Superba Coffee

biscotti was feeling pumped, because last week’s inaugural “roasterpost” was well received – by the roaster, by ROASTe, and by our the people who “like” our Facebook page.  But last week’s interview was conducted by email.  This week we were interviewing Superba Coffee, and president Ryan Yacura wanted to do the interview by phone.  biscotti’s heart palpitated a bit, so he ordered a cortado and dumped in an extra shot (is that even legal?).  We are not Jimmy Olsen; were we going to be able to scribble notes fast enough and still conduct a flowing interview?

Not to worry – this experience was every bit as enjoyable as conducting the interview electronically.  Artisan micro-roasters have such interesting stories, and it can be even more fun to hear them told live in someone’s real voice.  We asked Ryan – What’s up with the name, Superba?  And were we pronouncing that right – Su-PER-buh?  Ryan explained that when he moved to L.A., he would drive on that street every day – Superba Street.  Because he liked the name so much, he had a little ritual where he would say it out loud each time.  Sometimes, his girlfriend would be in the car with him, and one day she just *snapped*:

It’s Su-PER-buh!!  (Ryan had been pronouncing it SUPER-buh.)  Even more than before, the name stuck, and when Ryan decided to open his own micro-roasting business, it had to be called Superba.

So, what about that, Ryan?  How did you get into the coffee roasting business?  Interestingly enough, for years Ryan was not a coffee fan.  He wasn’t a Hater either, but he just genuinely did not care for coffee – despite coming from two “coffee loving parents.”  Then came two trips to northern Italy in as many years, and everything changed.  “In Italy, I fell in love with coffee.  It’s an experience I’ve heard many people share before.”  Ryan realized that pre-Italy, he had only been exposed to what he now regards as inferior coffee – mainly dark roasts from Starbucks and Peet’s.  Italy, by contrast, serves up more medium roast profiles and “full city” roasts, and they’re masters when it comes to the art of balancing coffee extractions (flavor vs. aroma vs. caffeine vs. crema).  Ryan’s favorite Italian coffee spot?  “Definitely the Autogrill in Rome – amazing coffee!”

In between those Italian trips, Ryan completed an entrepreneurship degree, but more importantly he started an advanced education in Coffee Geekdom.  The man went from not liking coffee to having twenty different coffee brewing machines in his home!  He crossed a threshold – and knew he wanted to get into the coffee business somehow….but would it be as a roaster, a retailer, a wholesaler…or maybe he should develop and launch an entirely new coffee product?

I’ll spare you the suspense.  Superba launched as an artisanal micro-roaster with both retail and wholesale divisions in the beginning of 2010.  On the retail side, they sell to specialty coffee stores in LA, where the people are as passionate about coffee as he is, and coffee doesn’t sit on a shelf for months the way it does in a supermarket.  They also sell to individuals through ROASTe and their own website.  The wholesale side of the business sells to restaurants, cafes and hotels – often developing customized, signature blends for their clients.

When we asked Ryan to tell us what’s unique about Superba’s roasting process, he said it was all about the Smart Roast roaster (coincidentally manufactured in his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA).  Ryan loves how his beans never have any scorch marks or burns on them, thanks to unique air circulation properties of the Smart Roast.  It’s super clean and consistently produces coffees that taste great using a variety of extraction methods.  Reduced emissions allow Superba to roast right along the beach in Marina del Ray, even with California’s stringent air quality law.


Superba keeps things simple by offering customers a classic and decaf blend that taste great brewed in a drip machine, a French press or a Chemex.  “I felt there was too much confusion out there right now, and that the average coffee-lover hasn’t yet caught up to all the nuances of single-origin coffees and blends that cater to specific extraction methods,” said Ryan.  “Rather than add to that by offering eight to ten products, we wanted to keep it just to two cool, consistent “Go-To” Blends.

We had to ask – What’s a Go-To Blend?

The answer is: a coffee that’s going to taste great no matter which of the three main brewing methods are used.  We got a little smart – Are Go-To Blends made from Go-To Beans, and if so where do they come from?  Superba’s blends tend to break down into a mixture of 70% Indonesian beans and 30% African.  “I just love the balance of an Indonesian deep chocolate against African citrus.  Great combination.”  As mentioned earlier, Superba also develops custom blends for their wholesale clients – based on the preferred flavor profile of a client and the extraction method they use most often.

And the money question?  What’s Ryan’s favorite part about living his dream as a coffee roaster?  It actually ties into the work for his wholesale clients.  Flirting with perfectionism…second-guessing yourself – these normally tortuous behaviors turn out to be great fun when creating a unique, signature blend for a client.  Ryan explains, “It’s that last 1-2 weeks of creating the new blend…it’s almost there, but not quite…so you re-roast it, change up the ratio, and then finally it comes – the moment when you cup it and….it’s the coffee you set out to create!  You can’t wait to sell it, can’t wait for other people to try it.”

Coffee made with that much joy has got to taste amazing, folks.

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