Bobak "Bobby" Roshan has a deep devotion to coffee. You may think you love it just as much as he does, but you're most likely mistaken. Would you quit your job, sell your condo, move back in with your parents, all so you could open your own coffee shop and roastery?
Well, Bobby did. He was working as an attorney, "bored out of my mind," he says, and was drinking a lot of specialty coffee. It was almost like a competition between Bobby and his co-workers, seeing who could brew up the most exotic and flavorful batch.
(Bobak "Bobby" Roshan)
His coffee obsession led to a new profession — founder (and oftentimes filling in as a barista) of Demitasse, an artisanal coffee purveyor with three locations in SoCal, including his most popular one in Downtown Santa Monica on Third Street just north of Wilshire Boulevard.
It's been eight years now. What makes Demitasse different than most coffee shops, aside from his blends and brewing techniques, is Bobby's devotion to sustainability. He made a New Year's resolution to eliminate each month a single-use item from his business model. He started off small and has upped the ante each month.
He's substituted metal chopsticks for wooden stirrers (wood produces off-flavors anyway), rewards customers for bringing in their own mugs and containers for when purchasing pounds of beans, eliminated paper coffee filters in exchange for ceramic ones, and is packaging large orders of beans in reusable plastic bags instead of single-use bags.
He also recently did away with large paper filters in his batch-brew system for custom metal filters made by a random company out of Utah that he stumbled upon after months of searching.
(These chopsticks aren't made for sushi.)
(No single-use bags here. Bring back and get a discount when buying your beans.)
(Bobby loves his new ceramic single-brew system. All the flavor without the waste.)
"It can be hard to compete with convenience, but we are doing our part to make real change and lead by example," Bobby said during an interview in his packed Downtown Santa Monica location on a farmers' market Wednesday, his busiest day of the week. Bobby was filling in as a barista while his mother and grandfather enjoyed a morning brew.
"We want to help move the needle," he added. "Imagine if the bigger players like Starbucks did it. That would be huge."
Starbucks customers reportedly use 4 billion, yes billion with a "B", coffee cups a year. Think about the amount of waste you generate each time you order a cup of coffee, whether it be a small mom-and-pop donut shop or a corporate Coffee Bean. Without factoring in the process of taking it from seed to bean to roast, you have the coffee filter, the carton for the creamer, sugar packets, wooden stirrer, the cup, lid, and perhaps one of those plastic stoppers to keep the caffeinated goodness from spilling in transport.
All of that goes into the waste stream.
Bobby was inspired to change his ways by Anukampa "Freedom" Gupta-Fonner, whose company, Design by Freedom Labs, is working to eliminate waste by creating reusable products and systems. Freedom was spurred into action by a "one-use" coffee cup sleeve that came with a Starbucks coffee.
"I decided to challenge myself, so I wrote the word 'Why' on the sleeve and decided to carry it with me for almost six months," Freedom said. "It went with me everywhere. It was like my shadow."
(Freedom is passionate when it comes to protecting Mother Earth, traveling across the U.S. with her husband to convince coffee shop owners to get rid of single use items.)
The supposedly one-use sleeve ended up lasting for half a year and traveled with her to over 10 states as she met with coffee shop owners about eliminating waste. It was retired only after Freedom jumped into a river, forgetting the sleeve was in her pocket.
Freedom has designed a reusable coffee sleeve that Bobby carries in his Demitasse locations, and her goal is to unveil new inventions and innovations that will reduce single-use packaging, products and harmful processes.
(The reusable coffee cup sleeve by Freedom. Bring one in and get 25 cents off your order.)
She chose this industry because coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world and plays a part in nearly everyone's life. Consumers spent $74.2 billion on coffee in 2015, and is responsible for more than 1.6 million jobs in the U.S. economy, according to a study by the National Coffee Association, the leading trade association for the U.S. coffee industry.
"Coffee is a vehicle for change, it's a drink that interacts with everybody on an intimate level and it provides an opportunity to start a conversation," Freedom said. Plenty of transformative ideas have been sparked over a cup of java.
The City of Santa Monica has enacted a ban on single-use, disposable food containers, plastic straws, and other items that are not marine degradable. Due to the lack of market ready marine degradable cups and lids, these product categories are exempt from the ordinance for one year. Businesses will be required to provide marine degradable cups and cup lids beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
Bobby, like other business owners, is struggling to find alternatives to his to-go cups and lids, but he isn't discouraged. He wants to do his part and help drive the conversation with his customers and other coffee shop owners and roasters. And it just doesn't apply to materials. He only purchases beans from farmers who use sustainable practices and who pay a living wage.
"I'm running out of ideas," on how to eliminate waste, he said. "And some things are just out of our control. We keep asking our suppliers of milk to change to glass or reusable containers, but there's been resistance."
Staying motivated involves thinking about the little things and not being overwhelmed by thoughts of landfills and deforestation.
"We have to start with something simple," Freedom said.
Begin with bringing your own coffee mug. Then take one small step after another and you'll be surprised by what you can do.