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The stakes are high for the crew at Identity Coffees. Lucky Rodrigues does the math in his head: “With ten kids between us, we all have to answer to people, to our families.” As we sit in the massive café and roasting operation at 28th & O that has been shaped and hewn by the hands of Identity’s small staff, from the handmade seating to the black-on-black mural that adorns the storefront, it’s difficult to overlook the level of passion that these people have for not just coffee, but also Identity’s mission.

When mapping out what a vertically integrated coffee company looked like on paper, the six people running the show had a sudden realization: “This makes sense, but why hasn’t it been done yet?” Identity Coffees is no stranger to the standard model for successful coffee businesses, where each of the vital components of bringing coffee from farm to cup are kept segregated; farmers farm, sourcers source, importers import, roasters roast, and baristas brew. With the likes of Rodrigues and the famous Tony Serrano, the small company has over fifty years of combined experience in an industry that has operated with a vast level of segregation for even longer. However, Identity wants to take their wealth of collective experience and turn the traditional model on its head. IMG_3250IMG_3197IMG_3344

”Coffee is ancient, but there’s also more to coffee than just coffee.”

Sacramento has been a hub for specialty coffee for years now, and its foothold on the global market is growing stronger. Coffee is an agricultural product that starts as a fruit on farms all across the globe, and when the fruit is handled with care from a seedling to harvest, processing to shipping, and finally roasting to brewing, you can be left with a wonderfully sweet and complex cup of coffee or a cappuccino that helps you remember what it means to be alive. Rodrigues, having spent so much time at origin with farmers, brokers and importers, understands the importance of each step on the hierarchal pyramid. “Each arena is so integral. We’re not looking to reinvent anything… coffee is ancient, but there’s also more to coffee than just coffee.

Identity wants to change what it means to be in coffee. For most specialty coffee employees, being in coffee is a badge of honor normally carried with a passion for working with an ever-evolving product. However, this involvement is typically the means to another end. Rodrigues hopes that Identity’s model, which breaks down the pyramid completely, will allow people to pursue coffee as a profession and create careers that they can retire from. The idea is that the person serving you your cup of coffee from El Salvador may also be the one who traveled to the farm, selected the coffee, and roasted it, too. “Everyone will be managing global relationships here. It’s easier when there’s less people making decisions, and we may grow a little slower as a result, but it’s about more than growth.

Rodrigues hopes that Identity’s approach will help to make communication between all of the moving parts of the global coffee trade a bit more synchronized, elevating calibration in an industry where it has been long-absent when compared to other specialty markets. With Sacramento’s accessibility to great cuisine, it would be difficult to imagine a hop farmer having never tasted a beer brewed with their harvest or a sommelier having never visited a winery, but such a disconnect is all too common with coffee.IMG_3217IMG_3369IMG_3436The Identity gang is breaking all of the rules, and with that in mind, Rodrigues admits, “the easiest route is to just—not.” Before opening the doors, Identity tested the waters with a Kickstarter campaign. When asked about the company’s beginnings, Rodrigues comes back to the word itself: “Identity mends things together…it’s life glue, and Kickstarter celebrates that positivity of the human spirit.” Their campaign was a true way to vet the idea. Identity looked to raise $10,000 for the Probat roaster – a main focal point in the expansive space. By sharing their story and what they wanted to accomplish for both Sacramento and coffee culture worldwide, Identity exceeded their goal with national encouragement. “It happened,” Rodrigues recalls. “It’s still so surreal. It’s like a unicorn – you’d never expect something like that to exist until you actually see it, and, even then, how can you be sure?

The ripples that Identity is making in the coffee world are not a product of fantasy – they are real, and as the company continues with its mission, it will become more apparent. Rodrigues wants to support what he calls the “small roaster revolution” in America while keeping ethics at the forefront. As they expand into importing, brokering and distributing specialty beans to other small roasting operations, we can continue to count on these globe-trotting, sustainable and quality coffee-farm-seeking folks to return to Sacramento and serve you a great cup.

We’ll always work in the café – that’s where it all connects. If we aren’t, we lose the entire sequence.” It doesn’t get more farm-to-table than that.IMG_3165

Photos | Sam Ithurburn

 

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