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Get to Know Small Planes Coffee

Taking flight from DC to your home.

by Randy Miller | May 20, 2021

Founded in 2017, Washington, DC’s Small Planes Coffee is all about connections — within its local community and with producers at origin.

Inspired by the ways coffee links people far and wide, this aptly named roaster will take you on a journey in your mug. We sat down with Small Planes to see just how they do it.

What is Small Planes' approach to sourcing?

"We buy coffees based on relationship, sustainability, and cup experience. We work with trusted importing partners who offer transparent pricing models, bring expertise in processing, and simplify global logistics. Because we know the value of café regulars, we work through our importers to become reliable customers to producers, building relationships so we can grow in tandem. We’re certainly concerned with climate change, but when we talk about sustainability we’re talking about a holistic approach to our place in the full coffee value stream.

And, of course, we select the specific coffees based on how they cup. Sometimes we look for exemplar showcase of region or origin; sometimes for the profile paradigm shifters; sometimes for the multi-purpose lots that fill out our menu and let us buy even more from a farmer or coop. When we can, we buy deep instead of wide, and it’s our green buyer’s dream to be priced out of a long-standing producer relationship because they’ve outgrown us."

Tell us about your local coffee scene.

"DC coffee is vibrant, often underrated, and growing by leaps and bounds. Our founders, Ryan and Jill Jensen met at Murky Coffee in the early 2000’s, married in Eastern Market’s historic North Hall, live in Northeast, and have run Peregrine Espresso for the last 13 years.

Small Planes is the next iteration of their investment in this city. It offers a way to connect with more cafés, restaurants, and home brewers than a single coffee shop can."

Where does the name Small Planes come from?

"Small Planes refers to the idea that on a plane of infinite area, the scattered points of people in the coffee value stream can be very far apart, and that we’d like to make that plane smaller, shrinking the distance between them.

We love that a cup of coffee is simultaneously a global and a local product, and we want to use coffee to draw people closer together."

Tell us about your team.

"We’re a small and ever-changing team. Right now our roastery roster is pretty stacked, though:

  • Ryan Jensen: Owner, salesman, bookkeeper, resident tall guy

  • Cassie Ash: Green buyer, QC lead, communications station

  • Daniel Hill: Production systems ace, wholesale trainer and partner support, shadow latte art star

  • Erin Murdock: Head roaster, label printer czar, rookie of the year"

How does Small Planes name its blends?

"Except for decaf, our year-round and blend coffees are named for our city (and the hopefully-soon-to-be-51st-state). The roastery is a stone’s throw from the National Arboretum, an oasis of natural beauty in the midst of highways and construction, and the namesake of our flagship perennial blend.

Gateway is the name of a neighborhood just north of the roastery and a bit of wordplay - it’s our most developed profile and therefore also a gateway coffee into the specialty world.

We also have two annual blends: Ellipse, is a little mathematics pun - Small Planes - and the lovely park just south of the White House. Wintry Mix is our holiday blend, named for the weather pattern that is the scourge of Beltway traffic. (Do we have enough of these, or should someone stop us?)"

What Is Small Planes' approach to design?

"We may be complex people, but we have pretty simple tastes: we want delicious coffee and accessible information. Our bags give an idea of what’s inside without overwhelming and our logo nods to the geometric connotations of our name… with a little razzle dazzle for good measure."

What are you most excited about right now?

"Right now we’re thrilled to have a lot from the Rivera sisters of Nátaga, Huila. We love this micro region’s profile - a lot of classic Colombian attributes plus silky texture, tea-like clarity, happy apple notes, and dense brown sugar sweetness. It’s been a joy to share single farmer lots from Leonela Rivera for the past two years, and an exciting extension to offer a sibling lot.

And in the near future, we’re really excited to bring in our first Long Miles Coffee Project Lot from Kenya. Our very first lot as a roasting company came from one of their washing stations in Burundi, and they provide amazing transparency (in the cup and in the business) year after year."

— Cassie Ash, Director of Coffee, Small Planes Coffee | Washington, DC