It’s not every day you’d shell out $35 for a cup of coffee — OK, it’s locally grown — nor is it an everyday occasion where you’d sidle up to the coffee bar and your barista is a Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter.
But here it was, Saturday morning, at the La Jolla location of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters where performer and farmer Jason Mraz was executing a precisely timed pour-over of his first commercial release of a coffee varietal grown at the 18-acre Mraz Family Farms in Oceanside.
“Will you be taking this to go?” Mraz, wearing a gray chef’s apron and baseball cap, asked one of his first customers.
“Let it cool a little,” he advised Stephanie Brooks of Bird Rock, who happened to be at the La Jolla store for her weekly Saturday outing with her brother and rescue terrier.
“It’s really smooth,” she responded.
A clearly pleased Mraz responded, “Ah, that‘s the goal, with very little aftertaste.”
The occasion for Saturday’s celebrity pour-over was the retail sale of the first-ever San Diego-grown coffee to local consumers. Mraz’s farm, which has long grown avocados, is now moving more into coffee, with about 8 acres of the land devoted to 15 varietals.
The caffeinated star of the Bird Rock debut was the decades-old Geisha coffee, a rare varietal that commands high prices around the world — even when it isn’t grown by a celebrity.
Geisha, also called Gesha, originated in Ethiopia but now is being grown for the first time in San Diego County, with the help of Santa Barbara County-based Frinj Coffee.
Today, most of the world’s coffee beans are grown on mountains in equatorial countries like Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Colombia.
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters co-owner Jeff Taylor bought 15 pounds of the beans and was selling, in addition to cups of the brewed coffee, 4-ounce containers of the washed beans for $199. On the packages, the flavor notes are described as reminiscent of jasmine tea, key lime pie, elderflower and almond brittle.
The coffee was available Saturday at all six Bird Rock locations. Taylor expected the coffee to sell out by Sunday evening.
“I’ve been waiting for this all week,” said Ashley Prevo, a 25-year-old teacher from Pacific Beach who had just invested $199 for the package of Geisha coffee. “It’s the first San Diego-grown coffee and I’m really into what’s going on with the climate now, and the regions where coffee is grown are having hard time with the climate so I wanted to invest in keeping coffee alive in a more local, sustainable way.”
Even better was Mraz’s surprise appearance, she conceded.
“I didn’t know he’d be here,” she said. “I was like, oh wow, that’s awesome and now I want to talk to him more about his coffee than his music.”
Also star-struck was Cory Suarez of East County, although a little more by the coffee than Mraz. (“Coffee snob is what my friends call me,” he confessed). As he picked up his just brewed cup of coffee from Mraz, he whispered to him, “We played one of your songs for the first dance at our wedding.”
Suarez, 37, who already had purchased a package of the Geisha coffee online, saw on Instagram that Mraz was going to be at the La Jolla store and decided to stop by to taste a brew of what he had already purchased.
“It’s pretty rare to find California-grown coffee and I like to support local coffee shops and growers,” said Suarez, a software salesman. “That flavor profile is a little rare — that elderflower and almond brittle. Or some of that may be the reality of Jason doing the pour-over. It’s not every day a singer and coffee grower does the pour-over for you. It’s a special treat.”
Not everyone, though, was rushing to the cash register to purchase the pricey cups. Most were picking up their regular iced coffees and lattes, but Mraz gets that.
“For the person who usually pays $2.50 a cup, we’re not asking that person to pay this,” said Mraz, who is planning to grow more batches of Geisha coffee. “I’m hoping people are coming in today because they have a relationship with coffee, whether that’s through the coffee shop culture, which brings us all together to talk about current events or the arts while we sip on this invigorating, refined beverage, or you’re there to do your personal work or you’re here because you’re a climate activist and now you’re finally going to purchase coffee locally.
“Coffee’s one of the most global acts we do because most of the time we’re drinking coffee grown in a different country that’s imported to us.”