One of our newest roasters, CREMA, Coffee Roasters,
began first as a cafe in 2008 in Nashville, serving unpretentious coffee to a burgeoning group of coffee enthusiasts. It wasn’t until 2011 when they decided to roast and continue to share their love of the bean with every hand-stamped bag that leaves their facility. In the spirit of organic growth, CREMA partnered with local restaurant-meeting space-karaoke-bowling alley Pinewood Social to pioneer their coffee program. Manning a coffee bar within a restaurant/social space has proved to be a welcome challenge and has only pushed CREMA to create a consumer and staff educational program to fit their goals.
We spoke with Rachel Lehman, Co-Owner & Chief of Dishwashing of CREMA, Coffee Roasters over the phone to discuss CREMA’s roasting style, her personal views on the industry, and their newest location.
Coffee Kind: What is your roasting style in 3 words?
Fully developed, clean, balanced.
We look for very, very clean coffees. And we roast so you don’t taste any roast level. But we’re very careful to fully develop our coffee.
CK: What is your favorite coffee memory?
My favorite coffee memory of this whole 15 years of working in the coffee industry has to be last year when I first met one of our producers at his farm. We’ve tried to approach our buying in a relationship way. For me, it’s the most ethical, transparent way for us to get really unique coffees.
My husband and I went to Costa Rica last year for vacation, but then we also took a few days to start building a relationship with a farmer in Costa Rica. We went to a cupping lab and it was amazing to just meet producers- they were bringing their coffees in, super fresh crop. They were picked maybe a week prior, which that was a whole new thing for me. Meeting people and talking to them about what they’re doing- their hopes & dreams for the farm and how they’ve been able to make a small business for them. At the time, we had been buying 4 or 5 of our coffees directly, but I had not actually been to or met those producers face-to-face. It’s always been phone call conversations. For me, that was my most memorable coffee experience.
CK: Are you offering the coffee right now?
RL: La Lia, Honey process
. It was amazing, because it was actually an experiment. He was not intending to process the coffee this way, but he loved it so much that he was able set aside 6 bags of it and process it honey just for us. We’re so in love with this farm and what he has. It’s incredible.
Editor's note- You can read about CREMA's La Lia trip on their blog.
On the coffee industry...
CK: Going back to 15 years ago when you just started in coffee, what do you wish you knew when you began in this career path?
The industry has changed incredibly. Even in the last 5 years, we opened a shop. I wish I knew a lot more about the impact of buying decisions that roasters have on farmers. The ethical choices we make on purchasing. I wish I didn’t waste as much coffee as I used to waste. Over time, I think there has been a lot of advancement in our ability to connect with people, via social media, internet, travel. My favorite part of the job is still being behind the counter, talking to customers, being with baristas, being on the floor. That’s the hard issue I face as owner now. As we grow, I’m being pushed into other roles that may not suit me as well. But I’m still trying to work 30 hours a week behind the counter.
CK: Looking at the industry as a whole, what is your biggest pet peeve right now?
People jump on trends and people go for the next new thing really fast. Things that we really know that are tried & true and are good, sometimes we leave those things in the dust too quickly, I think. And that frustrates with me. I’m a very slow, organic growth kind of person. I like to iterate and experiment with one thing before I go ahead and dive in and do it. I’m tired of our industry being seen as a snobbish industry. What we hope to do at CREMA is educate our customer base. We really want to break it down and educate people and not in a snobbish, forceful way.
On design & education...
We really do care about the aesthetic and we want to show people that what we are buying and what we’re doing with the product is actually very beautiful. We put a lot of our money into our coffee and not our shop. You walk into our shop and it’s nice, but it’s not top of line. All our income and extra money, we put back into the product, because that’s what we care about.
We decided this year to have a barista write blog posts weekly. No one’s really doing this; we want to start doing this. Not a lot of our customer base know a lot about our buying and our process. That’s our educational goal this year- help people see more of what we do- more behind-the-scenes- help them bring into that experience as well.
CK: Do you want to expand on the other educational goals? How are you trying to achieve this?
We’re doing weekly classes, which you can sign up for
. We kicked them off in the middle of February- they’re one-hour classes, $15 to sign up. We go over the very basics of espresso- dosing, grinding, tamping. We do a winter/spring term & a late summer/fall term. Also with our staff, we’re implementing a monthly training that everyone’s required to be at. We’ve gone from 12 to 20 people in a matter of 6 weeks. We want that sensory part to be involved in their training.
On their second location...
CK: Has there been any large challenges that you didn’t expect when opening the second location?
It operates inside of a restaurant. It’s a coffee bar that services a 232-seat restaurant. it’s called Pinewood Social
. It’s kind of like the Ace Hotel, except it has a bowling alley, not a hotel. It has a huge cocktail program, a breakfast program, lunch dinner, late-night...and a coffee bar seating area. When you walk in, it’s like walking into a lobby and the coffee bar is right there. We do coffee to go, but we service the entire restaurant. Our challenges are, we’re not the people selling the coffee, the servers are. How do you teach people who don’t really love love coffee? How do you teach them to sell your coffee and do it in a good way. The thing is, at the end of the day, they’re not the baristas, because they’re not working with the product. It’s created a very different challenge that we never faced before, but we didn’t know how challenging it would be to keep up with.