result, those who are less inclined towards fruity and acidic coffees are kind of out of luck and forced to rely on supermarket brands which are often not local, fresh, or well roasted in the first place. In addition, this limitation only further exacerbates the stereotype that specialty coffee is just a millennial and hipster fad as opposed to a beneficial movement that improves all aspects of the coffee industry.
I love fruity and acidic coffees, don’t get me wrong, but let me tell you, I am thoroughly enjoying my Mexico Chiapas from Big Bend Coffee Roasters, even though it is a much darker roast than I would have typically purchased. The roast is so well crafted that it is flavorful, enjoyable, and contains a full body without the harsh bitterness or grittiness that is so prevalent in most dark roasts. If more specialty roasters in Austin approached dark roasts with the same care, then I honestly believe that they would be able to serve a greater section of the population, still maintain their high standards for coffee, and combat the stuck-up reputation of specialty coffee in Austin all at the same time.
It would be a win-win for everyone.
If you are interested in trying out this amazing coffee from Big Bend Coffee Roasters, make sure to check out their website. The Mexico Chiapas and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe are their lightest roasts, so if your taste preferences are like mine, I would try one of those first.
The one and the only Pookachino