Highwire Coffee Roasters: A Community Cup

Julia Irwin, CUESA Communications Intern
July 10, 2015

This month, CUESA welcomes Highwire Coffee Roasters from the East Bay to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market lineup on Saturdays.

Before Highwire Coffee Roasters co-owner Robert Myers got into coffee, he had worked as a therapist. When he took a job at a local café, he made an unexpected discovery.

“I got the people contact that I had wanted from working in mental health services,” he says.

Thus it’s no surprise that human connection has always been a strong focus at Highwire. In 2011, when Myers and co-owners Rich Avella and Eric Hashimoto took over a café space in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood, “We went to work on making it a friendlier spot, where the customers connect with us as people, rather than as just a business give their money to,” Myers says.

They also set out to make it a greener spot, investing in more eco-friendly equipment. “When we started this place, there wasn’t much being done on sustainability apart from sourcing, and what was happening overseas on the farm,” he says. “We asked, ‘What can we do at the café level? Let’s start there and work backwards.’”

In the previous café, the equipment ran 24/7 and would leak when turned off, so Highwire invested in new equipment that shuts off completely at night. Highwire uses pitcher rinsers to prevent the water waste created by running sinks. They have replaced all traditional bulbs with LED and use compostable packaging.

Highwire is also a place reflective of its team members. The café’s pastry selection grew out of employees’ suggestions, and one of Highwire’s baristas created the café’s distinctive graphic design work.

“Highwire really centers around the people,” Myers says. “We want to empower employees to pursue their passions. We ask, ‘How do we do the most for the people that we work with?’ That’s our version of community.”

Highwire also works to empower their coffee growers. They buy high-quality beans at (on average) about double the price set by Fair Trade standards, often sourcing from smaller, family farms.

“We want to work with people whose practices are good, and whose coffee tastes great,” explains Myers.

Even Highwire’s roasting style could be described as a bit “touchy-feely.” Rather than relying on formulaic methods and precise technology, experienced roasters at Highwire’s Emeryville roastery use their senses to create the perfect cup.

“We have data, temperature probes, and all those things, but we really rely on the senses. We rely on how it smells, how it feels, how it sounds, and how it tastes,” Myers says. “It’s pretty old-school in that way.”

At Highwire, a good cup of coffee walks a fine line (hence the name) between a big-bodied dark roast, and a lighter roast with “more clarity and detail.”

“By developing the body, we sacrificed a bit of the high end of the acidity, but we found that it’s a more pleasing cup,” Myers says. “That’s how we found our balance. Our coffee style is hearty; it’s a coffee that stands up to cold weather. It will warm you up.”

For the warmer summer months, Highwire’s Howling Wolf, a nitrogen-brewed cold coffee, is the answer. Thicker, creamier, and less acidic than regular coffees, nitro cold brew resembles a stout beer in texture.

Other farmers market offerings include single-origin pour-overs, espressos, macchiatos, hot chocolate, and a variety of teas, plus Zeal Kombucha on tap.

“When we rolled into the Temescal farmers market, I was surprised at how many people I already knew, just from being in the neighborhood,” Myers says. “That’s what we really want: to know our communities. And there’s nothing more personal than a farmers market.”

Find Highwire Coffee on Saturdays in the back plaza. Sightglass Coffee is in their new location in the front plaza under the south arcade arches on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

Photo credits: Robert Myers photo by Sara Remington. Highwire packaging photo by Highwire Coffee Roasters. Howling Wolf photo by Chelsea Dier. 

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