If there has been one coffee roaster that has caught my attention and has managed to keep it all year long it could be none other than Corvus Coffee Roasters. I remember in early 2021 seeing a few of their coffees popping up on my feed, being enjoyed by a few friends of mine.
I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a box of their Santa Maria, Anaerobic Caturra from Peru back in the summer and needless to say from that point on I was hooked. Corvus has released some of the most incredible coffee I have ever tasted. Month after month they are offering rare, exotic, unique and absolutely taste-bud-tantalizing coffees. I knew that what they were doing in the specialty coffee space was something remarkable, and I knew I wanted to share their story with you.
So I am thrilled to get to wrap up 2021 and my Coffee Roaster of the Month feature with them. So a huge thanks to Phil Goodlaxson (founder & owner) for helping to share their story. Corvus is based out of Denver, Colorado and if there is one city I want to visit next to explore their incredible coffee culture its definitely that one!
Hey Phil, so great to get the chance to connect with you! So, tell us a little more about yourself. How did this all begin?
I grew up in a self-employed family. The main motto for work passed down from my dad and grandpa was “find the work that will make you happy on a daily basis, and that will lead to success.” Being introspective, I spent a lot of time dwelling on what I wanted my daily work to be through school. I settled on work that was a craft (defined by me as a pursuit never fully realized – I have always tended to get bored with things easily), something that was sensory oriented: always been interested in flavour and ingredients, and something that could both be a good business and make a positive impact on the world. I always thought it was awesome when people achieved success in business and made awesome things while making a positive impact. So I got interested in coffee in college while getting a marketing degree, and started home roasting as I realized that coffee kind of checked all of these boxes.
I started finding mentors and one of those connections led me to Norway, where (in 2009) I really was inundated with their focus, unique at the time, on sourcing. Getting back I bought a 5 kilo roaster on eBay, cut a hole in the roof of our garage, and started roasting coffee. Sold at farmers markets and the rest is history, as they say!
So tell our readers, why the name Corvus Coffee?
Corvus is the genus of Ravens and blackbirds etc. In one of the origin myths I found about the discovery of coffee; Kaldi the goat-herder in Ethiopia followed ravens calls in his pursuit of food for his goats. Ravens being one of the few animals both intelligent and social enough to calm out when they find food. These ravens led him to coffee bushes on the side of a mountain.
When I started roasting in Denver in 2010, there were almost no roasters working at the level I aspired to. I wanted to bake into our company DNA the idea that “a rising tide raises all ships.” I want to establish Corvus as a company who helps create a change, and develop a new model for the high end of coffee – calling out for others to join us. This is the soul behind this name.
When did your first roastery/café open? How many cafes do you have now in Denver?
Our first shop in opened in 2014, and we currently have three in total with another opening in February 2022.
There is no question that your coffee has garnered quite a bit of attention recently. Anyone who follows the specialty coffee community has likely seen your “reserve tins” on their IG feed. The Reserve Coffees that I have had the chance to experience, are easily some of the top coffees I have had this past year. What led you to really venture out to offer such rare, unique and exotic coffees?
The short answer is our buying motto, and the reason we exist; we buy coffees we like, and then figure out how to sell them in exciting ways that emphasize the farmers’ stories. Those coffees are what I’m interested in – I buy what I want to drink, and turns out people like them too!
In the context of our overall mission though, I think that “specialty coffee” is celebrating prematurely. Getting our average FOB price to 4.50-4.80 is a huge accomplishment, nearly doubling the C market. However, all we’ve really done is to make farmers “less poor.” This price does not create the kind of livelihood that you would expect from the people brewing your favourite beer, distilling your most prized bottle of whiskey, or the winery you travel across the world to visit. Sub $5 per pound production still means farmers usually living in dirt floor houses, with light access to educational and financial resources. This seems unacceptable to me as an end point.
Exotic and reserve coffees that command an $8-30 per pound price point are the end goal (for now) in my mind. These coffees put farmers into a socioeconomic status that you would expect from “best in the world” producers.
Additionally, we have limited the customer journey. So many people have fully bought into the idea that specialty coffee is something worth drinking, but their customer journey ends with a $20 bag of Kenyan coffee. Consumers also have their hands waving in the air, asking for where they can explore after that $20 bag of coffee. Exotics and reserves extend the customer journey while elongating the path for farmers to become true artisans.
We have to, and can’t not, buy and promote exotic and reserve coffees. It’s the future that must be. They are the coffees we want and need!
Can you share more about what equipment you roast on, and tell us about your philosophy when it comes to roasting?
We roast all of our exotic and reserve coffees on a 10lb San Franciscan – and love that roaster!! Our “core coffees” and blends are on a 50kg Diedrich and also love that roaster. We believe in the process of “profile roasting.” Treating coffee as a variable input – and cupping every batch to adjust the profile. Usually through first crack, but only just, gives us the best balance of vibrance from the terroir and sweetness. Quality comes from the bean and not the roaster though.
In your opinion, what’s the specialty coffee community like in Denver? What do you love?
I’ve always seen Denver as a hungry and casually excellent scene. We don’t have the names of the OG roasters on the coasts, but I’ve never found anywhere that really managed to impress me more than Denver roasters like Sweet Bloom, Middlestate, etc. Sadly when it comes to any sort of exciting events, Covid has made this tough. I think we’re going to have a big throw-down/party soon this next year though!
The one thing I will say, is that we’ve been fortunate to have lots of fun collabs with companies like Odell, Epic, Cerebral, Black Project Breweries and our distillery friends at Laws, Branch and Barrel etc. This is the kinda stuff we love.
I see on your site such an incredible variety when it comes to the coffees you offer. Why do you feel it is important to offer such a variety? How have your customers responded to this?
It’s more a problem than a strategy. I travel so much to find farmers who embody the pursuit of excellence it’s hard to limit what we buy. I get excited about people, and feel a strong sense of urgency and responsibility to change the world through empowering farmers. It’s hard to say no. Again, we buy what we like (or more accurately, from people we like) and figure out how to sell it later.
I think people like it?
So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
I’ve been working with Israel Degfa in Ethiopia for almost 9 years now. He’s amazing and this year we bought his initial harvest from Gelena, his Geisha farm, and nearly 50 bags (!!) of his first experiment into Carbonic Maceration. These two coffees are so insane, and I can’t believe he did on such a crazy scale. It’s 90 point coffee in volume. It’s Gelena Irisha (Geisha) (also 40% of our Dead Reckoning blend) and Boji Bonde (CM)
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?
Trying to create some of these with our next shop – I think creating more engaging experiences for people who come into retail shops for experiences while also catering more to the people who really are expecting convenience. And I am trying to define how we source and present exotics and reserves. Covid has made coffee even less constrained to brick and mortar, and this opens up the opportunity for better identifying people who are excited about a longer customer journey – ie exotic and reserve coffee!
You have done much to help shape the specialty coffee culture. What would love to see change as it pertains to specialty coffee?
In general, I’d love to see consumers more and more excited about farms as brands versus roasters as brands.
Find their beans: If you’re looking to get your hands on some beans then definitely check out their web-store or what they’re currently roasting!
I just want to say a huge thank you to Phil Goodlaxson and the team at Corvus Coffee Roasters for sharing more about themselves and for being such a huge contributor to the coffee culture in Denver.