Roaster of the Week is a series that focuses on specialty roasters and their unique stories, from what drove them to open a roastery to the challenges they’ve faced along the way. This week, we speak to Porch Culture Coffee, a Texan roastery inspired by the hospitality of the Dominican Republic.
Walk along a street in the Dominican Republic and chances are you’ll pass people sitting out the front of their houses, cheerfully sipping cups of coffee. From time to time, they’ll shout “Entra!”, a widely acknowledged invitation to join them. If you accept, you’ll be offered a chair and handed your own cup of sweetened coffee, most likely made using a moka pot.
This is an example of the warm hospitality that comes naturally to Dominicans, and it’s what inspired Jonathan Ramm and his wife to start their own roastery in their hometown of Tyler, East Texas.
“My wife and I were both living in the Dominican Republic working for a school,” Jonathan tells me. “A big part of the culture there is that you sit outside on your porch and drink coffee. When people pass, you might invite them to join you, both morning and afternoon.
“We spent a lot of time on porches when we lived there and, equally, had a lot of people on ours. So when we came back to the US, we wanted to import a bit of that drop-in culture, as well as shine a light on southern US hospitality. We saw coffee as a great way to keep people connected.”
Porch Culture Coffee opened for business in 2012, roasting from a 500sq ft space with a small team on hand. Initially, they only offered Dominican coffee sourced from a farm in La Vega, known as Spirit Mountain, but they soon realised they needed to branch out.
“We idealistically thought that we would just do one coffee and roast it a few different ways,” Jonathan says. “The coffee came from a farm owned by a friend of ours and it has these amazing vanilla, apricot, and milk chocolate flavour notes.
“Although people supported us, we realised pretty quickly that we needed more than just one coffee – partially for our customer base, but also for our own enjoyment.”
A natural Ethiopian was soon followed by a Sumatra, as the number of offerings started to grow. Today, they have coffees from a wide range of origins, including Guatemala, Mexico, Rwanda, and Colombia.
Convincing Texans to switch to specialty
One of the challenges of running a specialty coffee roasters is convincing people to try something they’re not used to. Starbucks-style dark roasted coffee tends to dominate the market, so when a craft roastery pops up and starts offering slightly more unusual, lighter roasted coffee, it can be hard to win customers over.
However, Jonathan tells me that Porch Culture was fortunate to be among the first ones in their area to enter the specialty market, which meant those who were interested knew where to buy their coffee.
“As far as specialty coffee in East Texas goes, there’s not such a whole lot,” Jonathan explains. “It’s a growing part of the coffee industry, but at the moment we just have two primary craft roasters who focus on quality sourcing.
“For us, it’s actually been a bit of a blessing because it means we’re one of the first in the area to roast high-quality coffees and connect people with the producer side of things.
“We were selling at the farmers’ market and going to offices here in town. Many of them would be getting fresh coffee for the first time and it doesn’t take much for people to taste the difference.
“Of course, some people don’t like it. They don’t want the acidity or anything that doesn’t have those chocolate notes. But for those who are craving something a bit different, it hasn’t been difficult to convince people to switch.”
The growing popularity of specialty coffee in East Texas and beyond was made all the more evident during the pandemic, when subscriptions and online orders of Porch Culture’s coffee grew considerably. It was a clear sign that Jonathan and his team were on the right track.
“Subscriptions and one-off orders really helped us during the pandemic,” Jonathan says. “It was great that we were already set up to do doorstep deliveries. Basically, that and grocery stores – which stayed open – helped sustain us.”
Delivery on two-wheels
“Southern hospitality” is a well-known concept in the United States, characterised by the warmth, friendliness, and welcoming attitude of locals. However, in recent years some say it’s diminished, not least due to the isolating effects of Covid-19.
For Jonathan, a big part of Porch Culture’s mission to promote the hospitality inherent to the South and merge it with aspects of Dominican porch-sitting revolves around the use of a bicycle for deliveries.
Despite the difficulty of getting around Tyler’s car-dominated roads on a bike, Jonathan worked out different routes covering around 20 to 30 miles that could be cycled. Porch Culture then started offering coffee deliveries along the route, all on a bike with a small trailer.
“My wife and I love cycling,” he tells me. “We offer bike deliveries because we love it and because it’s great to have that time to experience porch culture, leaving bags on people’s doors.
“There are a decent amount of people who homeschool their kids or work from home and you’ll sometimes hear the kids inside their homes shout, ‘Mom, dad, the coffee guy is here!’ It’s really fun. There are some days on the bike when you feel as though you’re living the dream.”
But it isn’t just about connecting with people: along with bicycle deliveries, Porch Culture uses a low-emission roaster and compostable coffee packaging. This all contributes to Jonathan’s personal goal of building a more sustainable future.
“You’re always going to have some level of waste,” he says. “But it’s been hugely important for me on a personal level to try to do the least harm with my business. I know that [a sustainable image] helps with marketing, but it also helps me to feel more at peace.”
This is clearly important, and it’s an attitude that Jonathan tells me is starting to catch on in East Texas. While it might not have originated with Porch Culture, they’re certainly at the forefront of this growing trend.
It also plays into their overarching image of care and community. To invite a stranger to hop on your porch and sip coffee with you requires a certain degree of trust that can take years to foster.
However, by gradually building a community through quality sourcing and sustainable practices, Porch Culture can help encourage people to share special moments over coffee – just as they planned.
Did you enjoy this edition of Roaster of the Week? Next time, we’ll be speaking to Khomanta Coffee Roasters, a small-batch roastery in Kansas City focused on true ethical sourcing.
For information on our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.