If your mind goes to the West Coast at the mention of the Portland coffee scene, Tandem Coffee Roasters will change all that! Something delicious is brewing in Maine. Founded by husband-and-wife duo Will and Kathleen Pratt and named after their two-seated pastime, Tandem embodies the couple’s quirky take on life and roasting.
How did Tandem get started?
"We started Tandem way back in 2012. It was me, my wife Kathleen, and our good buddy and coffee wizard Vien Dubui. We had just moved to Portland and were going to give it a year, get jobs, and get the lay of the land. That was until we got talked into looking at a place with a realtor — a little Art Deco brick building with parking, a yard, and brewery next door. We couldn't pass it up. We signed the lease, and started chopping wood and screwing it all back together. Four months later we were open!"
How do you name your roasts?
"Starting with blends — Time and Temperature is the name of a building in Downtown Portland. It has a big light-up sign on the roof, which informs the whole city of the current time and temperature. Very handy! This had a nice double meaning as time and temperature are also essential components when brewing coffee. Stoker is our 'Kinda Dark' roast. You know, like stoke a fire. The Stoker is also the person who sits on the back of the Tandem bike who provides the power. Front seat is the captain. West End Blues is named after the very best ever Louis Armstrong song. I could listen to that one over and over again. We call it a 'Trad Espresso' because it has a Brazil in it. Our bakery is also in the West End neighborhood of Portland. Another double meaning! We try to name our single origin coffees as specifically as possible — often after the producer, farm, co-op, or washing station."
Tell us about your sourcing process.
"I'll hand this one over to our green buyer, Emily Pappo. She says, 'Building positive and mutually beneficial relationships and friendships is at the heart of our green buying philosophy. We work with importers, exporters, and producers that we know, trust, and genuinely like to find delicious coffees that are produced really well. The way that green buying works for a small roasting company like us is, in a lot of ways, pretty different than how it works for a large commercial coffee company. It makes a level of transparency possible that is challenging when working with massive volumes.
For us, our closest buying relationships are with importing companies that we respect and trust — these companies have the consistent buying power to be able to build trust with producers and exporters and use that buying power to advocate for fair treatment of workers, better environmental practices, and equality. As large specialty buyers, these companies pay incredibly well for quality and sustainability and are able to create meaningful change at origin by helping connect roasters like us with farmers and cooperatives whose values align.
This connection is incredibly important to us — we travel frequently to origin during harvest season to check in with the farmers and exporters that we ultimately buy our coffee from. This year, I visited our partners in Ethiopia, Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras and started developing new relationships in Costa Rica. Will visited with a couple of our favorite exporters in Kenya to cup coffees and make our selections for the year. We aim to really know our coffees, to be able to share the stories of where they came from and of all the people that brought them into being. We're proud of each coffee, and would only buy coffees that we are proud of every step of the way.'"
What was the process of building your first location?
"Well, it was a funny shaped little building that came in at just under 1000 square feet. The plan was to roast and have a cafe under one roof so it took a lot of sitting around with graph paper, pencils, and rulers trying to figure out how to fit everything in there and still make it feel cozy, neat, and welcoming. Most of the materials we used were given to us by carpenter friends so that kind of dictated the materials we were going to use. I was a carpenter for many years before opening Tandem, so it was great to be able to put those skills to good use. Building your own cafe or restaurant is such an intimate experience. You get so close and emotionally connected to every nook and cranny of the space. You almost forget that when you finish you have to unlock the door and give the place over to whomever may walk in. It's a weird and rewarding experience."
Tell us about your unique café locations.
"We are so lucky to have the two locations we have. We totally scored. Our first location is in a little brick building in the industrial part of town. It is very small and intimate. There is no Wi-Fi, which gives way to a very boisterous and social atmosphere. Conversations overlap and new connections are made all the time. It's the heart and soul of the company.
Our other spot is a full on crazy bakery located in a converted '60s gas station located in the West End neighborhood of Portland. This place is so busy. Our head baker Briana Holt has gotten all sorts of amazing accolades for her insane baking powers, which has led to some really long summer time lines. The bakery is also without Wi-Fi which makes for more good, chatty vibes."
— Will Pratt, Co-Founder of Tandem Coffee Roasters