Christopher Feran wants you to know that coffee shouldn’t cost pennies on the dollar. The longtime coffee consultant, who spent about six years as the director of coffee at Phoenix Coffee Co., is passionate about ensuring that java is both economically and environmentally responsible — and that simply can’t be done, he says, at rock-bottom prices.
“Across the industry, whether we’re looking at service staff, roasters, the production line or farms, the reality is that specialty coffee is reliant upon low and unpaid labor,” says Feran, a coffee buyer for roasteries in New York and Los Angeles. “In conjunction with the climate crisis, the result is that coffee is not a sustainable way for people to make a living anymore.”
Feran doesn’t expect to single-handedly change the industry, but he’s certainly going to try his best. This summer, he launched a Kickstarter campaign that was fully funded in just 11 hours. He set a goal of $10,000 but raised $25,000 to launch Aviary, a hyper-focused, small-batch roastery here in Cleveland. Though he’s yet to decide on a location, Feran is looking for a production facility with a small overall footprint — maybe just 400 square feet in total.
“The entire premise is that we can do things more efficiently, with less waste and less oil, so that we can still maintain profitability while selling less volume,” he says. In such a small space and with conscientiousness at Aviary’s core, Feran won’t be churning out new coffees at regular intervals. He’s much more focused on quality than quantity.
In fact, the only permanent offering on Aviary’s menu will be Finca Esperanza, named for the organic, environmentally conscious Guatemalan farm where its beans are produced. Feran has become friends with owner Ana Vizcaino, a third-generation coffee producer, and often stays with her when he visits the region. It was there that he came up with the name Aviary when, still awake at dawn after a restless night, he listened in awe to the sounds of nature all around him.
“On this shade-grown coffee farm, you have three layers of forest canopy full of native birds,” he muses. “A healthy coffee farm really is an aviary.” He also chose the resplendent quetzal, a small, tropical bird native to the area, as Aviary’s logo.
Feran has no interest, at the moment, in opening a retail shop. Instead, Aviary’s coffee will be sold online, with Finca Esperanza always available and other roasts offered only for short periods of time.
While Cleveland’s lower cost of living makes it a perfect place to live and roast, Feran’s target audience extends far beyond Northeast Ohio. Most people here don’t know his name, he says — but as a coffee micro-influencer and industry veteran, he’s developed professional relationships and personal friendships with producers, exporters and cafe owners around the world. When Aviary finally opens, they’re the ones he hopes are paying attention.
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