Jeremy Harris of Reverb Coffee will level with you: A growing coffee industry in Memphis is both wonderful and kind of complicated when you’re trying to maintain your stake in it.
“We were the first one [in Memphis] to start doing specialty coffee roasting. We only do single origin coffee. We only source the top 10 percent of beans in the world. For all of our beans, we’re paying 50-to-100 percent over the commodity price, more than fair trade, basically, for all of our coffee. We were the first ones to start doing that, and now there are four or five roasters in the city doing that. It’s definitely changing and growing, and it’s cool to see that. It’s also making business very hard.”
Jeremy founded the micro-roastery Reverb Coffee in 2013. He has since added one employee to help run Reverb out of the small converted garage that serves as their base of operations. Over the years some of the components of Reverb, i.e. its philanthropic scope and its coffee truck, have shifted in favor of returning to the basics. Meanwhile, the coffee community continues to grow around them. We talked to Jeremy about Reverb’s journey and the value of keeping it simple.
What led you to the coffee roasting business?
I spent two years overseas doing humanitarian mission. Towards the end of my time, I started working with an organization in Malaysia, and some of their leaders had the vision to start a coffee shop. I had never been in a coffee or entrepreneurial thing so I was like well, I’m only here once so we might as well do it. I shifted all my focus on helping start that coffee shop for the team.
I was trying a lot of really good coffees over there to help them pick out a coffee that they wanted to serve in their shop, and I was like ‘Man, I really like coffee but I never drink it back in Memphis.’ I don’t really think there were any roasters that I can personally remember that I cared for or really liked their coffee. So I was like ‘Well I just need to open a coffee roasting business when I get back home so I can drink coffee.’ I got back in 2012 and I started my business in 2013.
How did you build up to starting the business?
I worked as a barista for a little while just to kind of like dabble my feet into the industry and then I roasted for a little while on a small home roaster. It kind of looks like a toaster oven but it’s pretty much how everyone gets their start, either on those or on like a popcorn popper. You can roast green coffee in that. I did that for about five or six months before I really dived fully into this. I just wanted to make sure it was really something I wanted to do. So that and then obviously a bunch of sourcing and equipment and redoing this entire office to fit the needs for the business.
What was your dream career before you became a coffee roaster?
I really don’t know. I think earlier in college I wanted to open a restaurant and then that kind of fully formed into wanting to get into Italian fine dining. That’s why I started in hospitality and resort management at the University of Memphis. I had the dream of going to Italy and learning Italian and learning the traditional way to cook things. But you know, dreams change and they fall apart. I took one Italian class at Memphis and it just did not go well. So it was like well, we’ll change things.
Where is it going for you? Do you want to open a shop or pivot into another part of the coffee business?
No, not really. I wanted a shop for a while but I’ve been a barista, and we had this coffee truck that just didn’t really work out.
Just roasting things is what makes us happy. If we can grow this— obviously, we’re kind of at our limits in this room— but just grow the roasting and focus on that. For me, roasting is this creative link inbetween the farmer and the coffee shop or the barista. We’re that really important link between the first stages and the very last stage of the entire coffee chain.
Why are you excited to be part of Grind City Coffee Expo?
It’s awesome. I know that it’s a lot of legwork on their [Daniel Lynn and Rachel Williams] part so I’m happy that they’re doing it, and it’ll be cool to see. I’ll know a lot of people there, but then the most exciting thing is to see the people I don’t know, or the people I know that I didn’t know are into coffee who are going to spend the money to come to this.
What will you be demonstrating at the expo?
The brewing method that we’re going to do is called a “clever.” It’s really simple. It’s just a piece of plastic and it’s a brewer. It uses a paper filter. There’s nothing like whiz-bang gadgety about it and that’s kind of my philosophy:
You can make coffee really complex, or you can make it really simple and really approachable for people. I think that a lot of roasters nationwide like to be flashy and like to make coffee harder to approach than it needs to be. I’ve personally been to shops in other cities and I’m like ‘I’m not cool enough to be here’ or ‘I don’t know enough about coffee to be here’ when I know more about coffee than a lot of these people. We’re excited to show that coffee can be really simple, but even really simple can be more delicious than the flashy stuff that other people are trying to put out.