I am not shy when it comes to my love for the state of Arizona and its incredible coffee culture. While Phoenix may get quite a bit of press when it comes to its coffee culture, head south out of the city along the I-10 and 90 minutes later you’ll find yourself arriving in one of my favourite cities…Tucson!
Home to the University of Arizona, this second largest city in the state has a strong food and drink culture and is home to some of my favourite cafes & roasters that I have had the privilege of visiting in my many trips to the area. And so I am thrilled to get the chance to share the story of Yellow Brick Coffee Roasters with you as our Coffee Roaster of the Month for May! I reached out to Adam Lane who is the General Manager & Roastmaster and he was thrilled to shine more light on this incredible company.
Q: So introduce yourself and your role with Yellow Brick Coffee Roasters!
Like Tyler said, I’m Adam Lane and I am the General Manager & Roastmaster for Yellow Brick Coffee. I am originally from a small town in the north west of England called St. Helens. My wife is a born and bred Tucsonan. We met working at a summer camp in Pennsylvania back in 2014 and quickly embarked on a life of travel. After stints travelling South America, living in Melbourne, Australia and Manchester, UK, we moved to Tucson in September 2019.
Very cool…so what is your backstory in specialty coffee?
My obsession with specialty coffee was spurred from my travels, beginning in 2016 in a small town in Salento, Colombia. I was on a coffee plantation tour where I got to see first hand the not only the extremely hard work that goes into farming and harvesting coffee, but how proud they were of their product. Until then, I hadn’t realised how little I knew about coffee , my knowledge was limited to Starbucks and overly bitter instant coffee. This interest in the coffee industry was intensified in 2017 upon moving to Melbourne, Australia, who, arguably, have one of the best specialty coffee scenes in the world. As I sipped my way through copious amounts of batch brew, flat whites and long blacks, I was instantly inspired by the other side of the journey, roasting and brewing. Coffee could be so much more than I had ever realised. I spent all of my time (and money) in the local cafes, roasters and coffee shops in town, trying everything I could get my hands on. Melbourne has a remarkable focus on independent businesses instead of high street chains, and I was obsessed at the diversity of flavours from roaster to roaster.
Prior to my current position as General Manager and Roaster at Yellow Brick, I had worked a few Barista jobs here and there and have always been involved in the hospitality scene. What I truly believe helped me be a better roaster, though, was my work as a Chef at a Michelin Guide featured restaurant in Manchester, UK. Although it was not directly coffee related, this experience gave me many necessary skills that have been essential here at Yellow Brick. It allowed me to further develop my palate and deeply appreciate the intricacies of flavours, a skill that lends itself well to the specialty coffee industry. For me, developing a roast profile is akin to developing a recipe. Although there is only one ingredient in a roast, compared to multiple in a dish, the idea is the same. You must find a way to balance the flavours, sweetness and acidities to make it as delicious as possible.
I have a deep fascination with coffee, passion for the industry and determination to understand it, master it, and push it to the next level.
Q: Who were some of your early influences in coffee?
After we moved to the UK, I stumbled into Ancoats Coffee Co in Manchester. The Smiths were on the radio, the staff were friendly, and the Ethiopia Natural that was in my cup (from Kayon Mountain Farm, I believe) was the best thing I had ever tasted. I realized that the founder, Jamie, had also fell in love with coffee in Melbourne, and brought his newfound love and knowledge back to the UK with him to start Ancoats Coffee Co. His story resonated with me, and his coffee most certainly did. They became my number one influence within the industry as I began my search to find a cup that matched up to that quality. I now strive to have every roast as dialled in as that one was.
Q: Tell us a bit about the history of Yellow Brick Coffee Roasters! How did it all begin?
Our founder Anna Perreira left her career in finance in New York City in order to start Yellow Brick Coffee. She briefly moved to San Francisco to take Willem Boot’s Roasting Course. After the course, she bought a roaster and moved in with her parents in Southern Arizona where she began roasting out of their garage while building the company. Eventually, her brother David left his job in Hospitality Management in order to help open their roastery/cafe.
Q: So why the name Yellow Brick Coffee Roasters?
Yellow Brick Coffee is a family business and the owners Anna and David Perreira gave it the name Yellow Brick Coffee as a hat tip to Violet Avenue Elementary School, which they once attended together in New York. The name Violet Avenue gave birth to the name Yellow Brick. “Yellow” representing the sun belt where coffee grows, and “brick” representing the avenue.
Q: When did your roastery/café(s) open?
We opened the doors to our shop on May 5th, 2014. Before that we were getting our name out there at farmer’s markets and working at various events. We also began by selling mostly to wholesale clients. We currently roast on a beautiful San Franciscan SF-25, with plans to upgrade to a larger roaster in the near future. With the addition of the new roaster we have also made the decision to change our bags to a 100% compostable product. While the design stays the same, we’re proud to be able to do our part in helping the environment!
Q: In your opinion, what’s the specialty coffee community like in Tucson? What do you love?
Specialty coffee community here is awesome because Tucson as a whole is so spread out and actually a pretty large population, but the coffee community makes it feel like it’s own little space. There are a few of us who I believe continue to push the industry forward, producing coffees that could be recognized nationwide as some of the best. But there are also multiple independent coffee shops around the city who have made the choice to roast their own beans or use locally roasted which I think is great, local supports local. I think the environment here is incredibly supportive between shops, with lots of room to grow. I would love to see more events to spread the word about specialty coffee here, and to get to know some of the other people making a difference in the industry.
Q: So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
I will always be partial to natural coffees, specifically from Ethiopia, Panama, or Colombia. It’s what pulled me in, and I haven’t found anything that tastes quite as good. Currently my favourite is our anaerobic natural Colombia from Manos Juntas Micromill. It’s beautifully fruity, with a lovely chocolatey body, and the smell is to die for! My favourite part of being a roaster is that it is like a giant science experiment for my taste buds. Playing around with the roast profiles and finding that “sweet” spot to highlight nuances in each cup is exciting. It’s like the coffee is the teacher and I’m forever learning from it.
Q: Looking forward beyond COVID-19 what do you see as some of the emerging trends or new initiatives that will shape the future of specialty coffee?
Home brewing has really taken off during the pandemic. With some coffee shops closing their doors temporarily, and others unfortunately closing their doors for good, customers began looking for alternative ways to enjoy their coffee at home. I love this, and I would love to see this continue! Customers are increasingly curious about specialty coffee now and are consistently coming in, or calling our shop to say, “how do I make my cup at home taste as good as yours does in store?” We have found that we have shifted our focus a little bit from just providing coffee, to becoming educators in coffee and brewing. I see home brewing as a trend that will get bigger and bigger, and coffee shops/roasters need to adapt to this moving forward.
Q: Is there anything that you would love to see change as it pertains to specialty coffee?
I am just looking forward to the continuation of competitions, events, and collaborations. These have obviously been halted due to COVID, and it’s something I very much look forward to returning.
Q: Tell the readers of Commonly Coffee about some of your recent accomplishments. Or any upcoming announcements?
We are really proud of our Barrel Aged coffee’s that we usually release Bi-Annually. We age green beans in local barrels from various distillers (last time we used a barrel from Whisky Del Bac) and then roast them to perfection. It’s something we have become very well known for, so keep your eyes peeled for a new release in early summer!
Find their beans:
If you’re looking to get your hands on some beans then definitely check out their web-store for what they’re currently roasting!
I just want to say a huge thank you to Adam and the entire team for sharing about Yellow Brick Coffee Roasters and for being such a huge contributor to the coffee culture in Tucson, AZ. Keep up the great work!