When we sat down with Philip Brown, owner and head roaster of Perc Coffee, his enthusiasm about coffee was evident right off the bat. Before we could even get any questions out, Philip unloaded so much of his excitement about the growing coffee community and the really great relationships being built around quality crafted roasts. If you’ve never tried Perc or even if you have, hear what Philip, former touring musician, has got to say; it has got us anxiously waiting to drink more of every single one of his coffees and excited about what’s to come from this Savannah roastery.
CK: How did you start in coffee?
PB: I started in coffee in Athens at Jittery Joe for 11 years, and I managed the coffee shop and worked as a barista before transitioning into an apprenticeship with the roaster and roasting for a few years. It was pretty much after my first batch on the big machine that I knew this would be so awesome. I knew immediately that I want to do this for the rest of my life.
CK: What’s your roasting style?
PB: I tend to roast on the lighter side. I like juicier, fruity, more articulate coffee. We don’t do any Full City or dark roast or any French or Italian roasts. It’s been a little challenge because people are used to a Full City style of roasting in the South, but I dislike that toxic back end where you can taste the roast. To me, when I very first started, I thought about maybe having a French roast. I was starting because I was inspired by coffee. I don’t drink French roast, and I don’t like it. If I’m starting something, I want a solid point of view, and I wouldn’t put out anything I wouldn’t drink myself. I want to tell the story of the grower and what’s happening at the farm, at the source, not to burn it up and tell you what I did with it. It’s like taking sushi and cooking it. We want to let the coffee just sing. It doesn’t taste grassy and you can actually drink it. I do a few where I move into that City roast level, but we’re usually a little lighter than that.
CK: How are people in the South responding to your coffee and roasting style?
PB: We’re in the South, and we can make great coffee here. We do free public cuppings and an educational shop on Saturdays with $5 flat rate pairings. A lot of times we’ll do an Ethiopia brewed on a kalita and a shot of espresso, or taste the same coffee brewed different ways, or maybe like a processing thing where there’s a washed coffee, honey, natural, and coffees from different elevations and you can taste the difference, because a lot of people put that information on the bag. But a lot of times they don’t express why that’s important and how that affects flavor.
We’ve been able to partner with two local cafes, The Coffee Fox and Foxy Loxy Cafe. They’ve been awesome to work with. They serve our coffee exclusively, and there’s a special bond between exclusive partners. We’re invested in each other’s success, and we help each other grow.
CK: Do you have a favorite roaster out there right now?
PB: There are lots of roasters I like quite a bit. One I keep coming back to and is absolutely on point is CREMA in Nashville (another Coffee Kind roaster!). We do blind cuppings with coffee from a bunch of places, Ritual, Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Crema, and a few others, and to be honest, CREMA’s was the one that just jumped off the table. I don’t know if it was the coffee we got, but I really liked their coffee.
I just tasted some great coffee from Deeper Roots and also Chattanooga’s Velo, which is on point. I haven’t tried Canadian roasters, though I want to try Bows and Arrows.
CK: Have you thought about opening up a retail shop or cafe?
PB: It’s very tempting. But I’m very interested in the idea of curation, partnering with someone where I could curate the coffee shop concept. There’s certain things that someone who likes a handcrafted cup of coffee, third wave coffee you could say, that might like craft beer or craft cocktails, vinyl records, or vintage pinball machines.
CK: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in opening a roaster, and do you have any advice for someone thinking about starting their own?
PB: One of the biggest challenges for us, especially at the beginning, is that we’re a wholesale roaster and we don’t have a retail operation. With companies like Blue Bottle, they establish a baseline of quality and the way the product should be treated and how great it is because they have these awesome coffee shops. It was hard to convince coffee shops to start serving our coffee when they were already successful with another roaster.
There are two things: Finding clients willing to partner with us and go on the adventure we want to go on. You can’t really call a coffee shop that has a successful business serving another coffee and tell them to stop using them. Even if your coffee is good, people are scared of making that change. The other thing, being in Savannah, is trying to spread a little bit of a different idea of coffee. People are used to a different style here, so outreach and education has been big for us. The good thing is it’s easy to make a big splash because we’re obviously different, but it’s also difficult because we’re obviously different. Coffee's a very personal product. One of the things is that everybody has a different idea of good coffee and everybody’s right because I can’t tell you what you like is wrong. That’s a challenge to open people’s eyes to different coffee. But we’ve been around for 4 years now, and we’ve had really good luck.
Well, we think it's definitely more than just really good luck and more so the really good coffee that keeps coming from Perc.