Camber Coffee's Ethiopia Guji Uraga

Ray: I’m Ray.

Kandace: I’m Kandace.

Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee. This week.

Kandace: Camber, out of Bellingham, Washington.

Ray: You’re joining us in episode 69 of our semi-regular podcast video series. How about just a show?

Metric Coffee episode cover

Ray: Last week we covered Metric, you should go check that out.

Kandace: Metric is from Chicago, but we actually drove up to Seattle to interview them. We were just a stone’s throw South of Bellingham.

Ray: So Camber is a third wave micro-roaster.

Kandace: And we found out about them, I think, last year, we saw them at Barista here in Portland.

Ray: I was struck by their packaging, which is why I think I originally picked it up, just because it looked more like a wine bottle.

Camber coffee packaging detail

The Story of Camber

David : I’m David Yake, I’m one of the founders of Camber Coffee. We started the company late 2015. We’d been working on it for a long time before that. It was started by Andrew Bowman, Todd Elliott, and myself. We all had worked together at Tony’s Coffee, which is a small family-owned coffee company, kind of second wave, based in Bellingham as well.

Co-founders Davide and Andrew

Camber’s co-founders David & Andrew at Cerro Azul in Valle de Cauca Colombia via Camber Instagram

Kandace: So the three founders worked together at Tony’s Coffee. There was an incredible amount of support from Tony’s, which I think is a pretty amazing thing.

David : Todd is actually a second generation owner of Tony’s Coffee. Andrew was a green coffee buyer and a roaster for 10 plus years and worked in restaurants before that. I have been in coffee forever. I started as a barista and mostly these days work on the wholesale side of things.

Andrew and I had been talking about different concepts forever, restaurant, roastery, you name it, we’ve just always been a really close team. And so we ultimately decided to partner up with Todd and launch this thing.

You can't take a sub par green coffee and make it a great cup of coffee

It all starts with the green. Andrew and our team are constantly getting green samples, and that’s really where it all starts. You can’t take sub par green coffee and make it a great cup of coffee. You just have to have the best green and we’ve always been willing to pay for that and support farmers in that way.

Andrew’s approach to roasting is really about bringing out all the flavors inherent in coffee. It’s a lot of the same stuff that I feel like a lot of roasters are going for. We strive for balance, that’s a big thing for us. I think a lot of roasters pride themselves on being polarizing. They want to be very different from everyone, which is totally understandable, but for us we want the coffees to show well and be sweet and balanced and still have all the complexity that represents their region.

David : Our opening line of coffees were unreal, some of them we still talk about to this day.

Ray: Smells good.

Kandace: Mm-hmm.

Camber's Kenya coffee with flowers

David : We spend a lot of time on the packaging. The roasting was just spot on from day one; Andrew really knows what he’s doing. The level of green coffee was there and the roasting was there and I just think it made a good impression. As much as there’s a coffee for everyone, I think it did reach people in a way that other coffees hadn’t up until that point. And I mean it’s a ton of luck, too.  I think we just got really fortunate with being able to get into folk’s rotation.

Coffee Scene in Bellingham

Kandace: Bellingham isn’t a place that’s really traditionally known for having especially a coffee roaster.

Ray: Honestly, all I know about Bellingham is that they have burritos with potatoes in them. That’s literally all that you’ve ever taught me about it.

Kandace: Snowboarding. Mount Baker.

Ray: Potato burrito.

Kandace: Potato burrito. Camber, which wasn’t there when I was there. That’s amazing!

Ray: I wasn’t super impressed by that place with the potato burrito.

Kandace: Casa Que Pasa.

Ray: Yeah, it was just like-

Kandace: No. You know what? We need to finish filming.

Ray: Okay.

Kandace: I used to go somewhere called the Bagelry.

Ray: Oh, you took me there too.

Kandace: The Havarti bagel? Come on.

Ray: I don’t know, I don’t speak French.

Camber coffee beans spilling out of package

David : There’s been some more old school roasteries for quite a while, there’s a long history of really good coffee, but just off the beaten path, Onyx Coffee Importers, not to be confused with Onyx Coffee Lab, have been set up there for a year. I mean I had some life-altering cups of coffee at their little … it was a tiny little Japanese-style pullover bar, that was just a small operation that was part of a larger importing operation that’s run by Edwin Martinez. And then he helped start Primer Coffee, which they have a really nice coffee bar and roasting operation in Bellingham that’s been around, I think, for six months or a year. They started six months or a year before we opened.

It’s a small town, college town, so it’s pretty seasonal. It’s a hard place to have a business for that reason. Summers can be kind of lean and it just can get unpredictable. There’s more stuff opening constantly, there’s been a real catalyst, I think, since Primer and since we started there’s been more, but it’s still a really small group of coffee bars.

Flagship Cafe and Full Service Café & Bar

Camber Cafe postcard with flowers

Kandace: They’ve not only opened a roastery, but a full café, and they’ve already gotten a ton of accolades for their food as well.

David : It’s been fun. We definitely have bit off a lot. It’s a full café/restaurant. When we opened, our hours were from 7AM to 10PM, seven days a week. Full breakfast, lunch, dinner menu, and big staff. It was ambitious and I think we’ve executed really well, but we’ve also learned a lot and focused a lot more on what we do really well, which is coffee and brunch and really amazing service.

Our team is amazing and allows us to have our dream café and showcase our coffees and be constantly getting feedback about how the coffees are tasting, which is really important for us.

Kandace: What’s interesting, because two of the founders have background in coffee and one has a culinary background, so it kind of makes sense, what they’re doing right now.

Ray: Mm-hmm.

David : The space just continues to evolve in big ways. We’re really focusing a lot of energy on our tea program right now and the team is always making crazy good house sodas and tonics and different shrubs. We’ve just scratched the surface in terms of how many weird, tasty drinks we can come up with in the space. I think we’ll be doing a lot more of that heading into summer, since that’s when people are usually feeling like they can hang out later into the day and try some fun drinks.

Camber coffees on a tray with tea

What’s in a Name?

Ray: Kandace, do you know anything about this name, Camber? What does it mean? What is it all about?

Kandace: It’s a mystery. No, actually he told us.

David : Camber just means curve. For us it represents the roast curve, finding the right roast curve for each coffee to bring out all of the sweetness and complexity that it has to offer.

Packaging & Design

Ray: Beyond just the name, and that was super interesting, what can you tell us about their packaging?

Camber's Ethiopia and Espresso coffee bags on marble

David : We work really closely with Eric Fisher, who’s an independent designer out of Seattle. With the original packaging we were really just going for classic, minimalist style. We were really influenced by wine labels and French wine.

Kandace: Yeah, well this is a wine label, if you feel it.

label texture is visible

David Y: The label itself is actually … the material was sourced from a wine label company. We felt that the texture, the actual feel of the bag, would be really important. It’s amazing how you can see the thickness of paper, it makes a big difference, it just gives it a rigidity, although it also makes it super difficult to ship, we have to handle it really carefully so it doesn’t show up wrinkled.

Ray: Did you say don’t make it weird? I’m making it weird.

Kandace: No, I said it’s a wine label.

Ray: Oh.

David Y: We’ve been working with Eric on a new concept for probably over a year, and we’ve been thinking about it, since we started. I was in Foshan, China visiting our bag manufacturer. I kind of cobbled together that it was okay for me to, just while I was waiting, go through all their filing cabinets. I found this material—this thick, white linen material—and I loved it. I asked if I could take a little sample with me. I wanted to incorporate that somehow because we had already decided on our packaging, so that’s going to be the base of the bag—this thick, white linen material.

Packaging and mug details

And then, we started working with Eric on artwork. He was working on some marbling designs at the time, which he was inspired by old bookbinding. Its marble and its used on the inside cover in traditional bookbinding. He was wanting to try something new and try something that had this traditional origin—but he wanted to put his own spin on it—and we just loved it. It was ethereal and had this fluid quality and had definitely a natural element, which is nice through-line with our moon phases that are part of our branding. And so it was a big departure, it is a big departure, but it just seemed like it also really made sense.

Our existing packaging will remain. That will be our filter offerings, and then we’ll have our espresso offerings in the new packaging, as well as experimental new coffees that we want to play around with.

Kandace: … really into the illustration here, they’ve got this on their mug and some T-shirts and things like that.

Ray: I’m going to start using that mug, that’s my mug now, it’s officially my mug.

Ray: Camber, out of Bellingham, Washington. Yeah.

Kandace: Yeah.

Ray: Okay. I’m trying really hard to be funny-

Kandace: You’re great, no, you’re doing great, I’m not-

Ray: All right, cool, you can edit this and you can try to make me some-

Kandace: They say that part of our charm is the awkward silence where I don’t know or whatever, it’s our thing. It’s how we … All right, I think we’re done. Good.

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