Coffee Cycle celebrated five years of operation in Pacific Beach this fall by launching two specialty coffees, Honduras Gesha from Juan Urquia Farm and Costa Rica Café Corazón Natural.
Each coffee is purchased directly from the farmer who produced the coffee and only available in store and in limited quantities. The practice of direct trading is something owner Chris O’Brien encourages in all aspects of his business.
“Coffee has the incredible power to bring people together,” O’Brien said. “You could have a fun chat with a barista, meet someone for a first date at a coffee shop, or run into an old friend at your local coffee shop. As a barista, I heard intimate details about my customers’ lives and did my best to support them and be present. These connections make coffee special.
After working at Starbucks for a few years, O’Brien found her way to Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, landing a job as a barista. He said his time with the company broadened his appreciation for coffee craftsmanship.
“Tasting coffee like a fruit for the first time really blew my mind,” O’Brien recalls. “It really opened my eyes to how a coffee could be, using a lighter roast to brew the espresso and celebrating those fruitier notes in the coffee. Previously you just got the pot with the black handle or the jar with the orange handle. Now I was talking about coffee design and farmer names and fruits and that was so cool to me. It tickled my little nerd brain.
One of the most important aspects of Bird Rock’s business that O’Brien took to heart was its working partnerships with coffee growers.
“It really intrigued me how they had these direct relationships with these farmers,” O’Brien said. “I found it fascinating to have this connection to the origin of this thing instead of a product on the shelf, something they got from someone who worked hard on it.”
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Address: 1632 Grand Avenue, Pacific Beach
Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Good to know: The website lists Coffee Cycle’s menu and other information, including merchandise and events. Coffee can also be ordered online.
Besides being a seasoned barista, O’Brien is an avid cyclist with deep ties to the cycling community.
“Actually, I’ve never owned a car. I never had a driver’s license,” O’Brien said. “While I was (cycling), I discovered this whole community. I discovered the spandex road runners going 30 miles an hour and the people just trying to get from home to work, and they all hang out together sometimes.
Over the years of working at Bird Rock, O’Brien noticed that many of the same people he’d met on their bikes passed by the store for coffee. This overlap of his passions for cycling and crafting coffee ultimately inspired him for the original iteration of Coffee Cycle.
“Whether you’re a more urban lifestyle rider or you’re more of a performance rider, sometimes you just want to get on your bike and ride for a cup of coffee,” O’Brien said. “And I thought, ‘What a cool thing to have the two passions in my life overlapping like this. “”
After closing the Bird Rock shop one day, he invited two colleagues who had also cycled to his house for a few beers after the shift. Sitting in his living room, he said, they swapped stories about Bird Rock and their favorite regulars while everyone’s bikes were displayed in front of them.
“Maybe they thought I was luckier than someone else, or maybe it was a totally off the cuff comment, but one of them said ‘you know, you maybe put a coffee on the back of one of those bikes,” O’Brien recalled. “When I woke up the next morning, I started drawing the sketches.”
Following the advice of other baristas and cyclists, O’Brien was able to convert a used pedicab into a mobile coffee cart. Powering an espresso machine with a propane tank and hauling 1,200 pounds of water, milk and machine, Chris positioned the cart along the Pacific Highway every day at 7 a.m. to serve riders during their morning commute.
“It was kind of a feat of engineering,” O’Brien said. “The whole thing weighed about 1,200 pounds and the electric motor broke on the first day. The fact that it’s been running for almost a year is pretty cool.
This pedicab coffee cart was the first iteration of the Coffee Cycle activity. O’Brien explained that the word “cycle” is intended both to mimic the look of the bicycle, but also the “cycle” inherent in sourcing and brewing coffee.
“It’s about that kind of circle of give and take, or reward and give back, it’s a whole big cycle that brings us all together. I wanted to do all these cool things with the community and the direct commerce cafe.
After nearly a year of service from the cart, Coffee Cycle had reached its limits in terms of both mobility and offerings. During a day’s downtime on the cart, O’Brien was browsing through a real estate application and came across a listing for a small space on Grand Avenue, directly across from Starbucks. The space became the brick-and-mortar store it is today, with the now disused cart serving as the counter from which coffee is ordered and served.
“I really wanted to serve the people who live (in PB),” O’Brien said of the move. “I wanted to make it more of an experience than just getting something.
“In that first year or two, I asked people to try the syrups we make or the non-dairy milk we make at home,” he said. “I would say ‘smell this coffee’ or ‘try this coffee’ and ‘let me tell you why they taste different.’ I want repeat customers, I want people to be able to say “this is my special place”.
Brogan Hedenm, a regular Coffee Cycle customer, said O’Brien succeeded in making the shop a special place for locals.
“Chris has created a real paradise, not just for cyclists and coffee lovers, but for anyone who wants to try something new,” Hedenm said. “He created a gathering place where everyone is respected and watched. From the moment you walk through the door, you are part of the family. It’s more than just a craft coffee, it’s a craft conversation to meet all the caffeine needs of anyone who walks into their store.
Local roaster Luis Sanchez of Acento Coffee Roasters, who works with O’Brien, said much of their success comes from his love for the craft.
“I would call him a coffee geek,” Sanchez said. “He is meticulous and pragmatic when sourcing coffees to serve at Coffee Cycle.”
For more than just its clientele, Coffee Cycle has also become a hub for local artisans and artists. When the pandemic eliminated the option of indoor seating, unused counter space was given to local makers to display their work, from books and soaps to handmade jewelry and upcycled plant pots.
Local artist Hilary Dufour, who painted a mural in the store, said spaces like Coffee Cart offer much more local collaboration than with competing businesses.
“It creates this whole experience that is so much more than delicious sustainable coffee, it’s a hub for the whole community in one place,” Dufour said. “It’s not something you would get at a Starbucks, it’s a very supportive place that goes way beyond just selling coffee.”
Drawing on his days at Bird Rock, another important connection in the coffee “cycle” is the connection O’Brien has with the farmers who supply the store. A proponent of direct business practices, O’Brien said he believes his company should help uplift everyone involved.
“It’s about seeing those connections that are bigger than yourself. It’s about being part of something a little bigger,” O’Brien said. cup of coffee because you need a “third place”. You are participating in something that is good for everyone. I have the choice between a (branded coffee) … which will be bought in below market prices to bring the price down and pay people pennies on the dollar, or I can buy something straight and pay a good amount per pound and it’s all transparent and everybody wins. kind of story.
From the coffee sourcing and brewing cycle, Chris O’Brien and Coffee Cycle have cultivated a community that transcends the immediate Pacific Beach area. He says he hopes he can travel to meet farmers around the world and continue the practice of caffeinated interlinking.