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Last updated: Wed. Sep. 03, 2014 - 06:45 am EDT

Utopian Coffee raising the profile of its roasting

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Utopian Coffee will celebrate its grand opening in its new location, 222 Pearl St., with an open house 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday. A food truck will be there at lunch and dinner hours. Coffee, naturally, will be on the house.

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Utopian Coffee now has a store downtown, open to all, but it's still not a place where customers can drop in for a cup of coffee.

Founder Brendon Maxwell and five employees import coffee, roast it, wholesale it and deliver it around the country to members of its coffee club in 12-ounce bags, but they don't run a coffee shop. You can't drop in at 222 Pearl St. with your laptop to wile away an afternoon with a latte. This roaster supplies coffee shops; it isn't a coffee shop.

“From the beginning, we wanted to be a great craft roaster,” Maxwell said. “We didn't want to be a competitor to the places we're roasting for.”

Persuading coffee-drinkers to raise their habit to connoisseurship remains a key to building the demand for premium coffee. But Maxwell also is dedicated to changing the coffee supply.

He returned last month from a trip to Guatemala, where he met with farmers from whose small cooperatives he will buy some of the coffee he sells through Utopian. Buying directly from these farmers ensures that he knows how the coffee he sells is grown, and the higher prices he can pay these rural suppliers gives these farmers and their families a higher standard of living and broader prospects than they've had before. The biggest difference: These farmers now make enough that many of them can pay to send their children to school.

The price of coffee Utopian sells is several times that of the mass-market coffee sold in plastic tubs in grocery stores, but Maxwell says the Utopian roasts are affordable, given their quality.

An example of prices: $13 for a 12-ounce bag or $11 for the same bag for members. A membership costs nothing but commits a member to buy at least one 12-ounce bag per month.

“We recommend whole beans, but we will grind here. We're not against it. We're about educating the customers and meeting them where they are.”

Naturally he counts on sales locally, but Utopian also wholesales around the country.

“We get it to our customers anywhere in the country within four days of roasting,” Maxwell said.

He won't discuss the company's revenue, but he said it has grown steadily over the eight years it's been in business.

The fundamental strategy for growing his business is getting people to taste superior coffee.

“When you've had a good cup, it's hard to go back to some of the other brands,” he said.

bcaylor@news-sentinel.com


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