Savannah has an abundance of smaller, local coffee shops; each containing their own aesthetic and clientele. However, the vast majority are typically centralized to the downtown area of the city. They are often bustling with students and tourists, creating out of the door lines that tend to eliminate any small talk between barista and customer. Yet, there lies a coffee shop that’s a bit off the beaten track. PERC Coffee has an industrial decor that is not only welcoming, but also provides a suitable environment for working in; whether it’s finalizing a homework assignment or reading for pleasure. But what is most noteworthy about PERC is their staff; they are laid back, incredibly knowledgeable about their coffee, and actually enjoy getting to know the people who come into their shop. I had the chance to sit and chat with Taylor Wyrosdick, PERC Coffee’s head of training and education, who shed some light about all that goes into that cup of coffee.
Mary Tres: So just to paint a background story, tell me a little about yourself and how you first delved into coffee.
Taylor Wyrosdick: My name’s Taylor Wyrosdick. I started off in coffee just as a hobby kind of thing. Living in Pensacola, there was a coffee shop I would go to all the time and talk to one of the baristas there. A guy named Shane, he kind of helped peak my interest in coffee. Every time I would go in, he'd let me try what was new and try different espressos and talk to me about the different flavor notes of the coffee. It was really intriguing for me and made me want to learn more about coffee. So for several years, I would just kind of do research and brew different kinds of coffee and taste as many coffees as I could. And then whenever I moved to Savannah, I started bugging Philip (Owner and Roaster of PERC Coffee) for a job for a couple of months and he finally got me in here working part time packing bags and it’s grown from there.
MT: Can you talk a bit about PERC Coffee and what sets it apart from other coffee roasters.
TW: So PERC Coffee started off in 2010. Philip moved here from Athens, Georgia after working at Jittery Joe’s based out of Athens and from there he started his own company. He started off in a little 400 square foot space with a little 12 kilo roaster, and it was just Philip roasting by himself and delivering on his bicycle with a big backpack for awhile and from there it just kind of grew. And now there's a few of us that are full time and then we have a couple part timers as well. We’ve grown from being in a handful of Whole Foods stores and a few coffee shops to being in all the Whole Foods in the southeast, all 38 stores, and a couple of different speciality groceries such as Earthfare and Fresh Market. So 2015 has been a big year of growth. It's my first year with the company and just watching it grow with that was really cool. To me, what separates PERC apart from other coffee roasters, um, I don't know we are a little bit different of a crowd. We’re fairly easy going people and we like to have fun, not saying that other coffee roasters don't, but in the end, we really, really do care about the coffee that we’re sourcing and we care about where it’s coming from. We really care about the countries where it's coming from and how the coffee’s being processed and we care about the people we’re buying coffee from as well as their quality of life. We go through a lot of different samples of coffee from a lot of different importers and a lot of different farms before we eventually decide to settle on a specific coffee. We just really do care about where the coffee comes from and we care how it tastes. We’ll cup 3 to 5 times a week; just cupping production roast samples, just to make sure everything’s tasting as sweet as it can and dynamic as it can. We care about building relationships with other people and other coffee shops and our importers as well. We’re all about fostering those relationships with people and we want our customers to be as happy brewing and serving our coffee as we are roasting it back to the cup in your hand.
MT: Can you describe your various work tasks on a daily basis?
TW: The majority of what I do is barista training for our wholesale accounts as well as cupping samples from importers. Foxy Loxy and Coffee Fox are two of our biggest accounts in town. So whenever they hire new baristas, they come through here and spend anywhere from 4 to 6 hours with me for our Seed to Cup class and our Espresso, Milk, and Drink Building class. I basically talk for a couple hours about where our coffee comes from, how coffee is processed and how these factors affect the way it tastes. How Naturally Processed Ethiopian coffees might taste like blueberries and Washed Guatemalan coffees might taste like rose petals or lilacs or something like that. And then from there we do hands on training with espresso and milk and so that's the majority of my work. And also keeping in contact with accounts in regards to our latest offerings and trying to help them up their coffee game as much as possible. And then I also give Philip a hand with sourcing coffee, so talking to importers and looking over offering lists and cupping different samples. We’ll get them in and Philip will roast them and I’ll bring them over here and cup them and see how they’re tasting, so that’s the other part of what I do. Well the third part is retail. For the most part, I take care of all the retail stuff, especially on Saturdays. I run the shop here from 9 to 1 and during the week when people come in and I’ll jump behind the bar and make them drinks and chat. So I get to talk to people about coffee a lot and it's awesome.
MT: What is so important about sourcing and roasting coffee and do you think the general coffee consumer is aware of what's behind that?
TW: Oh man, that’s a loaded question. I don't think the general consumer is too terribly concerned and also not very aware of where their coffee’s coming from. All the coffee that we source is considered speciality coffee. To keep it simple, you essentially have a market price for coffee and specialty coffee is that market price and then some. The other day, coffee was trading for around $1.22 a pound. Specialty coffee, the coffee that we source, is going to be that market price plus two dollars, three dollars, or five dollars even. So we’re sourcing coffee that’s significantly more expensive than market price. A lot of customers just think it's coffee that's being picked by a machine and processed by machines and roasted on some massive production line, or something like that, in a factory somewhere. But in all reality, every coffee cherry is picked by hand, and there's someone right now in Costa Rica that’s picking coffee cherries off a tree and they're getting paid by the pound for the amount of ripe cherries that they pick. So even at that very basic level, like on the farm level, there's someone whose entire life is depending on picking these cherries off of shrubs and making sure they’re ripe and ready to be harvested. Whenever you can put a human face to that as opposed to just assuming it's a machine harvesting coffee, it really helps humanize the whole process and really adds value to it. People all the time are like ‘I’m not going to pay 17 dollars for a bag of coffee, it's like, “shit, you should probably pay a lot more than 17 dollars for a bag of coffee.” Especially like this Burundi we have right now, it's worth well more than 17 dollars a bag and I'm pretty sure I strayed off the question there. What was the other part of the question? I'm really bad at this.
MT: Ha, no you’re fine. We can move on to the next one. How do you suggest that the general consumer can then educate themselves about this?
TW: They can drop by here and have a conversation, ask about where the coffee’s coming from, things like that. We love to talk to people and answer questions. And there's plenty of other resources. James Hoffman wrote a book called The World Atlas of Coffee and it's a huge wealth of information on coffee as far as where it's coming from and things like that and really helps add value to the product that we’re serving. It's a great source of knowledge.
MT: So, with the growth of social media and various Instagram accounts dedicated to coffee, do you feel the idea of coffee has become a bit of a novelty?
TW: Oh, absolutely. There's definitely that trendy aspect to it. You know people want to take a picture of their pretty latte art and post it with their selvedge denim and red wing boots and think it's super cool. But, on the other hand, if they’re into different things like that, that's still great because they’re still tasting different and better coffees and they’re getting involved in coffee culture and helping it grow. They’re switching from something that’s mass produced to something that’s changing lives. There’s more meaning to it, I guess.
MT: Has working within the coffee industry affected that way in which you drink coffee?
TW: Oh absolutely. By the time I started working coffee, I wasn't really drinking cream or sugar any more in my coffee anyways. But I’ve just branched out and tried things that I wouldn't normally try; coffees from Rwanda and things like that. For the longest time I was like, ‘I just drink Colombian coffee,’ before I actually worked in coffee and then now it's like ‘oh Ethiopian coffees and Burundi's and all these different Brazil's.’ So it's definitely helped open my small world to all the different types of coffee across the world and how they are dynamically different from each other.
MT: Any last words you’d like to get across about coffee?
TW: I think coffee is one of the greatest things on earth. I think, while it is essentially just a cup of coffee, people all the time are like ‘it is just coffee’, and it is. But on the other hand, it’s a potentially life changing thing for people as well. From the farm level to even me. It pays my bills, it keeps my lights on. And at the same time, it's cool to watch, especially in the U.S., the coffee community grow and coffee culture grow. It's not just some kid slinging drinks behind a bar anymore, it's someone who really, really cares about how long their espresso is extracting and the texture of their milk and how sweet their espresso tastes and things like that. So it's cool to see that appreciation start to grow, especially here in the southeast.
PERC Coffee is located at 1802 E Broad St, Savannah, GA 31401
Stay updated on all things PERC Coffee by following them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/perccoffee/
Photography by Erin Wyrosdick
Dress: Urban Outfitters, found at Crossroads Trading Company
Sunglasses: Crossroads Trading Company
Bag: Free People Reversible Vegan Leather Tote, found at Crossroads Trading Company