Spearheaded by Commonplace Coffee, Be the Bridge is a coffee collaboration released Tue., May 25, featuring seven Pittsburgh-based coffee roasters and one from State College. Each location was provided with the same type of coffee to roast in their own style, giving people a chance to explore the different flavors that a single type of coffee can hold while helping support the nonprofit Feeding Pennsylvania.
“We had previously kicked around this idea of all getting one coffee and roasting it and doing some sort of competition, but the logistics of trying to condense that into one week was really difficult,” says Commonplace director of operations Robert Chaffin. “So this kind of gave us an opportunity for it to be a little bit more open ended.”
The collaboration was inspired by Minnesota Roasted, a similar event in January 2021 where nine Minnesota-based roasters raised money for service industry workers. Giving it a local spin, Be the Bridge features 19 Coffee, Arriviste, Commonplace Coffee, De Fer Coffee & Tea, La Prima, Redstart Roasters, Reginald’s Coffee, and Rothrock Coffee.
The coffee beans were chosen based on price accessibility and approachable flavors. Commonplace roasting operations manager Dave Smallhoover helped select the type of coffee, a Colombian variety from El Tambo in Colombia’s Cauca department. The coffee is produced by AMACA (Asociación de Mujeres Productoras Agropecuarias del Cauca), a group of more than 140 female farm owners and heads of household farmers.
“This is a very approachable coffee and is an amazing quality,” says Smallhoover. “Since all these roasters can interpret the coffee differently or roast differently, there's going to be a range of experiences, which helps the end guest on learning more about coffee.”
Each roaster took on the amount of coffee they felt they would be able to sell from the 1,389 pounds of coffee purchased. With variations on factors such as gas pressure, temperature, and air flow through the roasting process, the eight roasters were able to bring out different flavors and develop darker or lighter roasts based on their roasting approach and machinery.
While the tasting notes listed for each of the roasters’ variations on the El Tambo coffee may not match exactly what people taste when drinking, they reflect different processes meant to highlight and tease out various flavors that the roasters found when testing the coffee. At Commonplace, Smallhoover found fruity acidic notes reminiscent of a Fuji apple, while Chaffin notes that other roasters found grape-like fruitiness or floral notes, such as lilac.
“I think the thing that I’m most excited about is the collaboration and the learning opportunity to taste all these coffees and talk to our other local roasters,” Smallhoover says. “I'm excited to see how everyone else's coffee tastes, and we can all talk about it.”
The bags retail for $16.50 each and are available through the individual coffee roasters’ websites. From each sale, $5 will benefit Feeding Pennsylvania, a nonprofit association of nine food banks around the state so that Rothrock Coffee, based in State College, can also support their local community. With approximately 1,500 retail bags available, collaborators will donate about $7,500 once all bags are sold.
The collaboration is also a precursor to the return of Pittsburgh Coffee Week, an annual series of events to encourage and build community among coffee establishments and enthusiasts in the region. While it was canceled due to COVID in 2020, the collaborators connected through past work with Pittsburgh Coffee Week, and Chaffin says this collaboration is a way to dip their toes into the water of what the upcoming Pittsburgh Coffee Week might look like.
“It's really about the group coming together. And that's what I think is really great about the Pittsburgh coffee community. It is not a particularly cutthroat kind of group,” Chaffin says. “Our position through Pittsburgh Coffee Week has always been, you know, the rising tide lifts all boats.”
Be the Bridge collaborators:
5171 Brownsville Road, South Hills
5730 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside
1176 Grant Street, Indiana; 835 Hospital Road, Indiana; 1501 Buena Vista St., North Side; 6736 Reynolds St., Point Breeze; 5827 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill; 5467 Penn Ave., Garfield
De Fer Coffee & Tea
2002 Smallman St., Strip District; 350 Technology Drive, South Oakland
205 21st Street, Strip District; 1100 Smallman Street, Downtown; 5000 Forbes Avenue, Squirrel Hill
224 N Euclid Ave., East Liberty
2600 South Park Road, Bethel Park
1736 S Atherton St., State College