Throwing Curve Balls with Camber Coffee

The story of Camber Coffee is a series of serendipitous events that organically led to a roastery and cafe that pushes the envelope of what “specialty coffee” means. From our conversation with co-founder David Yake, it’s clear to see that Camber is a company that is constantly challenging itself to innovate, create, connect, and delight the senses. 

Read on for more! If you need us, we’ll be in Bellingham eating a Rosti at Camber on Holly Street...

When and how did Camber Coffee come to be? 

Camber started out as a late-night conversation at a dark little cocktail joint in Bellingham called The Real McCoy (which has since sadly ceased to exist) with my friends and colleagues Andrew Bowman and Todd Elliott. After many years of dreaming, we finally started Camber in 2015. We opened our flagship cafe two years later. Camber just means "curve". We chose that name because each coffee requires a unique roast curve in order to unlock all of the sweetness and complexity that it has to offer.

What is your background and why did you want to help start a roasting company?

I somewhat stumbled into specialty coffee. When I was 19, my cousin was managing a small coffee shop in the basement of the art building on the University of Washington campus. I had never had a cup of coffee, nor did I know what a latte was, let alone how to make one, but he took a chance on me. I was lucky enough to work with, and learn from a talented group of baristas, many of whom would become lifelong friends of mine. The coffee was good, not great, but it was really the fascinating groups of regulars that I got to know over the years that made me fall in love with coffee and the community that surrounds it. After finishing school, I moved to California and worked a series of odd jobs, some in coffee, some not, but coffee kept drawing me back in. After moving back to the Northwest, I fell in love with all the slow pace and natural beauty that surrounds Bellingham. And I knew that, with Andrew’s sourcing and roasting prowess, that we could compete with the best roasters in the country. 

What is Camber’s roasting profile, and how has it evolved and changed as the company has grown?

We pride ourself in roasting coffees with sweetness, complexity and balance. That’s one thing that really hasn’t changed over the years. What has changed, is that we’ve been able to build more substantial relationships with certain farms over the years, which is a really fulfilling part of the business for us.

What is Camber’s approach to sourcing coffee? What coffees are currently on offer? 

Everything starts in the cupping room. I’m willing to bet that our team roasts and cups as many, if not more, green samples as any company in the business (including much larger roasters with much larger teams than we have). So, in short, we just try to cup every coffee we can get our hands-on, and provide clear, honest feedback. That said, we have certain farms and importers who we know and trust, so we’re always going to seek out coffee from those folks first.

We just received a fresh lot from Palomos Del Sur, a farm that we’ve been lucky enough to work with for a number of years now. The story behind this farm is really special. Our friend, Leonardo Henao, is unique in the sense that he’s a farm owner, but also operates a dry mill with license to export, and has put together microlot buying programs throughout the country. Needless to say, he has an in depth and first hand knowledge all along the coffee supply chain. Palomos Del Sur is a newer piece of land that he purchased in San Antonio de Inzá, Colombia. The farm is managed by Robinson Pillumué, a local and longtime ASORCAFE member, and an old friend of Leo’s. He and his family live at the farm year round and he oversees much of the renovation and harvest. The house on Palomos del Sur sits at 1880 meters, and marks the median altitude. The coffee itself is incredibly complex and structured, with flavors of honey, watermelon, pomegranate and citrus.

I’m also loving our Kenya Kiangoi Peaberry. It’s so jammy and crisp. It’s perfect for this time of year (late summer), because it endlessly reminds me of ripe blackberries. 

What has Camber brought to Bellingham that was missing in the local coffee scene prior?

Bellingham has some amazing cafes that have been around for decades and are really the cornerstone of the community. This is a college town, and therefore it has a casual vibe. These old school cafes provided cozy study spaces and generally served up traditional NW-style (read: dark) roasts.

By focusing on origin and nuance, we knew we’d be offering something new to Bellingham. We also wanted to offer a big, beautiful space for our downtown community to enjoy. We’ve always brought a lot of thought and intention to our service-style -- we make sure to give a sincere welcome to everyone who walks through our doors. I think this is the single biggest reason why we’ve received such a warm, enthusiastic reception from Bellingham.

Can you tell me more about Camber’s wholesale program? What types of cafes or businesses do you partner with, and how do you train their staff to best brew Camber Coffee?

We’ve always worked with cafes that we admire. Starting out, we were fortunate to work with a handful of cafes that we’d looked up to for years and years, like G&B/GGET, Barista (in Portland), Milstead & Co and Analog (in Seattle), All Day (in Miami), Revolver (in Vancouver), and Bachelor Farmer (in Minneapolis), to name a few.

In the last year, we’ve been focusing a lot of our time in creating a comprehensive wholesale program. This includes creating different tiers of equipment and training support. Since many of our wholesale partners are located in other states, we’ve also been working on training videos and other digital materials that can help baristas of all skill levels. We’re excited to share more of what we’ve been working on in this department in 2020.

Camber’s Flagship Cafe menu is a creative mix of coffee, food, cocktails, wine, and more! Who designs the menu, and what does an ideal full day spent at the cafe look like? What are you ordering, eating, and drinking for breakfast, lunch, and happy hour?

Hey, thanks for the kind words :).

It’s an understatement to say that we have a talented team at the cafe. There are a few folks who have been with us from day one, including Gloria Baldwin and Christian Lawrence. These two bring a boatload of creativity and knowledge to our seasonal drink program. 

We also have a dedicated kitchen team, who are constantly working with local farms to feature incredible seasonal ingredients. One of my recent favorites was a savory Dutch Baby, that was only available during our two year birthday weekend, and featured sustainably-raised pork from one of our local favorites -- Alluvial Farms. 

Our most popular food item --hands-down -- is the Rosti (the ingredients rotate, but the core of the dish is a house-made pepper sauce that’s poured over fried eggs, local greens and Swiss-style potatoes -- it’s the ultimate brunch comfort food, in my opinion).

Do you have a morning coffee routine?

Routine is the perfect word for it. I don’t think a whole lot about my first cup of coffee. It pretty closely resembles a Garfield comic strip. I make a pot for my wife and I. It's not the most amazing cup, but it gets the job done. I used to try different brew methods/specs everyday, and took notes on the flavors I was pulling out of the coffee. But I think those days are behind me, haha.

These days, I wait until I get to the roastery or cafe to try new coffees/recipes that the team has been working on.

What’s next for Camber? 

We have some beautiful new packaging that we’re rolling out in the near future, in conjunction with some very special coffees that just landed. For this packaging series, we commissioned original artwork from Rosa DeWeerd, an artist based in Amsterdam. It’s been a real dream to work with Rosa. Her work was also recently featured at Noma, which was pretty wild to see. One of the coffees that we’ll be featuring in this new series is a Bernadina lot from El Salvador. Folks can tune in on the gram (@cambercoffee) for a sneak peek in the coming weeks.

Website: Camber Coffee

Instagram: @cambercoffee and @camberholly

Read more about Camber, and the roastery’s collaboration with the wondrous Willows Inn, on the Ratio Journal.