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Monday, December 12, 2011

De La Paz's Shark Senesac On the End Of Coffee

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 at 2:45 PM

In an effort to chart the ever-expanding specialty coffee scene in the Bay Area, we've been engaging a selection of local coffee personalities to pick their brains about why coffee and why now. Today we talk with Shark Senesac of De La Paz Coffee.


You're in the process of opening a new space that is rooted in the idea of a cocktail bar.  Could you explain that a little more?

We will have no tables.  Just a bar. It doesn't have to be one of those places where you come in and talk about coffee, you can just come in and talk to someone about anything while having a cup of coffee.  We want it to be approachable.  The bar is at an angle so customers can see the roasting.  There's no delineation between coffee bar and roaster and wholesale and retail.

Why is it so important to have all of these elements included in one space?

It's good for people to know where the coffee comes from.  We're not the first to roast inside of a cafe, but I think it's important and it's an important aspect.  I think making things more transparent between the coffee in this mug and how it got there is an integral part of us being able charge more for coffee.  Because then people know where it's coming from, that there is a physical person roasting the coffee they are drinking. I think that's part of the goal we're all shooting for -- to do what we want to do with the coffee and make it a more sustainable practice. It's good for us, and it's good for everyone.

You guys have been historically a small company but now you're roasting for Farley's and you're opening a cafe.  How has the transition been from small to big?

I don't know if De La Paz started out and just evolved in to a small company or if we always wanted to stay small from the start.  We've never sought out large sums of investment or million dollar coffee bars.  What works best for us is keeping it small and in house and allowing us to grow along with our selves instead of just overreaching or skipping steps.  We're happy with the speed and the direction. That said, we know that growing is the natural progression. Once you get to a certain point if you're not moving forward, you might as well be moving back.  

We won't get to the point where we're comfortable at any size. We're always going to have to be getting bigger. Part of the reason we we bought this building is because it's actually two spaces. Someone is renting out the space next door for a year, and that's perfect for us.  If everything goes well, we know can always just expand next door.  It was part of the plan from the start.  We've always done things in steps.  We go one at a time but we always know what that next step is.

How do you stay consistent with your ideals as you get bigger?

The challenges of getting big are maintaining your quality standards and your personal philosophies and what you want to do and staying focused throughout. That's another part of natural progression -- building a company and it being successful and still staying true to your beliefs. Keeping standards ensures that we create a sustainability chain and are delivering it to people who are excited to try it. It's not so much a challenge to grow; it's a challenge to grow and keep your quality standards in the scope of your expansion.

You guys have been in the coffee game for six years now, and I wonder if there are challenges you see emerging in coffee as a whole?

The challenge that everyone is facing across the board is what do you do when there's no coffee left. I've been thinking about this since I started in coffee. All these reports are out there about climate change and what's happening to coffee. What do we do when we no longer have coffee to buy? How does this apply to us? With all the roasters opening across the country in the last two years, I've noticed the prices going up because the supplies are going down.  More and more there's less and less coffee.  What do you do when it's all gone?

What do you do?

People are starting to look in different areas for good coffee. Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia went to Australia and look for coffee.  Gabe Boscana from Intelligentsia had some great coffee from Mexico. Veramax are starting to look at Ecuador and Bolivia, and the coffees they're finding are beautiful. You just have to work with the farms and make sure they're tasting coffees and not doing things to ruin them. 

With the coffee supply diminishing people might find new things and it becomes this rediscovery of good coffee.  For so long people have just been purchasing El Salvador, Costa Rica, whatever and now I'm hearing these stories about a trip to Peru a friend of mine took and found coffee at such a high altitude that it was a journey just to get there.  It's like a fishing story, and that sort of excitement in coffee is thrilling.  You can go to an export area where no one would look for coffee because of it's history and you find it and it's organic.  

You'll never break out of the old ways unless you have the ability to think differently.

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Noah Sanders


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