Talking with Andrew Coe of Elevator Coffee makes it abundantly clear that balance is the name of the game with this Portland-born business. This occurs in the way they collaborate as a small but mighty team, the way they source and roast coffees, and their conscious choice to close their cafe and focus on roasting full time. Elevator is a company that puts the coffee community first and we’re excited to see how they continue to elevate the value and craft of coffee in the years to come.
Hi Andrew! Can you tell us where you are located and how you had your first cup of coffee today?
I’m in beautiful St. George, Utah. My first cup every morning is a shot of espresso, followed by a filter coffee from my Ratio Six.
What’s the story behind the founding of Elevator Coffee? What key elements brought the business to life?
Cycling is what introduced the Elevator founders. Jay Sycip, David Prause and Greg Watson originally started the cafe, and had worked together at Chris King Components. I met them through a bike racing teammate that did the hardwood countertops for the shop.
Elevator began in 2016 as Elevator Cafe & Commons, a cafe inside a common space in an industrial building that had been converted to an office space. My business partner knew the architect and came up with the cafe plan. Originally, it was designed to serve light food, coffee, beer and wine.
I was the first employee, and was hoping to roast for the cafe at some point. Four months later, I entered and won a local coffee roasting competition, and shortly after that began roasting coffee for Elevator.
Who makes up the Elevator Coffee team, and what roles do each of you play?
We have a very small but mighty team! My partner Jay Sycip leads marketing and assists with production. Jarrod Smith does a bit of everything – he’s been our production roaster this year, and handles website management, plus deliveries and some sales. Emma Nolley has been assisting with production and doing some creative projects. Paul Ahn just joined us and is going to do some roasting and sales. I’m the head of roasting, our green buyer, and do all the other odds and ends that make a business operate (bookkeeping, bill paying, website, etc.).
The Elevator Coffee team operated a cafe in inner SE Portland until 2020. Can you tell us what the cafe was like and how you have pivoted from both a cafe and roasting/wholesale to roasting/wholesale full time?
The cafe had a full coffee and breakfast/lunch menu. We made a lot of our core ingredients from scratch, as well as baked many of our pastries from frozen or refrigerated dough. At its peak, we had a distinct morning rush, then lunch rush. Honestly, we probably tried to do too much for our very small space (less than 400 square feet) with no back room or prep area.
The pivot from cafe to roastery only, made a lot of sense for the business at the time. Several of the original partners transitioned out of state and were bought out. I have moved from SE Portland to the Beaverton area, meaning it became much harder for me to be in the space on a daily basis. We already had some wholesale accounts and they really sustained us for the first few months.
How would you describe Elevator’s approach to roasting? What qualities and nuances do you look for in your coffees?
Our roasting methodology is to aim for great sweetness and balance within a light roast. We look for coffees that are juicy and complex, but also don’t have much in terms of “green” flavors. Usually anything that has an herbal or vegetable note (even when fully developed) doesn’t make our menu.
We’d love to know more about where you source your beans and the producers you work with! How do you form your producer/roaster relationships, and what do you look for in producers you purchase from?
We are small enough that we typically only buy from a handful of importers each year. We have a couple of farms that we get coffee from consistently. But we also really like to try out new coffees! Our main concern is working with importers that are doing an excellent job supporting producers.
What are some of your current favorite offerings from Elevator in the fall/winter coffee season? What coffees should customers be drinking or brewing at home right now?
We just brought in our first coffees from Mexico this year, and we are pretty excited about them. We have also been bringing in some interesting varieties and processing methods for our competition level coffees. Right now we have a Nicaragua natural process Gesha that has been really tasting fantastic.
The Elevator Team has quite a few US Coffee National Championships under its belt! Can you share more details with us about these wins and how you prepare for these championship events?
I took fifth at the Roasting Championship in Boston in 2022, and then I won the 2023 Roasting Championship. One thing that made the past few years unique is the Stronghold roaster provided at the competition; it’s got a pretty unique heat application. The Mark Spencer Hotel downtown owns one of these machines – so what really helped me and other Portland area competitors was being able to practice a little before the competition.
When the Elevator team is working together in the roastery, how do you all like to come together and enjoy a “coffee break”? Do you have any coffee rituals or favorite methods of brewing in the office?
I wish we had more of this! We operate out of a shared use roastery and are billed by the hour, so we try to be very efficient during roasting and production time. Cupping is the main way we share our coffee together.
What’s one thing you’d like to see more of in the coffee industry over the next five years?
I’d like to see more emphasis placed on the value of the work done in the industry. From the farms all the way through to the cafes. Certainly this will mean paying more for coffee, and particularly quality coffee.