$18 cups of coffee: California-grown coffee at California prices – SF Gate

Beans cultivated in the Golden State produce $18 cups of joe — as pricey as a glass of fine Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Updated

This story originally appeared in Altaonline.com.

With coffee shops seemingly on every block, there’s little question that California is one of the world’s biggest consumers of java. But a collective of 26 coffee growers outside Santa Barbara is hoping to make the state a major coffee producer as well.

Frinj Coffee — the name is a nod to the idea of growing beans at the far edge of the world’s traditional coffee-growing regions — is the outgrowth of an experiment in large-scale coffee cultivation that began in 2002. After years of development, proponents began propagating and distributing arabica coffee plants to interested growers in 2014, and Frinj is now bringing its first crops to market — and to many of those ubiquitous coffee shops.

The new brew is pricey — how does $18 a cup sound? — but growers hope it’s the beginning of a new agricultural success story for the state.

“Frinj is the best example we have of New World coffee produced in an economy and in a culture that has previously only identified as a consumer,” says Charlie Habegger, coffee buyer for Blue Bottle, the popular Bay Area-based coffee chain.

The idea of Frinj will sound familiar to any coffee drinker who prefers to buy single-origin beans sourced from individual farmers and collectives. It’s just that this collective is in southern California rather than in Costa Rica.

Frinj provides growers with trees, guarantees it will buy the harvest, and then pays farmers when the final product — the beans — goes to market, subsidizing 60 percent to 70 percent of the final sale price. The group provides training in coffee cultivation and a direct line from grower to roaster. “It is a very artisanal product,” says Lindsey Mesta, Frinj’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.

Considering California’s location well outside the tropics, coffee may seem an unusual crop. But it can be grown profitably in the state, according to Mesta, “if you are selective about the microclimate you plant in.”

The secret is to focus on high-elevation varietals, which are grown at high altitudes in tropical climates. Frinj’s growers mimic altitude with latitude. With its long growing season, summer heat and temperate maritime fog, coastal southern California is a good substitute for coffee-growing conditions that might be found at higher elevations in more equatorial regions.

In the tropics, a tree can produce multiple crops a year, but California growers must content themselves with a single harvest, spanning May to September.

Read the full story at AltaOnline.com.

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