Coffee Chat with Jay Isais of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

{photo credit: Trevor Pearson for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s 50th Anniversary}

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company, based in Southern California, has been a large part of the specialty coffee and tea industry since 1963. While maintaining quality products for their customers, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company also values the relationship with coffee farmers, around the world. We thought the director of coffee for the company would make an excellent “Coffee with Katherine” feature! We spoke with Jay Isais, the Director of Coffee for the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company, on the development and future of the coffee culture. Isais has been a part of the specialty coffee industry for over twenty years and not only works to serve the need of his customers but also the coffee farmers working overseas.

How did you develop a passion for coffee?

Since i was a teenager, I enjoyed drinking coffee. In my early twenties, I was introduced to someone who owned a local coffee roasting business. [At the time] I was going to school, working and had an opportunity to work for him and he taught me about coffee…it was an amazing experience. The industry is very addictive. It is a close-knit family. There is a a very common spirit — regardless of culture, politics or the economy, it’s very collaborative. Commercial coffee is something else entirely. There is a very similar philosophy among the [specialty coffee] industry. You are creating an influence — something that is going to make an impact. [It is cool] imagining where all those individual bags are going to end up.

How would you describe the current coffee culture of America?

It is going in several directions at once. The good news is that the awareness of coffee as a specialty product is increasing, which is great because that is what motivates us in the industry. It is happening differently… the coasts in the US or Chicago or Austin seem to offer a view of the future sooner than other small areas of America. There are still a lot of variance to what people consider specialty coffee. The really cool thing about coffee is that there is not one answer. Due to the nature of consumer education there is an opportunity for that to change over time. The culture is exploding — [for example] it’s becoming a single-serve culture and there is a third-wave culture by the barista sub culture and also chains are trying to refine the specialty coffee experience for those on their way to work. Also, the coffee is becoming a flavor. It may [even] be rivaling as a flavor in the culinary world, people are embracing it as a flavor like vanilla or chocolate

Is there anything specific you look for when selecting coffee beans to distribute for the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company?

[I am an] agent of the company for the customer. First, I taste the coffee and make sure it is worthy of the customer then enter into a discovery mode. I need to make sure that they can maintain quality. Most of the people who produce specialty coffee are progressive. There is a lot of coffee growing in Asia. In the future, they can become a legitimate specialty coffee producer. There is also an aspect of the business philosophy relationship, I ask questions like: do we have the same objectives? Do they take care about their people/community/employees? are they good people?

How do you maintain the needs of both the coffee planter and the customer?

I get to connect both ends of the supply chain. I get to facilitate a relationship. The really cool part is that I get to tell the other person what the other is thinking or tell customers how much the producers appreciate them. Quality is the key. People pay for quality and with that investment, they [the producers] produce an even better quality product. The consumer gets a continuously improving product. Producers say to continue to buy their coffee and continue to buy their premium [because] it benefits everyone, including the community. The bigger we get, the more we can buy. The more people support specialty coffee, the more they support the coffee farmers.

Coffee Bean has a partnership with CaffeItaly…can you talk about the importance of that partnership?

It’s about the customer experience. We recognize that most coffee is consumed at home…about 70% is consumed at home. Single-serve CaffeITALY is more European, it gives a different extraction. The flavor development is more aligned with what we do in our stores. We wanted to be on the Keurig platform. Caffeitaly is the inventor of that platform. When we developed that platform, we did quite a bit of testing to develop the product.

What is the future of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Company? How do you hope to develop the coffee brand of the company?

To continue to bring good coffee to the people. The people are in transition, the people, themselves, are evolving probably faster than we are. We have to watch them. We are continuing to watch what is being done on the consumer front and looking for ways to please the customers. [There is] a continued expansion in ways that we deliver the coffee experience to the customer The basic presentation of origin brands/ blends will continue to grow. We’ll expand by continuing to provide them [the customer] with information. We need to find a way to get questions answered in a more time-efficient manner instead of asking them at the register. Customers are becoming more aware of the social programs that benefit regions relevant to coffee producers. We need to find better ways of getting that information out to the customers. It’s an exciting time. The culinary aspect of coffee is the fastest growing.

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *