While Philly is home to a wealth of great cafes and coffee shops, last year it struck us that we generally only see the same "usual suspect" roasters on everyone's menus. So we started researching and making contact with small, independent coffee companies around the country, tasting our way through bags and bags of beans, and bringing on some of our favorites. Through this endeavor, we've been able to welcome some superb single origin coffees into our shops and have given exposure to roasters that, for a host of reasons, aren't wholesaling (yet) in our city. The connections we've made have been incredible: kindred spirit companies who bring passion and dedication to the craft of coffee. And now, six months since starting this project, our Guest Roaster program has become one of the things we're most excited about. It reminds us of playing an obscure or up-and-coming band on the shop stereo - it's a way to give a platform to the artists while simultaneously providing a fresh, interesting soundtrack for our customers.
Our newest addition to the Guest Roaster program is Tandem Coffee from Portland, Maine. Currently, we are their only account in Pennsylvania - though we don't suspect it'll stay that way for long. They bring both expert precision and a handcrafted warmth to their products, and keep things fun (so important!). For instance, on the back of their retail coffee bags, the Tandem folks list song suggestions under the tasting notes, a small detail that says so much.
Our first two offerings from Tandem are the Ndima-In Peaberry from Nyeri, Kenya (washed, with notes of starfruit, tangerine and dark chocolate), and Hunapu from Antigua, Guatemala, a beauty that offers a sweet, citrus fruitiness. Both exemplify their roasting style, described by co-owner Will Pratt as "juicy and sweet coffee without any ashy-ness at all." Nailed it.
Tandem was founded by Will and his wife Kathleen in 2012. The two were long-time employees of the esteemed Blue Bottle Coffee, living first in San Francisco and then in New York. Will says that at some point, with their wealth of combined coffee experience (hers in management, his in production), they thought, "Well, we can probably do all this.” They'd visited Portland, Maine on their honeymoon and noticed that no one in that town was doing exactly what they wanted to do, coffee-wise. So they moved there in early 2012, and within a month, had signed a lease on their space, a cool Art Deco brick building in the industrial East Bayside neighborhood. "We had just moved and didn’t even know anyone yet," Will remembers. "We were too young for it to feel risky...we just assumed: Portland is a city, we’ve lived in cities, we know what coffee shops are like. Maybe it was a little over confident, or foolish, but it all worked out."
They began roasting out of the space, as well as running a retail coffee bar. Though that particular neighborhood isn't heavily foot trafficked, between their wholesale business, coffee subscriptions, and retail, they were profitable enough to open a second location in 2014 across town in the West End neighborhood - Tandem Coffee + Bakery. Situated in a ridiculously good looking former gas station built in the 60's, this shop is jumping. In addition to a full coffee program, they serve house made baked goods, the photos of which make us want to cry, they look so delicious.
Will says that while the company is growing quickly, they are trying to do things in a way that stays true to their vision. He notes that coffee jobs used to be seen as simply a stop gap measure until a "real job" came along, but that working for Blue Bottle showed them that coffee can be a career. "We’re trying to make it so that [our employees] can move up and stick around...we're trying to grow without growing the number of our employees too much so we can pay people more, and make it into that."
In addition to roasting lovely coffees and opening beautiful cafes, Tandem sells coffee through their website via a subscription model. In addition to monthly espresso and single origin CSAs, they're doing one of the coolest things we've seen in ages: a coffee and vinyl club. Be still our hearts!
Each month, in collaboration with a friend who owns a record distribution company in Portland, Tandem sends subscribers a 12 ounce bag of their coffee beans and a 12 inch record that they think everyone should have. "They're records we play here, albums we want to talk about, albums that define us," Will says. The first one (the club just started this May) was John Coltrane's Blue Train, the second was a release from Japanese psychedelic pop artist Shintaro Sakamoto, the third was a prolific synth-funk musician from Nigeria from the 70's, William Onyeabor, and August's is Morphine’s Cure for Pain, which Will says "might be my favorite album of all time." At the Tandem roastery, they play tunes almost exclusively on vinyl, which many customers get a kick out of. "We’ve gotten so many people to dig up and give us their old record collections," Will notes.
We asked Will what the best and toughest parts of co-running his company are, and his answers were so thoughtful and full of insight:
Thanks to Will, Kathleen, and the whole Tandem team for doing what they do. We feel so lucky to be working with these folks, and just can't encourage you strongly enough to try one of their coffees on our Chemex menu, or take a bag home to enjoy at your leisure. And if you're ever in Portland, go pay them a visit and eat at least one of those amazing-looking cookies for us!