“I daydream about the place California coffee growers could have in our consciousness, transitively allowing us to feel one step closer to growers, and their kaleidoscopic realities, all over the world.”
—Green Coffee Buyer
A Homegrown Marvel
With its agricultural abundance, it's simpler to describe California as the land of milk and honey rather than make a list of the many crops that thrive here. But for all its bounty, until a few years ago none would have expected that cornucopia could include coffee—let alone good coffee.
None, except, for Jay Ruskey, owner of Good Land Organics and Frinj Coffee, INC., and California-based farmer of exotic fruits. His pioneering work in the field of coffee cultivation is quite literally changing the landscape, and blazing a trail of agricultural innovation along the way.
Sourced in Our Home State
We often say that we source our coffees from all over the world, but this isn't technically true. Coffee grows between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, a cross-section of the globe bisected by the equator. Though Charlie Habegger, our Green Buyer, can be found in places as disparate and diverse as Myanmar and Ethiopia, Sumatra and El Salvador, his journeys are limited by a fruit whose preferred climate is firmly tropical.
The two main types of coffee that are harvested for consumption are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (more commonly referred to as Robusta). Between Robusta and Arabica, it's the latter that tends to be of higher quality, which is why it's the varietal that we primarily serve to our guests and subscribers. Arabica thrives at high altitudes, requires plenty of rain, and does best in a moderate climate.
Visit Goleta, California, and you'll find a landscape that on paper would seem downright hostile to this varietal. Its arid hillsides receive an average of twenty inches of rainfall a year—a third of what Arabica typically needs to thrive—and while beach-loving locals adore the the hot, sunny days and cool, humid nights, the Mediterranean climate has before now been antithetical to coffee cultivation.
A Coffee Innovator
Enter Ruskey, who started Good Land Organics in 1992. Over the decades, he's built a certified-organic farm that practices sustainability and resilient agriculture by both necessity and design.
Across its forty-two rolling acres, crowned by a panoramic view of the Pacific only a few miles away, Good Land Organics boasts over 1,500 hardy coffee trees. Surrounding and even interspersing them are groves of other exotic fruit: creamy cherimoya, delicately delicious finger (or "caviar") limes, mouthwatering passionfruit, and of course, avocado, the SoCal staple.
After years of trial and error in these unusual growing conditions—low elevation, full sun, and almost no rain—Ruskey, who has a degree in agribusiness from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, began to produce coffee that tasted like no other. As an exclusive roaster-partner, Blue Bottle has joined Ruskey, his wife, Good Land Organics co-founder Kristen Ruskey; Coffee Quality Manager and Frinj co-founder Lindsey Mesta; Good Land Organics Director of Operations Alison Woitunski DiFiore; and their tight-knit crew of harvest specialists to share one these coffees with the world: California Good Land Organics.
An Agricultural Revolution
Impressive as Ruskey's accomplishments are—he is being hailed the world over as the father of the golden state's burgeoning coffee industry—his contributions extend beyond deliciousness. Over the years, he's worked closely with some of the world's premiere experts to develop cutting-edge agricultural technologies, including a full sequence of the Coffea arabica genome.
These days, they're in the process of developing a live collection of valuable coffee cultivars; as farmers all over the world face the ramifications of climate change, Ruskey, and his team at Good Land, hopes to be a valuable industry resource.
Unlocking Arabica's Secrets
Arabica’s natural growing patterns typically depend on a rainy season to force its fruit to ripen over a six-month period. The consistently dry climate of Goleta disrupts this rhythm, causing coffee trees to lock into a very slow and steady cycle, resulting in an even more flavorful cherry.
With its refined sweetness, strong florals, and rounded fruitiness, California Good Land Organics—a blend of the Gesha and Caturra cultivars—tastes as remarkable as its circumstances, and why shouldn't it? Coffee here literally grows like no other coffee on the planet.
Photos by Matthew Christopher Miller